“This famous stretch of sand is always abuzz with the sights and sounds of LaLa Land.
It's like a circus out there.”
Venice of America was founded by tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney in 1905 as a beach resort town, 14 miles (23 km) west of Los Angeles. He and his partner Francis Ryan had bought two miles (3.24 km) of oceanfront property south of Santa Monica in 1891. They built a resort town on the north end of the property called Ocean Park, which was soon annexed to Santa Monica. After Ryan died, Kinney and his new partners continued building south of Navy Street in the unincorporated territory. After the partnership dissolved in 1904, Kinney built on the marshy land on the south end of the property, intending to create a seaside resort like its namesake in Italy.
When Venice of America opened on July 4, 1905, Kinney had dug several miles of canals to drain the marshes for his residential area, built a 1200-foot-long pleasure pier with an auditorium, ship restaurant, and dance hall, constructed a hot salt-water plunge, and built a block-long arcaded business street with Venetian architecture. Tourists, mostly arriving on the "Red Cars" of the Pacific Electric Railway from Los Angeles and Santa Monica, then rode Venice's miniature railroad and gondolas to tour the town. But the biggest attraction was Venice's mile-long gently sloping beach. Cottages and housekeeping tents were available for rent.
The Venice Canals, 1909.
The town's population increased, annexed adjacent housing tracts, and changed its official name from Ocean Park to Venice in 1911. The population (3119 residents in 1910) soon exceeded 10,000, and drew 50,000 to 150,000 tourists on weekends.
Attractions on the Kinney Pier became more amusement oriented by 1910, when a Venice Scenic Railway, Aquarium, Virginia Reel, Whip, Racing Derby and other rides and game booths were added. Since the business district was allotted only three one-block-long streets, and the City Hall was more than a mile away, other competing business districts developed. Unfortunately, this created a fractious political climate. Kinney, however, governed with an iron hand and kept things in check. When he died in November 1920, Venice became harder to govern. With the amusement pier burning six weeks later in December 1920, and Prohibition (which had begun the previous January), the town's tax revenue was severely affected.
Windward Ave., 1913.
The Kinney family rebuilt their amusement pier quickly to compete with Ocean Park's Pickering Pier, and the new Sunset Pier. When it opened it had two roller coasters, a new Racing Derby, a Noah's Ark, a Mill Chutes, and many other rides. By 1925 with the addition of a third coaster, a tall Dragon Slide, Fun House and Flying Circus aerial ride, it was the finest amusement pier on the West Coast. Several hundred thousand tourists visited on weekends. In 1923 Charles Lick built the Lick Pier at Navy Street in Venice, adjacent to the Ocean Park Pier at Pier Avenue in Ocean Park. Another pier was planned for Venice in 1925 at Leona Street (now Washington Street).
For the amusement of the public, Kinney hired aviators to do aerial stunts over the beach. One of them, movie aviator and Venice airport owner B.H. DeLay, implemented the first lighted airport in the United States on DeLay Field (previously known as Ince Field). He also initiated the first aerial police in the nation, after a marine rescue attempt was thwarted. DeLay also performed many of the world's first aerial stunts for motion pictures in Venice.
By 1925, Venice's politics became unmanageable. Its roads, water and sewage systems badly needed repair and expansion to keep up with its growing population. When it was proposed that Venice be annexed to Los Angeles, the board of Trustees voted to hold an election. Those for annexation and those against were nearly evenly matched, but many Los Angeles residents, who moved to Venice to vote, turned the tide. Venice became part of Los Angeles in October 1925.
Los Angeles had annexed the Disneyland of its day, and proceeded to remake Venice in its own image. They felt the town needed more streets, not canals, and paved most of them in 1929 after a three-year court battle led by canal residents. They wanted to close Venice's three amusement piers, but had to wait until the first of the tidelands' leases expired in 1946.
In 1929, oil was discovered south of Washington Street on the Venice Peninsula. Within two years, 450 oil wells covered the area and drilling waste clogged the remaining waterways. It was a short-lived boom that provided needed income to the community, which suffered during the Great Depression. The wells produced oil into the 1970s.
The canals were modeled after those in Italy's Venice.
