Venice is a beachfront neighborhood on the Westside of Los Angeles, California, United States. It is known for its canals, beaches and circus-like Ocean Front Walk, a two-and-a-half-mile pedestrian-only promenade that features performers, fortune-tellers, artists, and vendors. Venice was home to some of Los Angeles’ early beat poets and artists and has served as an important cultural center of the city.
Venicewas 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 1,200-foot (370 m)-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 town’s population increased; it annexed adjacent housing tracts and changed its official name from Ocean Park to Venice in 1911. The population (3,119 residents in 1910) soon exceeded 10,000; the town 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.
The Kinney family rebuilt their amusement pier quickly to compete with Ocean Park’s Pickering Pleasure 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. It’s 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 November 1925.
Los Angeles had annexed the Disneyland of its day and proceeded to remake Venice in its own image. It was felt that the town needed more streets – not canals – and most of them were paved 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.
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
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, in Santa Monica. 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 to 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 it 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 and the Spade Cooley Show, and later the Cheetah Club where rock bands such as 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, but 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. It is little known that POP pier was actually completely in Santa Monica; it started at the end of Ocean Park Blvd and extended to the line where Venice meets Santa Monica.
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.
As of 2008, the population was estimated to be around 40,885. The median household income was $67,057, making it one the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city. The racial and ethnic composition in Venice in 2008 was White (63.9%), Latino (22.2%), African American (5.6%), Asian (3.7%), and Other (4.6%).
ATTRACTIONS & NEIGHBORHOODS
Venice is today one of the most vibrant and eclectic areas in Los Angeles and it continues a tradition of liberal social change involving prominent Westsiders. Venice Family Clinic is the largest free clinic in the country.
The Venice Farmers’ Market, founded in 1987, operates every Friday morning from 7–11 a.m. on Venice Blvd at Venice Way.
72 Market Street Oyster Bar and Grill was one of several historical footnotes associated with Market Street in Venice, one of the first streets designated for commerce when the city was founded in 1905. During the depression era, Upton Sinclair had an office there when he was running for governor, and the same historic building where the restaurant was located was also the site of the first Ace/Venice Gallery in the early 1970s and, before that, the studio of American installation artist Robert Irwin.
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 modern traffic. Mindful of the tourist nature of much of the district’s vehicle traffic, 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 are 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 a 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 finally 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 Oakwood portion of Venice, also known as Ghost Town and the “Oakwood Pentagon,” lies inland from the tourist areas and is one of the few historically African American areas in West Los Angeles; however, Latinos now constitute 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, which passed through predominantly Mexican American and immigrant communities, those groups moved further west and into Oakwood where black residents were already established. Whites moved in Oakwood during the 1980s and 1990s.
The Venice Shoreline Crips and the Latino Venice 13 gangs, which are under a shaky truce, continue to remain active in Venice. 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.
By the end of the 20th century, gentrification had 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 of any race make up 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 the Mar Vista neighborhood, 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 Caucasians, Hispanics, and Asians, with small numbers of other groups) is being supplemented by new arrivals that have moved in with gentrification.
A housing project, Lincoln Place, built by the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles 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. As of 2010, the housing developer AIMCO has settled with tenants and agreed to reopen the project and return scores of evicted residents to their homes and add hundreds of below-market-rate units to the Venice area.
VENICE & ART
Venice has always been known as a hangout for the creative and the artistic. In the 1950s and 1960s, 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, Philomene Long, and Tom Sewell. In the 1970s, prominent performance artist Chris Burden created some of his early, groundbreaking work in Venice, such as Trans-fixed.
GOVERNMENT & INFRASTRUCTURE
The Los Angeles Fire Department operates Station 63, which serves Venice with two engines, a truck, and an ALS rescue ambulance.
Los Angeles Police Department serves the area through the Pacific Community Police Station at 12312 Culver Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90066, and a beach sub-station at 1530 W. Ocean Front Walk, Venice, CA 90921.
