VNC to Teague: 1414 Main Offensive, Not the Neighborhood

April 1, 2014

By Krista Schwimmer

Across the country, a deadly force is destroying the character of neighborhoods forever. Jeremiah Moss, author of the blog, “Vanishing New York”, calls it “hyper-gentrification.” Grandchild to gentrification, Moss bemoans that this 3rd wave “is bigger, faster and meaner than its parent. It is also sicker, a sociopathic system with no compassion.” Behind this force stand not individuals – but corporations, banks, politicians, and even police. Although Moss is writing to save New York, what he says can be applied to Venice now. Battles have been lost in this quirky, coastal city. The month of March, however, marked decisive victories against hyper-gentrification: the first, an end to dinimimus waivers; the second, a community vote against Jason Teague’s “Nightmare on 1414 Main” development.

On March 18th, the community came out to hear just how the VNC would weigh in on Jason Teague’s oversized, ill-conceived project. The full motion by LUPC to deny was read, as well as the project summary. Jason Teague and Brian Silveira then had fifteen minutes to argue their case. Teague spent most of his time explaining the robotic, underground parking, as well as demonizing the neighborhood, calling it unsafe in the evenings. “We are trying to keep the art and remove the crime,” Teague exclaimed. Ironically, Captain Brian Johnson, Pacific Division, had earlier reported that violent crime was down in Venice this year. Teague showed no serious changes to the project design.

Next, Brian Silveira, planning consultant for the project, purportedly was going to educate the council on one of the most important aspects of the project: the use of SB1818. He began with the Mello Act, a law designed to fight gentrification in the area, saying that larger units must supply a minimum number of affordable units. He then claimed that their project was “valuable” because “in the future the only way to keep affordable units in the Venice coastal zone . . . is to develop projects of 10 units or more in this little tiny piece of undeveloped commercial area that we have.” He conveniently did not speak of the very real, neighboring residential area that would be completely altered by this project or the fact that, if the project was approved, they would be removing affordable units themselves!

Standing up against the project, Irv Katz and Rick Garvey, both longtime residents in the immediate vicinity of the project, gave a thorough, clear, succinct fifteen minute presentation. Katz began, arguing that the increased density brought by the project would increase the strain on resources. Showing photos of the diverse family homes in the area, he stated that “new development of the Venice Coastal Zone shall respect the scale and character of community development.” He ended his part by saying: “The proposal for 1414 Main Street is a whale. The homes that surround are gold fish. Please do not drop this whale in our goldfish bowl.”

Rick Garvey took over, saying that the neighborhood had many areas of concern: size, traffic, parking, excessive use of the alley, as well as the noise and drunken disorderly conduct that restaurants and “the so called performance space” would bring. Garvey spent much time going over just how ridiculous it would be to have the entrance to the parking through the alley. One of the adjacent streets, Horizon Avenue, is one way going west. This in itself would affect the flow of traffic in and out of the project. As to the idea that there will be no cars coming from 1414 down Toledo, Garvey said even the developer, currently staying there, uses it!

According to Jeremiah Moss, one of the strategies of hyper-gentrification is “to foster an environment of fear.” That night, on numerous occasions, supporters of 1414 Main attempted to do just that. One of the most egregious examples was so called urban planner, Brittany Debeikes. She said Venice was “infamous” for its gangs, local crimes, and drug abuse. Teagues’s project would invigorate the area. Towards the end of her presentation, she once more insulted the neighborhood saying, “This section of Main Street . . . can be riddled with crime and vandalism and hooligans loitering in our alleys and sidewalks at times.”

Unbeknownst to Debeikes, however, one of the slides she showed of the “dilapidated” neighborhood, was a photo of a resident’s home, waiting in line to make a public comment. When he reached the podium, Michael Wamback began by saying how he was going to talk about the unwanted precedent the project would set when, much to his surprise, upon seeing a photo of his building, he learned that for the last fifteen years he had been living in a ghetto! After the laughter died down, many more spoke against the project. Kathleen Lawson, another Horizon resident for 26 years, pointed out that since Teague had taken over the property, she and others were constantly picking up bongs, bottles, lighters, and trash all the time. She and another resident expressed concerns about how such a project would affect their children who played in the alley right now.

