Google’s Ghetto by the Sea

January 1, 2014

By Theo Kirkham-Lewitt

Back and forth on her low-ride beach cruiser bicycle, wearing a black Suicidal Tendencies band t-shirt, dark Ray Ban shades and blood-red lipstick, she pops out against a background of the now tame Abbot Kinney Boulevard. “F.U. GQ! Get out of our city!” Tamara shouts repeatedly as she continually passes by the Party’s entrance. Her partner in protest, with a blue Mohawk over an otherwise bald head and a black shirt that reads, in a white gothic font, “I hate Venice…because of you,” detonates punk rock tunes from a small boom box. Their elderly comrade, wearing a floral print kimono, bobbed grey hair dyed blindingly purple, holds a sign reading, “Venice, The People’s Beach.” Amongst an array of picket signs held by a militantly diverse crowd of long-time Venice residents, GQ magazine’s team of systematically styled representatives stand at attention, arms crossed, hair gelled, matching shirts reading “GQHQ,” projecting an overall aura of disinterest in the growing boycott around them.

The fenced off party held in the parking lot of Brandelli’s Brig, a once rough and tumble bar that attracted Venice’s rather surly crowd, had been transformed into a tidy display of fashion and ‘culture.’ Equipped with a photo booth resembling that of a red carpet and a skateboard ramp attended to by young, manicured men whose image seemed more in line with a Hollister brand advertisement than Venice’s bristly skateboarding past, GQ Magazine’s party on Abbot Kinney Boulevard manifested a change in physical form. The partygoers, a trendy crowd of recent Venice transplants, clashed tremendously with the protest going on just on mere steps away.

Abbot Kinney, the roughly mile-long commercial Boulevard that stretches between Venice Boulevard and Main Street, sacrificially accepted the blunt force of Venice’s transformation, often referred to as the street’s ‘renaissance’. Gentrification seems more fitting. One of the few prominent commercial streets along Venice’s coastal regions, Abbot Kinney acted as a cross section, one in which storeowners, restaurateurs, gallery owners, and their patrons came into close proximity with the neighborhood that rears the boulevard to the east, Oakwood. Abbot Kinney’s close vicinity with Oakwood, a neighborhood central to the once considerable amount of the gang activity in Venice, created a tension between the sundry residents. While ‘tension’ tends to take on a negative connotation, it took partial responsibility in defining Venice as a whole for quite some time. Creative people of all types flocked to Venice in part because of this very cultural friction.  While nearby suburbs lacked tension, Venice had abundance, and thus, had its identity.

On November 16th, 2013, GQ magazine decided to throw a party to celebrate the boulevard’s rise to its current position upon the regal thrown of LA’s hip social scene. As a follow up to an article they published in April of 2012, GQ announced that it planned to “take over” what they had called “the coolest block in America,” for a (pretentious) day of “style.” November 16th (1850) also marks the birthday of Mr. Abbot Kinney, the developer and conservationist that founded Venice beach in 1905. GQ’s celebration seemed, however, to focus more on the “coolness” of the once turbulent boulevard, rather than celebrate the historical relevance of the day, a subtle, albeit, perhaps unintentional, slap in the face to those residents who have called Venice home for a lifetime.

I grew up on Dudley Avenue, one of the many ‘walk-streets’ in the area, a microcosm of the surrounding three square miles that once endearingly embraced a title, “Ghetto by the Sea;” a melting pot within melting pots. As a young kid who wanted nothing more than to surf all morning and skate all day, the backdrop of my daily life seemed exclusively of ‘the street’. Pre-sunrise commutes down the iconic Venice boardwalk, surfboard in hand, bled into countless hours clattering up and down the walk-street with the other neighborhood kids.

First-name basis conversations with the local homeless men and women were the norm. Pick up games of basketball with the gypsies’ kids from down the block happened weekly. Altercations between seedy hooded men and women in front of the crack house at 58 Dudley Ave kept us on our toes. The neighbors’ urban chicken-coup provided hours of entertainment. The Phoenix house, a drug rehab center a few steps around the corner, added its own array of unstable characters to the circus, while across the street, Eric Clapton’s modern mansion stood obtrudingly amongst the surrounding cottages and stucco apartment buildings. Across the street from my 1907-built home, a successful entertainment lawyer lived next door to Katherine Hardwick, Hollywood director most well known for Thirteen and the first Twilight movie. A quick glance up my street, across the perpendiculars of Pacific Avenue and Main Street, and the iconic Frank Geary designed “binocular building” dominated the horizon. Assuming the weather was favorable, floods of tourists wedged themselves into the mix of street vendors and vagrants, as if they were the excessive grout between lines of deteriorating bricks.