Los Angeles had neglected Venice so long that, by the 1950s, it had become the "Slum by the Sea." With the exception of new police and fire stations in 1930, the city spent little on improvements after annexation. The city did not pave Trolleyway (Pacific Avenue) until 1954 when county and state funds became available. Low rents for run-down bungalows attracted predominantly European immigrants (including a substantial number of Holocaust survivors), and young counterculture artists, poets and writers. The Beat Generation hung out at the Gas House on Ocean Front Walk and at Venice West Cafe on Dudley. Police raids were frequent during that era.
Alleys of Venice, near 17th Place. The portrait of past-resident Jim Morrison is one of many murals in the area.
Venice and neighboring Santa Monica were hosts for a decade to Pacific Ocean Park (POP), an amusement and pleasure-pier built atop the old Lick Pier and Ocean Park Pier by CBS and the Los Angeles Turf Club (Santa Anita). It opened in July 1958. They kept the pier's old roller coaster, airplane ride and historic carousel, but converted its theaters and smaller pier buildings into sea-themed rides and space-themed attractions designed by Hollywood special-effects people. Visitors could travel in space on the Flight to Mars ride, tour the world in Around the World in 80 Turns, go beneath the sea in the Diving Bells or at Neptune's Kingdom, take a fantasy excursion into the Tales of the Arabian Nights on the Flying Carpet ride, visit a pirate world at Davy Jones' Locker, or visit a tropical paradise and its volcano by riding a train on Mystery Island. There were also thrill rides like the Whirlpool (rotor whose floor dropped out), the Flying Fish wild mouse coaster, an auto ride, gondola ride, double Ferris wheel, safari ride, and an area of children's rides called Fun Forest. Sea lion shows were performed at the Sea Circus.
Since attendance at the park was too low to justify winter operation, and with competition from Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm and Marineland, it was sold after two seasons to a succession of owners, who allowed the park deteriorate. Since Santa Monica was redeveloping the surrounding area for high-rise apartments and condos, it became difficult for patrons to reach the park, and it was forced into bankruptcy in 1967. The park suffered a series of arson fires beginning in 1970, and its was demolished by 1974. Another aging attraction in the 1960s was the Aragon Ballroom that had been the longtime home of The Lawrence Welk Show & the Spade Cooley Show, and later the Cheetah Club where rock bands like the Doors, Blue Cheer & many other top bands performed. It burned in the 1970 fire. The district around POP in the southside of Santa Monica is known as Dogtown, it is a common misconception that Dogtown is in Venice, the original Z-boys surfing and skateboarding shop was and is still on Main St. in Santa Monica. Venice and Santa Monica were home to pioneering skateboarders the Z-Boys, as profiled in the documentary film, Dogtown and Z-Boys. Little known is that POP pier was actually completely in Santa Monica and started at the end of Ocean Park Blvd and extended to the line where Venice meets Santa Monica.
Chiat/Day Building, Main Street. Frank Gehry, Architect. The binoculars, which house a conference room, were designed with help from Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
Producer Roger Corman owned a production facility, the Concorde/New Horizons Studio, on Main Street, where many of his films were shot. This facility was razed to build the Venice Art Lofts and Dogtown Station lofts.
In 2009, the Los Angeles Times's "Mapping L.A." project supplied these Venice statistics: population: 35,820; median household income: $67,057.
Furthermore, the racial and ethnic composition in Venice is White (63.9%), Asian (3.7%), African American (5.6%), Latino (22.2%) and Other (4.6%).
Attractions and neighborhoods
Venice is today one of the most vibrant and eclectic areas of Southern California and it continues a tradition of liberal social change involving prominent Westsiders. The Venice Family Clinic is the largest free clinic in the country.
Many of Venice's houses have their principal entries from pedestrian-only streets, and have house numbers on these footpaths. (Automobile access is by alleys in the rear). However, like much of Los Angeles, Venice is also well-known for traffic congestion. It lies 2 miles (3.2 km) away from the nearest freeway, and its unusually dense network of narrow streets was not planned for the demands of modern traffic. Mindful of the tourist nature of much of the district's vehicle traffic, though, its residents have successfully fought numerous attempts to extend the Marina Freeway (SR 90) into southern Venice.