Los Angeles County Lifeguards
Venice Beach is the headquarters of the Lifeguard Division of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. It is located at 2300 Ocean Front Walk. It is the nation’s largest ocean lifeguard organization with over 200 full-time and 700 part-time or seasonal lifeguards. The headquarter building used to be the City of Los Angeles Lifeguard Headquarters until Los Angeles City and Santa Monica Lifeguards were merged into the County in 1975. The department is commonly referred to by Angelenos as the Baywatch Lifeguards.
The Los Angeles County Lifeguards safeguard 31 miles (50 km) of beach and 70 miles (110 km) of coastline, from San Pedro in the south, to Malibu in the north. Lifeguards also provide Paramedic and rescue boat services to Catalina Island, with operations out of Avalon and the Isthmus.
Lifeguard Division employs 120 full-time and 600 seasonal lifeguards, operating out of three sectional headquarters, Hermosa, Santa Monica, and Zuma beach. Each of these headquarters staffs a 24-hour EMT-D response unit and are part of the 911 system. In addition to providing for beach safety, Los Angeles County Lifeguards have specialized training for Baywatch rescue boat operations, underwater rescue and recovery, swift water rescue, cliff rescue, marine mammal rescue and marine firefighting.
County, state and federal representation
The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services SPA 5 West Area Health Office serves Venice.
The United States Postal Service operates the Venice Post Office at 1601 Main Street and the Venice Carrier Annex at 313 Grand Boulevard.
PARKS & RECREATION
The Venice Beach Recreation Center, nominally located at 1800 Ocean Front Walk, comprises a number of facilities sprawling between Ocean Front Walk and the bike path, Horizon Ave to the north, and N.Venice Blvd to the south. The installation has basketball courts (unlighted/outdoor), several children play areas with a gymnastics apparatus, handball courts (unlighted), tennis courts (unlighted), and volleyball courts (unlighted). At the south end of the area is the famous muscle beach outdoor gymnasium. In March 2009, the city opened a sophisticated $2,000,000 skate park on the sand towards the north. While not technically part of the park the Graffiti Walls on the beach side of the bike path in the same vicinity.
The Oakwood Recreation Center is located at 767 California Ave. The center, which also acts as a Los Angeles Police Department stop-in center, includes an auditorium, an unlighted baseball diamond, lighted indoor basketball courts, unlighted outdoor basketball courts, a children’s play area, a community room, a lighted American football field, an indoor gymnasium without weights, picnic tables, and an unlighted soccer field.
The Westminster Off-Leash Dog Park is in Venice.
VENICE & MOVIES
Dozens of movies and hundreds of television shows have used locations in Venice, including its beach, its pleasure piers, the canals and colonnades, the boardwalk, the high school, even a particular hamburger stand. While it is neither possible nor desirable to list every movie which features scenes shot in Venice, the following films show views of the neighborhood which are interesting in the context of its history and culture:
- 1914– Kid Auto Races at Venice (Charlie Chaplin)
- 1920– Number, Please? (Harold Lloyd) Number, Please? at the Internet Movie Database
- 1921– The High Sign (Buster Keaton) The High ‘Sign’ at the Internet Movie Database
- 1923– The Balloonatic (Buster Keaton) The Balloonatic at the Internet Movie Database
- 1927– Sugar Daddies (Laurel and Hardy)
- 1928– The Circus (Charlie Chaplin)
- 1928– The Cameraman (Buster Keaton) The Cameraman at the Internet Movie Database
- 1958- Touch of Evil (Orson Welles) – Shot entirely in Venice except for one indoor scene, selected by Welles as a stand-in for a fictional run-down Mexican border town.
- 1961– Night Tide (Dennis Hopper, Linda Lawson, written and directed by Curtis Harrington) – Shot entirely in Venice and shows the deteriorated nature of the area in the 1950s.
- 1991– The Doors (Val Kilmer, directed by Oliver Stone)
- 2010- Valentine’s Day (Jessica Alba)
1 thought on “The Venice of America”
Another trip down memory lane. Thank you so much.
Jim & Karen Weaver