In the midst of this charming chaos, the neighborhood kids went about their daily non-routine, Dudley Avenue as their playground. Of course we had some loose supervision. My dad, an independent film producer, often watched us skate, occasionally accompanied by his old friend Eddie Bunker, a former two-decade-long inmate at San Quentin Penitentiary turned writer, who would humorously point out to my dad which houses on the block he had boosted in his former life. Apparently he had hit them all. Our once-drug dealing neighbor served as another source of supervision. Always home, he ceaselessly kept at least one protective eye on us, the other eye on his ‘business’. In the event that Crazy Mary, a local schizophrenic homeless woman that frequented our neighborhood, decided to venture up onto our urban playground, screaming indecipherable nonsense, our adolescent games of tag suddenly became training. She scared the living crap out of us, and would send us hopping over my home’s short fence, darting onto my porch quicker than a ‘crack head’ could put flame to pipe. To us, it was an exhilarating, and admittedly horrifying, game. My parents and older sister (of 4 years) would always laugh in retrospect at the time she got her dress stuck on the fence in attempt to run from an approaching Mary, frantically running in place as she gained no ground. Too young to remember this incident for myself, it became that of a wives’ tale to me, The Legend of Mary and the Dress.

The luxury of a living on this “walk street” meant that all of the interaction and people-watching unfolded without the interruption of passing cars; our very own concrete park. Perhaps if we had lived on one of the more popular commuter streets like Pacific, Rose, or near Abbot Kinney Boulevard, we would have noticed all of the fancy cars that were becoming more and more common over the last near-decade. Fumes of change began seeping through the cracks of our wonderfully confused community. Sure, our contemporary “Ghetto by the Sea” remains by the sea, but the “Ghetto” qualities that made the community exciting have since faded to near extinction.

Upon this stage of both sub-cultural confrontation and coexistence, creative people of all types found inspiration. Steadfast in their devotion to non-normative society, the beatniks adopted Venice as a Mecca. Here, they drew inspiration from the surrounding street culture and the accessibility of narcotics.  Throughout the seventies and beyond, Venice became known as one of the most hardcore, localized hubs of surf and skate culture to date, germinating yet another subset of social rejects. Venice’s history of providing room and board for hoards of culturally deviant castaways certainly left its mark on the small beachside city. While the beatniks may have faded, relics of their era persist. One glance at either the beachside parking lots or residential side streets, and the curious visitor would have been hard pressed to miss the bearded men in their florally cloaked trailer homes, throwbacks to the city’s fading past. The lack of these vehicular floral orchestrations both literally and metaphorically marks a sad end to the vibrancy of Venice’s identity, its shift towards ‘the ordinary’.

Over the course of the last dozen years or so, Venice’s reputation of cultural eclecticism has fallen below a matter of fact, and crept closer and closer towards the realm of myth. Many Venetians attribute much of their present disillusionment to Google, who, in November of 2011, moved roughly 450 engineers into the space at the Frank Geary Binocular building, simultaneously taking over the two surrounding buildings. While the move may have only taken place recently, the surrounding community began experiencing a shift in character months in advance, as the number of high-end restaurants and designer boutiques began to inflate at an alarming rate. Rose Avenue, a commercial street less than a block away from Google’s new headquarters seemed to mutate the fastest. In what felt like an overnight occurrence, condo complexes were erected, along with a string of cafes serving up ten-dollar juices and five-dollar coffees a la Café Gratitude. To a devout foodie, the flash flood of fine dining was a blessing. The obvious alignment towards an incoming upper social class of technological entrepreneurs, on the other hand, made me nauseous.