Throughout the evening, both sides held up bright pink signs with either “Deny 1414” or “Approve 1414”. Some of Teague’s supporters even painted the address on their faces, making it seem like they were attending a football game rather than a very serious community meeting. One such woman was Jules Muck, a local artist allowed to not only stay in Teague’s building right now, but to paint a garish mural over it, featuring a giant, green Chihuahua. Holding a black puppy, she said, “I’ve been in these buildings. They’re coming down whether you approve it or not because they’re falling down.” Just two days later, however, Teague hosted the Venice Art Crawl at this same building.

When the time came for the council to vote, however, the majority of the members saw right through Teague’s tactics. The first to comment was Tommy Walker, an African-American who grew up in Oakwood during its rougher days. After listening closely to both sides, he was terrified by “the usage of the word crime in the community.” He could not understand why an individual would move into a community and “be that afraid of the community that you’re moving into that you feel the need to change the dynamics of it.” He also declared that “this is not a ghetto!” Irv Katz, also unimpressed by Teague’s fear tactics, told him if he was so afraid of Venice, “to build his enclave elsewhere.” He also pointed out that just recently the Abbot Kinney hotel had passed only AFTER they had removed their fourth floor.

Even members who had previously voted for other developments were unimpressed by not only the project design, but by Teague’s inability to connect well with the community. Mark Salzburg summed it up when he said “The neighborhood, to me is a lot more valuable then the parking.” Bud Jacobs went a step further saying “To be honest with you, I found your presentation kinda sophomoric and offensive to the community.”

The VNC passed the LUPC motion to deny 1414 Main Street with a vote of 14-1. Having been soundly defeated now in two critical community meetings, the neighborhood has clearly spoken. The question is: will the City of Los Angeles hear? Earlier that night, Councilman Mike Bonin said that the applicants on 522 Venice Boulevard that the city had denied, were now planning to sue. His response: bring it on. He also expressed his concern that the way SB1818 “is being applied it is resulting in a net decrease in affordable housing.”

For some neighborhoods in Venice, hyper-gentrification has already stuck a decisive, if not fatal, blow. But, for the neighborhoods once part of the original Venice canals, the people, armed with real facts, real concerns, and real determination, have held back its powerful force another day. Yes, Jason Teague, you should be afraid – not of the gangs of Venice, but of the spirit of Venice itself.

VNC_Meeting,_March_18

Above: March 18 VNC meeting


Construction Waivers Banned in Venice

April 1, 2014

By Greta Cobar

In a major victory for Venice, the California Coastal Commission passed a motion to stop the city of Los Angeles’s from allowing developments in Venice to be approved under de minimus waivers.

Following the March 12 Coastal Commission meeting, all developments in Venice will have to go through a Coastal Development Plan process to be approved.

Over the last two years the city of L.A. misleadingly approved 82 construction projects in Venice under de minimus waivers. The construction allowed by these types of waivers is supposed to be less than ten percent larger than the original dwellings; it is not supposed to change the character of the neighborhood; and is not supposed to include grading, among other restrictions. None of these restrictions were enforced by the city of L.A., and waivers were rubber-stamped left and right. As a result, big box-like construction that is not in line with the character of the neighborhood went up overnight all over Venice, especially in the Oakwood area.

Subsequent to the California Coastal Commission’s decision to pull the waivers for Venice, Gregg Shoop, who works for the city of L.A. and was in charge of evaluating the waiver requests for Venice, was transferred out of his position and replaced with Alan Bell.

On March 31 Samuel In, a retired building inspector and 37-year city employee was sentenced to two and a half years in prison resulting from a federal probe into bribe-taking at the Department of Building and Safety. Last year he plead guilty to felony bribery, and admitted accepting more than $30,000 in bribes.