Venice Beach includes the beach, the promenade that runs parallel to the beach ("Ocean Front Walk" or just "the boardwalk"), Muscle Beach, the handball courts, the paddle tennis courts, Skate Dancing plaza, the numerous beach volleyball courts, the bike trail and the businesses on Ocean Front Walk. The basketball courts in Venice are renowned across the country for their high level of streetball; numerous NBA players developed their games or recruited on these courts.
Along the southern portion of the beach, at the end of Washington Boulevard, is the Venice Fishing Pier. A 1,310-foot (400 m) concrete structure, it first opened in 1964, was closed in 1983 due to El Niño storm damage, and re-opened in the mid-1990s. On December 21, 2005, the pier again suffered damage when waves from an unusually large northern swell caused the part of the pier where the restrooms were located to fall into the ocean.
The pier remained closed until May 25, 2006, when it was re-opened after an engineering study concluded the pier was structurally sound.
The Venice Breakwater is an acclaimed local surf spot in Venice. It is located north of the Venice Pier and Lifeguard Headquarters, and south of the Santa Monica Pier. This spot is sheltered on the north by an artificial barrier, the breakwater, consisting of an extending sand bar, piping, and large rocks at its end.
The areas along Abbot Kinney and Grand Boulevards and Main Street form the traditional downtown of Venice. During the 1920s and 1930s, the area's nightlife was quite active, with thousands of Angelenos arriving every night by streetcar. (Before he burst onto the national scene, Benny Goodman had a brief residence as a bandleader in Venice). Nightlife boomed again in the late 1960s as the area became a center of hippie culture. Since the late 1990s, downtown Venice has been especially popular, with many bars, nightclubs, art galleries, and edgy apparel shops occupying both its older brick and Art Deco storefronts and hyper-modern glass facades.
The Oakwood neighborhood of Venice, also known as Ghost Town and the "Oakwood Pentagon", which lies inland a few blocks from the tourist areas, is one of the few historically African American areas of in West Los Angeles, although Latinos have comprised the overwhelming majority of the residents. During the age of restrictive covenants that enforced racial segregation, Oakwood was set aside as a settlement area for blacks, who came by the hundreds to Venice to work in the oil fields during the 1930s and 1940s. After the construction of the San Diego Freeway passed through predominantly Mexican and immigrant communities, they moved further west and into Oakwood. Small numbers of whites moved in or around the Oakwood area during the 1980s and 1990s.
The Venice Shoreline Crips and the Latino Venice 13 gang, which are under a shaky truce, continue to remain active in Venice. The Venice White Boys, another gang, disappeared decades before the 2000s. By 2002, numbers of gang members in Oakwood were reduced due to gentrification and increased police presence. According to a Los Angeles City Beat article, by 2003, many Los Angeles Westside gang members resettled in the city of Inglewood.
Near the end of the 20th century, gentrification has greatly altered Oakwood. Although still a primarily Latino and African-American neighborhood, the neighborhood is in flux. According to Los Angeles City Beat, "In Venice, the transformation is....obvious. Homes are fetching sometimes more than $1 million, and homies are being displaced every day." Author John Brodie challenges the idea of gentrification causing change and commented "...the gunplay of the Shoreline Crips and the V-13 is as much a part of life in Venice as pit bulls playing with blond Labs at the local dog park." Xinachtli, a Latino student group from Venice High School and subset of MEChA, refers to Oakwood as one of last beachside communities of color in California. Chicanos and Latinos comprise over 50% of Venice High School's student body.
East Venice is a racially and ethnically mixed, residential neighborhood of Venice that is separated from Oakwood and Milwood (the area south of Oakwood) by Lincoln Boulevard, extending east to the border with Mar Vista, near Venice High School. Aside from the commercial strip on Lincoln (including the Venice Boys and Girls Club and the Venice United Methodist Church), the area almost entirely consists of small homes and apartments as well as Penmar Park and (bordering Santa Monica) Penmar Golf Course. The existing population (primarily composed of non-Latino whites, Latinos, and Asians, with small numbers of other groups) is being supplemented by new arrivals who have moved in with gentrification.