In an article published on LA Currents in May of this year, Tasbeeh Herwees illuminates the opinions of a handful of longtime Venice residents, including those held by Deborah Lashever, member of Occupy Venice as well as a small local business owner. She recalls that Google said “that they were moving to Venice because they really like the culture…so I don’t understand why they want to wreck it.” As Tamara, one of the more vocal protesters from the GQHQ protest points out, “they wanted to make it a community and make it part of our community, but they’re not. They’re totally separating themselves. They literally look at us like we’re the scum of the earth, but we’re the artists! We’re the ones that made [Venice] what it is!” While expressing her thoughts, Tamara’s frustration became increasingly visible as she noticed her ex-landlord hanging out at the GQ event. Recently evicted due to drastic increases in rent, Tamara, and many residents in a similar situation, take the changes in Venice’s character very personally.

Despite all of the changes brought forth by the rushed gentrification of the once coastal ghetto, and the apparent death of a city’s soul, oddly enough, tension, that ever-defining trait, lives on. Whereas the past embraced a tension between art and crime, concrete and sand, both the present and foreseeable future seem to have adopted a new, perhaps more ubiquitous alteration, one that exists between economic and social classes. Perhaps more accessible to the observing outsider, this archetypal tension follows suit with Venice’s shift towards becoming increasingly palatable to the masses. Having lived in Venice for just over twenty years, I’m disturbed at how quickly I have been assigned a sense of displacement towards my own city. While Venice will always be my home, I may have to dig increasingly deeper into my memory to regain the sense of place that once defined my home experience.  Timothy Leary sightings replaced by glimpses of Robert Downy Jr., and artists replaced by trust-funders, the old kind of Venetians roll with the punches, still the early rounds of a steep uphill battle for ownership; Venice’s new form of turf warfare.

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Above: Ocean Front Walk, 1972.  Photo: Richard Mann


GQ OR NOT GQ

December 2, 2013

By Eric Ahlberg

The Gentleman’s Quarterly “Coolest Block in Los Angeles” event on Abbot Kinney boulevard was met with a sizeable contingent of counter protesters.   Many Venice locals are upset that some of their favorite local businesses are being forced out by the higher rents and an influx of suburban mall-like chain stores. Even some landowners are concerned that this is a bubble economy, an unsustainable conflation of marketing and money to drive up commercial rents, land values, and then cash out, leaving a moribund business district behind, examples being  Main Street Santa Monica, SM 3rd Street Mall, Melrose, Westwood. Higher rents may be coolest thing for landlords, realtors, and banks, but rent inflation is the number one reason artists leave Venice.    There have been many doomsayers over the years, yet Venice has been a strong fighter for the rights of renters. With the Coastal Commission, and the Venice Specific Plan, developers have been prevented from mowing down our neighborhoods and replacing them with high rises, and further congesting our streets and Lincoln Boulevard.

Venice has authentic cool. It is known for its extended and international community of artists. We have our own internationally recognized Poetry and Mural centers. We have a lively and tumultuous beach boardwalk, with an extended history of street artists and street performers. We have outstanding social missions like VCHC, VFC, VNC, AKFA, A Place Called Home, Venice Skills Center, the Vera Davis Center, The Electric Lodge, PRT, LA Theatre Works and more. This community has remained remarkably resilient over the years. Venice has authentic artist cool.

Venice demographics aren’t really changing that much. Seventy-one percent of the households make less than $70,000, and seventy-two percent of households are renters, while forty-five percent of houses date before 1950.   Venice is often tired and rundown, parking sucks, traffic sucks, your neighbors may suck, and you probably suck at times too. Venice Sucks! Everybody sucks. Here’s a Venice Welcome Mat! Now there’s a nice marketing slogan. Yeah, I used to live in the canals, next door to the cruelest man in Venice.

So again, we have an upscale lifestyle magazine glamorizing our neighborhood. They work the businesses on the street for paid ads and dangle feature story possibilities. They fund some civic improvement projects (tree trimming). They provide employment to writers and photographers. Money making the world go round.