Samuel In is one of five former Building and Safety employees who have faced either criminal charges or dismissal as a result of the bribery probe, and all of them are just a minor spotlighted example of the corruption taking place throughout the city of L.A. when it comes to construction.

According to the Venice Specific Plan, construction under de minimus waivers, granted under the Venice Sign-Off (VSO), is so minor that it has no impact on the neighborhood, but that was clearly not the case. In fact, taken cumulatively, the 82 construction projects approved by the city of L.A. within the last two years under such waivers have threatened to change the unique character of the Venice community by replacing turn-of-the-century California bungalows with bigger and taller, cheap, ugly, box-like construction.

Although single-family homes, these new constructions are built to the edge of the property, eliminating the traditional front/back yards, which has a negative impact on the environment and the animals that live in the area. The developers who bought out what many times were pioneer, minority families, used all of their unscrupulous tactics to benefit their deep pockets, such as allowing properties to sit for a year so that the Mello Act, which provides for low-income housing, would no longer apply.

The California Coastal Commission’s decision to cease giving the city of L.A. the power to pass de minimus waivers for Venice was a result of grass-roots community activism spear-headed by the Venice Coalition to Preserve Unique Community Character. On March 12 a group of Venice activists traveled to the Long Beach Coastal Commission meeting with documents incriminating the city of L.A.’s practice of handing out de minimus waivers.

Peggy Lee Kennedy prepared a document exposing illegal construction at 803-805 Marco Place and 2431 Wilson Ave. At Marco Place there was no notice of proposed development, and the application for the de minimus waiver (approved by the city) included grading on the property, even though no grading is allowed under such waivers. On the other hand, the developer on Wilson Ave. was scheduled to ask the Coastal Commission’s permission for a demolition that had already taken place.

Laddie Williams also traveled to Long Beach on March 12 with a document concerning the development at 720 Indiana, which is not consistent with the unique community character.

Ivonne Guzman joined Kennedy and Williams and delivered to the Coastal Commission a document concerning 660 Sunset, where a remodeling permit was used to demolish the entire property, leaving only a portion of a wall standing in order for it to pass as a remodel under a de minimus waiver.

The March edition of the Beachhead, which extensively covered proposed over-development in Venice, was handed out to each of the commissioners.

We surely do appreciate when a government entity does its job and protects us not only from greedy developers, but also from the corrupt city of L.A. Many thanks to the dozens of Venice activists who made this happen, and to the Coastal Commission for enforcing the Venice Specific Plan and the California Coastal Act in Venice.

Stay involved by attending the Venice Coalition to Preserve Unique Community Character meeting on April 12, at 4:30, First Baptist Church; and the Land Use and Planning Committee meeting on April 16, at 6:45, Oakwood Rec. Center.


Boxes Blight Brooks

April 1, 2014

By Anthony Castillo

Here at the Beachhead we devote a lot of space to the proposed mega development projects like 1414 Main Street, the hotel on Abbot Kinney, the Google land grab, and others past and present. And we’ve done so and will continue to do so for good reason. But in just the last year or less I’ve noticed a quieter form of gentrification going on just one block over from me in my neighborhood along the two blocks of Brooks from Lincoln west to 6th Ave. It’s what I like to call the “blight of the big box house.” We’ve all seen them, those huge square two or more story homes that take up almost all of the lots they are built on and stick out like sore thumbs amongst the other smaller, older homes they are built between.

But now along this two block stretch of Brooks soon it may be the older, small homes that will stick out like sore thumbs, as more and more big box homes go up in the places where once stood a home that gave this street the character it once had. Those homes are rapidly (at times it seems almost over night) being replaced by this hideous new breed of box. What the heck the designers of these things have against a pitched roof I will never understand. Just pitching the roofs would help them blend in just a little bit better with the existing surroundings, but still not make these huge multi story squares any less of a blight, which is what they are. They only serve to strip away the family character of this working class neighborhood and drive more of the long time residents out of Venice.