A housing project, Lincoln Place, was built nearby by the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles to accommodate GI's returning from the war and in need of affordable housing. It later came to house working class families. Lincoln Place is currently in the midst of an extensive legal battle between past and present tenants and the owner, AIMCO. The developer, which acquired the property in 2003, plans to demolish it and build a mixed-use condominium and retail structure on the site. Only 13 tenants remain, all of them elderly or disabled.
Notable residents and businesses
Venice has always been known as a hangout for the creative and the artistic. In the 1950s and 60s, Venice became a center for the Beat generation. There was an explosion of poetry and art. Major participants included Stuart Perkoff, John Thomas, Frank T. Rios, Tony Scibella, Lawrence Lipton, John Haag, Saul White, Robert Farrington and Philomene Long.
Prominent residents of Venice include singer Brandon Boyd, actresses Julia Roberts, Kate Beckinsale, Valeria Andrews, Lana Clarkson and Anjelica Huston, actors Tom Conway (brother of actor George Sanders), lived here in the 1960s, Nicolas Cage, Chaney Kley, Tim Meadows, Robert Hegyes, Mark Valley, Michael T. Weiss, Fairuza Balk,Taylor Negron, artist Martha Alf, and musicians Perry Farrell, Evidence of Dilated Peoples, Saint John of Saint John and the Revelations, Joshua Kadison, John Lydon (who owns a sizeable amount of rental property in Venice), Ozzy from Survivor, architect Lawrence Scarpa, John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tommy Mars of the Frank Zappa band, Fiona Apple and Mike Muir and most of his Suicidal Tendencies bandmates. Photographer Lauren Greenfield has lived in Venice since 1972.
Actor Robert Downey Jr. kept an apartment on the boardwalk during the 1990s. Harding Avenue is also where the Lennon Sisters of Lawrence Welk fame grew up. Jim Morrison lived in Venice for two years where he met Ray Manzarek to form the nucleus of The Doors. Arnold Schwarzenegger's acting career began after becoming a regular bodybuilder at Venice's famous Gold's Gym, whose present facility claims to be "The Mecca of Bodybuilding." Restaurateur Wolfgang Puck has owned and operated noted eateries in the area since the 1990s. Other notables include actors Viggo Mortensen, Rutger Hauer, Bryan Callen, and Elijah Wood, and film directors Vadim Perelman, Henry Jaglom and Paul Mazursky. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition Host Ty Pennington both resides and owns his own Home Decor store in Venice. For many years, pro wrestlers Hulk Hogan and Sting were announced as residing in Venice Beach as well. Standup comedians, such as Nick Swardson, Eddie Ifft, Paul Provenza, George Carlin and Zach Galifinakis and street performers have proliferated in Venice, Wavy Gravy and Swami X being two of the more recent hippie busker alumni. Political contributions have been sent from homes in Venice from the actor Dennis Hopper and Simpsons creator Matt Groening. South Park co-creator Matt Stone lives in Venice as well. Harry Perry, the famous street entertainer, is one of the boardwalk's key performers. Photographer Helen K. Garber maintains a studio on Ocean Front Walk. Graffiti/Street Artist and painter Jean-Michel Basquiat lived in Venice in the 80's. Immature, an R&B group from the 1990s, used to perform on the boardwalk prior to becoming famous. Other notable residents included comedian George Carlin.
WWE and WCW professional wrestlers Hulk Hogan and Sting are billed as being from Venice Beach, CA. However they actually hail from Tampa, Florida and Omaha, Nebraska respectively.
Venice is today a vibrant area of Southern California and it continues a tradition of progressive social change involving prominent Westsiders. The Venice Family Clinic is the largest free clinic in the country. The Venice Community Housing Corporation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the economic, racial and social diversity of Venice and the surrounding area, provides affordable housing, economic and community development opportunities and needed social services to low income residents. Women in Recovery, Inc., a non-profit organization offering a live-in, 12-step program of rehabilitation for women in need, was founded by a longtime resident of Venice, Sister Ada Geraghty. Geraghty and her organization on Coeur D' Alene Avenue annually honor those who've made a difference in helping women overcome substance abuse problems. The 2006 honoree for Women in Recovery was Christopher Lawford; past honorees have included Jamie Lee Curtis, Angela Lansbury, and Anthony Hopkins.