Coolest? Surely this tips the quite clumsy hand of marketing, because cool does not need superlatives. Is this just a lack of imagination, a transparent abuse of a marketing quality that must must be earned, not proclaimed? The LA Weekly calls AKB “the douchiest block in Los Angeles”. During the ’60s, corporate marketing found that “cool” could be incredibly profitable.  Corporations started raiding the counterculture for language to brand, to use in marketing campaigns. Cool became central to the way capitalism presented itself. Marketing constructed cultural machines that transform despair and alienation into consent. Cool is a heavily manipulative corporate ethos most aggressively mined by brandmasters as a source of borrowed ‘meaning’ and identity. The ‘got to be cool’ rhetoric of the global brands is borrowed from Black American Culture. Cool is exploited as a manufactured and empty idea imposed on the culture at large through a top-down process by the advertisers. An artificial cycle of “cooling” and “uncooling” creates false needs in consumers, and stimulates the economy. Some large companies  outsource their “cool” marketing. They hire other “smaller, more-limber, closer-to-the-ground outsider” companies to keep up with  rapidly changing customer tastes and demands.

“Start generating authentic cool from the bottom up again. The rest will follow.” – Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization – Adbusters.

Most of the value of land has nothing to do with the landlord. A $2,000,000 lot in Venice may be a teardown. The value of the land is created by the community, but almost all of it is “owned” by the fabled 1 percent. And  they suck a lot of money out of it. By far the most valuable asset form in the U.S. is real estate, and the majority of that is the value of the land, as distinct from the value of the human-made buildings. It is simply bought when it was cheap, sold when it was dear, and waited for the check. “They” are the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector, and they capture forty percent of the United States’ profits, despite the complete passivity of their profit-accumulation method.  There is no reason to let a small group of rich landlords extract its value, when what created the value are parks, subways, local restaurants and other things the landlords didn’t provide.

If this sounds like it’s a little too far outside the box, the solution is to think outside the box. Capitalism requires pretending that individuals’ private ownership of the land, minerals, gases and oils that nature provided is not a completely ludicrous idea.

On the day of the GQ event and the counter protest, we interviewed several participants.  You can see the interviews here: http://goo.gl/xopZwO.

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Above: Alette’s hilarious Hipster Lemonade Stand, in GQ’s face! Hipster lemonade: $40; Biggest sale of the year: 50% off. Sold 4, all proceeds were donated to the Philippines. Stay Venice!

Photo: Stephanie Ashwood


The Venice Symphony Orchestra – Good Vibrations

October 1, 2013

By CJ Gronner

When I first heard there was going to be a Venice Symphony Orchestra, I thought it was just about the best idea ever. Then I heard them, and that is now confirmed. Led by founder/director/conductor/musician, Wesley Flowers, I just heard the VSO play for the first time at the September Venice Art Crawl, and as their tag-line goes, they did indeed play everything “From Beck to Bach.” Beautifully.

Flowers grew up in Georgia, playing the bass and piano – a little.  As life goes, opportunities spring up and you either grab them or you don’t, and when Flowers was offered a gig playing on tour with Butch Walker, he grabbed it. Flowers played with Walker for five years, and that gig is what first brought him out to Los Angeles. He found that he didn’t like L.A. at all, but when he came down to the beach in Venice – near the studio they were working out of – he said the clouds parted and he knew these were his people. I’ve heard that same story so many times – and told it – where people arrive in Venice and just either get it or they don’t. The ones who get it stay … and then do their best to not only preserve what they loved about it upon arrival, but to add to it in creative and positive ways. That’s just what Flowers set out to do, right from the beginning.

After attending a performance of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra, Flowers was blown away – and then even more so to find that Venice did not have an Orchestra of its own. What?! A creative hub of the entire world did not have an Orchestra?! Something had to be done. Flowers approached some friends with his idea, and Venice architect/developer Jason Teague thought it was a fantastic idea, and said that Flowers was exactly the kind of person we want living in Venice. Exactly right. Teague helped to get a non-profit set up, and Flowers was off to the races, recruiting musicians through Craig’s List, Yo Venice and The Free Venice Beachhead. The VSO had their first performance in the fall of 2012 at The Electric Lodge, where they were also allowed to hold rehearsals. Flowers said, “This is the only town this could happen in.” Everyone is a volunteer at this point, everything has been donated, and all are in it for the love of music.

The music. With so many talented musicians in town, there has been a kind of revolving door of VSO members thus far, as everyone has busy schedules and also need to make a living, so sometimes well-paying gigs need to take precedence while the VSO gets up, running, and more self-sufficient. Watching them perform at last month’s Art Crawl, one would have no idea that there was so little time for the group to rehearse as a whole. The program (Mozart AND “Good Vibrations”!) was flawless and had the entire audience jam-packed (with a line down the block to get in!) into Teague’s shipping container compound applauding and elated that we now DO have a symphony orchestra of our own!