I’m all for home improvement, and I understand that due to termites, bad plumbing or out-dated electrical wiring, some older Venice homes may be in need of some serious renovation, or worst case scenario, torn down. But is the big box house the only alternative to what stood before? How about building a new Craftsman style home or a Spanish Mediterranean looking one that doesn’t take up every square inch of the property. Many home owners have been building larger dwellings in their back yards while still keeping the front house in tact. That’s fine with me, because unless you go down an alley or look really hard you may not even notice them, and the view from the street is still one of a quaint old Venice neighborhood.

As property values continue to rise with the likes of Google moving in and Joel Silver setting up shop in what should still be the Venice Post Office, it seems that many Venice residents are selling their properties and taking the money someone is offering them to leave Venice. But what has happened on Brooks is something akin to a cancer cluster near a toxic dump sight. The concentration of this mass exodus is truly stark, over a dozen and counting. Hopefully with the moratorium placed on de minimis building wavers the march of the big box home will be stopped. Let’s work to keep this from spreading to other streets in the Oakwood area of Venice. And if you are going to sell your property, don’t sell it to someone who is planning to level your home and put a big box in its place. You may be leaving Venice behind, but the rest of us will still be here and we don’t want to live on streets lined with mini sky scrappers.

IMG_2826

Above: New construction that thankfully does not look like a box


Open Letter About Public Urination, Stuff on Sidewalks … and Parking

April 1, 2014

By Deborah Lashever

If you are concerned with the urination and defecation in your neighborhood, lobby Bonin to install more public restrooms! Do you realize that we have 16 million visitors a year and about 20 public restrooms – that all close in the early evening and open at 8 am? Not one public restroom anywhere in Venice except the Boardwalk – with the exception of Vera Davis Center and the Library during the day and NOT EVEN ONE at night anywhere! Where do you think all the tourists go? And on First Friday where do all the food truckies go? And after the bars close? Please do not blame the unhoused people for the mess. They are not responsible for the thousands of tourists who “do their business” all over Venice because we do not have enough public toilets! In one hour three weeks ago I saw 6 tourists pee in the parking lot by the handball courts because the lines for the bathrooms were 25 people deep. It was a Saturday but not even the Summer yet!  Unhoused people need a place to go too. You act like they are being criminals because they have a basic human need! Can you ‘hold it” for 12 hours? Did you know that the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights – that the U. S. signed onto – states that access to hygiene is a basic human right? This is not a homeless problem but is being blamed on them. This is the city’s bad. Simple solution: more bathrooms! (There are many designs that take the fear of using them for prostitution and drug abuse away, by the way, so that well used excuse is null and void at this time.)

“Cleaning up” by taking all the belongings of unhoused people is inhumane as well. When the raid on 3rd Street occurred a couple of years ago the police threw away all the unhoused people’s I.D.s, birth certificates, irreplaceable photos of relatives, family Bibles, essential medications like heart pills and blood thinners, pet equipment, blankets and sleeping bags, clothing and everything they owned. They do not have a place to store their stuff so that unsightly pile on the sidewalk is all they have in the world! Just because you wish you didn’t see it should they lose everything? Is this justice? If you really want the stuff off the sidewalks lobby Bonin for a bigger voluntary storage program like the one we have on the Ocean Front Walk by the paddle tennis courts. It has been working at twice the capacity since November. The volunteers are in danger of being injured because of all the lifting and hauling we must to do for lack of room. We could store many, many more people’s items but we do not have the space! We do not have to resort to criminalizing the poor with all the “clean ups” on OFW and other places in Venice!  What a waste of the city’s time and money! There are inexpensive, easy, humane solutions!

It may surprise you to note that there is NOT ONE emergency bed in all of the Westside of Los Angeles and embarrassingly scant services of any kind in Venice. It is not true that unhoused people do not want help. They just do not want it in Skid Row or Lancaster. I hope you realize that Venice is their neighborhood too. This is their community. Many have been here much longer than you. The solution is to give some assistance to get them on their feet – not to bitch about how wrong they are for being poor! I hope you never have to live on the street yourself, but if you do I hope people are kinder and more compassionate to you than you are being now. It is not all about you in your million dollar place with your tender sensibilities – these people are trying desperately to merely survive! That sidewalk is hard and cold! Why don’t you help them? How would it actually hurt you if you did? How would it help all of us if you used your money, your contacts and political will to help?