Their hopes are to keep growing, to offer free music lessons to at-risk local youth, have free performances for the neighborhood, tour with the VSO, have a permanent home (how about a concert hall in the Windward Circle?!) to play in, have a staff, score films, stage a performance at the end of the Venice Pier … the great ideas are really endless. To make them a reality will require help and support from our whole community. You can donate through their website. You can sign up for “LivnGiv” where participating restaurants donate 20% of your tab to the VSO, at no extra cost to you. You can book them for a private function (what a great work holiday party idea!). And as the membership is now only about 1/4 as big as Flowers would like, you can dust off your own instrument and join in on the music-making!

“We put the Venice in symphony orchestra,” Flowers said, and added that the people and the music selections are “funky enough to be the VENICE Symphony Orchestra.” It’s great to see a younger generation not only getting involved with orchestral music, but creating it for the whole community to enjoy. “I think we can revolutionize the movement and redefine what an orchestra can be. We can re-invent the classics, while still honoring them, and incorporating things like electronic music, because it all ties together.”  A pretty apt mission statement for an orchestra for Venice, California if you ask me. I think Abbot Kinney would not only be proud of these guys, but would probably see a little bit of his dreamer self in them … and the part that then goes out and makes it happen.

Celebrate the music of Venice! The Venice Symphony Orchestra will be playing monthly at First Fridays at Trim Salon on Abbot Kinney, at the next Art Crawl on December 19th, and wherever our town books them to share the gift of their music.

Please support our VSO. Contact them at Veniceorchestra@gmail.com. Like them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/veniceorchestra) Sign up for LivnGiv (https://www.livngiv.com/los-angeles and select VSO as your cause. Thank you, and Enjoy the music!!!

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Our Oldest Mural Is Gone

September 1, 2013

By Greta Cobar

The owner of the building housing the oldest surviving mural in Venice destroyed the mural without consulting the community or the artist who painted it.

Located on Brooks at Pacific, the 15¢ wash and 5¢ dry artwork has been a part of Venice since 1969. Locals at that time, The Doors band members posed in front of it and used the photo for publicity.

Through the years the bottom of the mural got tagged and was partly painted over.

The law allows building owners to paint over murals as long as they inform the artist 90 days in advance. Victor Henderson, the artist of the mural on Brooks, was not notified. The wall was sand-blasted and primed.

Ralph Ziman, the owner of the building, hired Clinton Bopp, a painter from Santa Monica, to re-create the mural. The two of them had planned to include The Doors band members in the new mural, but the original artist himself, Victor Henderson, showed up and put a stop to that idea.

So should we be happy that we got a brand-new, shiny and more colorful copy of the original mural on the building on Brooks? NO! The forty-four year old artwork was destroyed. Its re-creation is analogous to a copy or a re-creation of a Picasso painting. There are millions of those copies and re-creations, but only one cherished original.

“Henderson’s 1969 mural in Venice was obliterated and it will be recreated. We don’t recreate murals, we restore them,” the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles stated on their Facebook page. Residents, visitors, artists and muralists would have preferred to preserve the original mural and restore it. But they did not have a choice – the owner of the building did.

Artists have the right to sue if their artwork is destroyed without the required 90-days notice. Considered the grand-daddy of the current mural movement, Kent Twitchell did sue the city when his 3-story high Ed Ruscha (1987) mural disappeared in 2006. He got a million dollars. Victor Henderson would have a similar case against the owner of the building on Brooks.

“Their loss is deeply felt not just by the artists, but by Los Angeles,” wrote Alice Emmons in the Rogue Art Research and Writing Journal referring to “discarded, stolen, erased” murals.

A year ago the owner of the building on the north-east corner of Windward and Pacific decided to cover the whole building in white, painting over a beautiful, intact mural on the busiest intersection in Venice. To think that such a decision is remote, and does not affect the community, would be a mis-judgement. Murals are public art, and by definition they belong to the public. When they are taken away, it is the public’s loss. People appreciate art in their communities, and with time they rightfully begin to identify with it. Murals become part of the community.