Parking? Try diagonal lines on our widest streets. Almost twice the parking at hardly any cost! No passes needed.

There are simple solutions – with the will. The problem is that people want to go on with the upgrading of their seemingly important and busy lives, not wanting to be part of the solution – but just wanting the “problems,” as they define them from their narrow point of view, to magically go away by throwing police at them! Poverty is not a criminal activity and so cannot be solved by police intervention!

Please, please help with humane solutions! Don’t just talk and talk and talk about the problems! Ticketing, throwing homeless people in jail and taking all their stuff costs us all many, many thousands of dollars a year per person and does not fix anything – but hurts quite a lot! Buckminster Fuller said it best when he said, “To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.” Please join us – or at least support us – in creating that new model. Lobby Bonin for humane solutions for unhoused people and to stop the criminalization of poverty.

Storage container - VCHC

Above: Storage container for the house-less, currently located by the paddle tennis courts


The Drum Circle and the Criminalization of Free Speech

April 1, 2014

By Ronald Keith McKinley

The Drum Circle has been under siege since its inception twenty-five years ago. A loud vocal minority has always found it offensive.

Randy Banks, ex-marine and capoeira instructor, started this drum circle in response to suppression of drumming on Ocean Front Walk. Randy took us to the hill just east of the spot of the sand gathering. With just two drummers, me, Deon (whose last name I don’t remember) and Randy on agogo bell, the drum circle was created. Some people complained of the noise. This was hand-drumming only. Snares and floor toms, drums played with sticks were not allowed. We enforced this.

Rasta Randy’s idea was to have church on the beach: a church with drummers, a place where people could commune with nature. He did not allow alcohol. There was a time when there was no drinking in the drum circle. We simply stopped playing when someone brought alcohol into our church. This only works if everyone stops playing. When our church grew, so did the unenlightened drummers. Still no matter what you have heard, the majority of people don’t drink; the majority of people don’t use drugs; a sizeable amount doesn’t smoke.

Free speech means you will hear things you don’t want hear. It’s free speech. If it offends you move on. Don’t move to Venice. If you moved to Venice now for the vibe, free speech is part and parcel.

The weekend of March 15-16 the America Ninja Warrior tryouts dominated the beach. The lights stayed on all night. Powerful spot lights kept it daytime. In my apartment on Horizon there was constant light pollution.

The competitors were allowed to set up tents and sleep on the beach, some of the unhoused did the same.

There was police everywhere, making their presence known, criminalizing with a look. Folks on the receiving end of this know what I mean.

After the American Ninja Warrior tryouts people migrated to the drum circle, the only free place for people to gather.

The police have been trying to shut down the drum circle after sunset. This is done with force, after all this is a police force. This has been happening only recent, in the last 3-4 years. It works sometimes.

I have played there for all of the twenty-five it’s been alive. It is a living thing that changes like all living things. And like all living things, it will fight for its life.

The police came on like an occupying army, all bluster and contempt.

A group of four hundred young people were pressed together dancing. I mean dancing!! It was beautiful. No fighting: black, brown, yellow, white dancing. I can still see them – our future. The police said: “You have to stop.” The dancers ignored them. You don’t ignore the LAPD; they reacted, calling in more police, in riot gear. A helicopter arrived just before a scrimmage line was formed in the sand.

When people on the boardwalk saw all this they rushed to the drum circle, making it larger – the police had officially made it worse. I left after the “fuck the police” chant started.

I sat in a nearby pagoda, getting as much sand as possible out of my shoes and drum bag. I watched in awe the lack of good judgment the police displayed.

The American Ninja Warrior tryouts show who is allowed on the beach after sunset; of course there are no drugs or alcohol, or smoking – really?

Security and freedom don’t balance – as one increases, the other one decreases. People who say they are concerned about your safety will take away your freedom, and then you will have neither.

The weekend of March 22-23 there were no flare-ups, no “fuck the police,” no American Ninja Warrior tryouts. I can sleep. No light pollution, no loud amplified voice naming contestants. The unhoused no longer hide among the contestants and sleep on Ocean Front Walk, because of the illegal curfew; they didn’t keep me awake with spotlights on motorized lifts.

The police were still out in force, they stood around wasting limited resources on maintaining control. Pushed aside was the issue of safety, making the beach safe for corporate free speech, exploiting and suppressing the Venice vibe.

The drum is the second musical instrument – the human voice is the first. If they take away the second, how will the first fair. Use your first instrument, or you will have neither first nor second.

Drum Circle -  drawing by Audrey McNamara

Above: Artwork by Audrey McNamara

Below: Cops and Alex Thompson, convicted felon and wanna be cop settled for cop cheerleader

Drum Circle, March 22. Photo by David Busch

Drum Circle - Alex Thompson and police


Santa Monica Airport to Become a Park

April 1, 2014

By Laura Silagi

It just came to my attention that there was a response to my January article about the Santa Monica airport. I stand by all the facts I presented.

To update what has been happening since then, last Tuesday, March 25th the Santa Monica City Council held a meeting focusing on the future of the Santa Monica Airport. As a representative of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Santa Monica Airport Committee, I focused on the unfair treatment dealt to Los Angeles residents by the city of Santa Monica. As long as there is an airport in Santa Monica, of whatever size, it is important for Los Angeles residents’ health and safety that the city of Santa Monica changes two practices.

First is the policy that is called the “Fly Neighborly” program that “Highly Recommends” prop planes to turn south over Venice and then east over Mar Vista. The flight schools have used this route for training and the majority of prop planes flying east do the same. The FAA, in a meeting with our committee said that this policy is solely one of Santa Monica. These prop planes rain noise and lead pollution down on our homes, parks and schools.

The other unfair practice of Santa Monica has been to block any change of jets departures. If jets were to fly northerly on take-off there would be no conflict with LAX departures, as there is when these planes fly over Venice toward the ocean. This conflict means that jets departing SMO have to idle waiting for permission relayed from the LAX tower to the SMO tower that the SMO jets are cleared for take-off. This idling results in extreme levels of black carbon and ultra-fine particles blowing into the neighborhoods to the east. This pollution has been documented by scientists at UCLA. Also, those under the take-off route have been plagued by noise and jet fuel pollution for years.

Reminding Santa Monica of their unfair practices falls upon us. No citizen group or individual in Santa Monica is doing it.

The Santa Monica City Council meeting did have a great deal of positive outcomes, however. Here is a summary described by Airport2Park, a Santa Monica group working toward turning the airport land into a park.

“Santa Monica, CA, March 26, 2014 – After nearly four hours of public testimony the Santa Monica City Council last night voted unanimously to begin the process of reclaiming the land at Santa Monica Airport for the benefit of the whole community. ‘We are on the way to getting our park,’ said Airport2Park spokesman Gavin Scott. ‘It’s a great day for this city, and we applaud the council members for their vision and courage – and for listening to the people of Santa Monica and surrounding communities.’

Following staff recommendations, additional recommendations from the Santa Monica Airport Commission, and ideas from the public, the council directed staff, among other things, to begin creation of an Airport Concept Plan to identify low-key land uses for when the airport closes, including the possibility of a park and firmly excluding commercial development. The process would start with the 35 acres known as the ‘Western Parcel’ that the City will take control of July 1, 2015 (when a 1984 agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration expires).

To emphasize the City’s determination to take control of the whole airport, the council decided to free itself up by paying back $250,000 in grant money previously received from the FAA and rethink the rules for renting airport buildings after the current leases end July 1, 2015, as well as ending or limiting the sale of dangerous, polluting aviation fuel.

Airport2Park, the organization residents formed last summer to advocate for building a big public park on the airport site, sent a delegation of five members, each of whom spoke for two minutes, laying out the case for the need for and feasibility of building the park.

According to Mr. Scott, the group was particularly grateful for the forceful statements by council members, including Mayor Pam O’Connor and Council Member Kevin McKeown, denouncing the fear-mongering tactics of aviation interests who claim that if the City closes the airport, outrageous development will take its place.

Airport2Park is also grateful for the outpouring public support against the airport’s continued operations and in favor of Airport2Park’s vision for a great park.“


Ruthie in the Bakery

April 1, 2014

By Marty Liboff

My mother, Ruthie began managing a Jewish bakery on the oceanfront in 1951. It was two blocks north of Venice in old Ocean Park. Ocean Park in the 1950s was predominately a poor, older Jewish community with beautiful turn of the last century buildings. In 1959 the city decided to redevelop old Ocean Park and they began forcing all the old time residents out so they could demolish it for new high rises. We were lucky and found an old house a couple of blocks away. The bakery moved in 1959 to the Venice Ocean Front Walk on Dudley Ave. where the Titanic is today, in the Cadillac Hotel building. A few steps away on Dudley, the Venice West Cafe opened in 1962. It was run by John Haag and his wonderful baleboosteh* wife, Anna. The Venice West Cafe was a cool hangout where weird, wild beatniks with scraggy beards and wild eyes would rant like crazy poetry. John and Anna were the honorary king and queen of Venice and they helped found the Peace and Freedom Party and the Beachhead newspaper. They were great friends of my mom and hung out at the bakery quite often. If John and Anna were the unofficial king and queen of Venice, Ruthie was the mayor.  Back then, Venice was even poorer than old Ocean Park. There was an amazing mix of old Jews, hippies, bums, gonifs*, assorted nuts, homeless and druggies. There was also a poor black neighborhood, da hood, nearby.

Ruthie made the bakery the cultural center of Venice, especially after the Venice West Cafe closed. She managed the bakery through four decades and four different owners. For 15 cents you could get a cup of coffee and a day-old bagel with a lively kibbitz* about politics, TV, drugs, race, the war, and the rising cost of cookie dough. If you were broke, she would give you a couple bucks, and load you up with day-old bread and broken cookies. She would even feed the hungry dogs and pigeons. Ruthie made sure that nobody starved on the beach. I remember many great stories around the bakery. Here is one…

In 1965, I was about 17 years old when the Watts riots broke out. The TV was warning everyone to stay home, especially at night. That evening, after my mom heard the news, she said to me, “Let’s take a walk to check and see if the bakery is O.K.” She didn’t even own the shop, and to risk our lives for a few onion rolls seemed silly to me. I argued and pleaded, but Ruthie just put on her sweater and said, “If you’re too chicken, I’ll go myself!” Well, this tiny woman, all of five feet, calling me “chicken” got me going, and so out we went walking into the night.

Venice looked like a wild party of crazed Somali pirates. Some stores had broken windows, and a few black men taunted us. Some were very drunk. I was ready to wet my pants, and I begged my mom to turn back and go home, but Ruthie just kept marching onward to the bakery. She opened up the bakery door and began giving away the food. I stupidly hung up a sign saying, “Please don’t break in.”

As we were about to leave, four huge threatening men carrying pipes and baseball bats blocked our path. I nearly pooped in my underpants! Ruthie stepped up and said, “You guys know me. I’ve been here for years helping you guys.” A giant of a man with a crowbar came over and put his arms around Ruthie and said, “Ruthie, we all love you. Don’t you worry, we’ll make sure nothing happens to the bakery.”

The next day we walked back to the bakery. The Jewish market and deli and all the shops were smashed and looted. Men were roasting sides of beef over trash cans that were taken from the kosher butcher, while grumbling to us, “What did that damn butcher do with all the pork chops?”. The only shop not broken into was the bakery…

Ruthie in the Bakery

Above: Ruthie in the bakery, by the bread cutter, circa 1961


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