Nostalgia and public interest in lost murals prompted the art show “Lost L.A. Murals,” which took place in November of 2012 at Cal State Fullerton. The show “explores how that loss (of murals) has impacted the culture and history of art in Los Angeles,” wrote Alice Emmons in the Rogue Art Research and Writing Journal.

Two of the four murals featured in the “Lost L.A. Murals” show once lived in Venice: Terry Schoonnhoven’s St. Charles Painting (1979) and Venice in the Snow (1970) by the Fine Art Squad. The first muralist group in Los Angeles, the Fine Arts Squad was created by Victor Henderson and Terry Schoonnhoven.

Just like Victor Henderson’s Brooks mural was a mirror image of the landscape facing it, so Terry Schoonhoven’s St. Charles Painting on Windward, on the east side of the building now occupied by Danny’s Deli and the Cotel hostel, was a mirror image of  1979 Windward facing Pacific. It was painted over in 2012 by Jonas Never’s A Touch of Venice mural. Terry Schoonhoven’s widow apparently stated that Terry Schoonhoven did not want his murals to be restored, instead accepting their inevitable decay and disappearance.

Venice in the Snow, on the other hand, still exists, but it is obscured by an apartment building that was built inches away from it. Based on a report of snowfall in Venice in 1949, the mural illustrates Ocean Front Walk covered in a blanket of snow. “It captured the imagination of the community with its ironic and realistic style,” wrote Alice Emmons in Rogue Art Research and Writing Journal.

Painting on buildings was a novice concept in the 60s and early 70s, and when the Fine Arts Squad started working on the Venice in the Snow mural, “the local community became enthralled and involved with the project, leaving offerings, setting up couches to create an outdoor living room of sorts,” wrote Liz Sadoff in LA Fine Art Squad. This further goes to show that a community becomes part of the mural much as the mural becomes part of the community.

World-famous artist known as Banksy bestowed one of his artworks on a garage door in Venice in January 2011. A self-titled graffiti artist, Banksy gained world-wide fame and notoriety with the movie “Exit Through the Gift Shop”.

Consequently, the garage door that he tagged was bought by theChive, a Texas-based company that was already using a hand-full of Banksy’s designs on their shirts. And not coincidentally that same company is currently renting, and flying their flags high on, one of the newly-built super-expensive condos on OFW and Thornton.

This is a generic example of a company that has absolutely nothing to do with Venice moving in to smudge off the “coolness” of Venice. When asked why they took public, street art out of its intended location, the company stated that it plans to loan it to museums. The garage door has not been seen since 2011. But how often do we walk through a museum compared to how often we walk down the street? And which one is free?

The owners of the building housing Emily Winters’s JAYA mural on Dell, in the Venice canals, are currently expecting a child and are planning on moving out. “If the building got sold and the new owners wanted to paint over the mural, I could go and take pictures of it. Moving the mural would cost $100,000. But they probably wouldn’t paint over it because they wouldn’t want to antagonize the community,” Winters told the Beachhead.

If Ralph Ziman, the owner of the building on Brooks, would have given the required 90-day notice of intent to destroy the mural, the public could have been mobilized to fight the destruction of the oldest mural in Venice, and one of the oldest in all of Los Angeles. Victor Henderson could have been paid to restore it, with the original, dimmer colors. As it is, Ziman just antagonized the local community and the arts community far and wide. The saddest part is that what he did cannot be undone.


A New Chapter in the History of Muralism in Los Angeles LA City Council approves new city-wide mural ordinance

September 1, 2013

By Suzanne Thompson, Co-Founder, Venice Arts Council and Chair, Endangered Art Fund

In 2011 former Councilmember Rosendahl, CD 11, had proposed taking murals out of the signage ordinance and create a mural ordinance. He initially suggested a mural district for CD 11 as a pilot project. Those of us on the Venice Arts Council thought it would be a great idea, as Venice has several historic murals, the Venice Graffiti Walls, Venice Beach Poet’s Monument and many muralists wanting to paint more murals. But we all were soon convinced by Judy Baca and SPARC to include all of Los Angeles in the proposed new mural ordinance.

On Wednesday, August 28, I attended what I had hoped would be the last hearing to approve a new mural ordinance for the City of Los Angeles, making LA, once again, the mural capital of the world. The vote had originally been scheduled for Tuesday August 20, and then rescheduled for Friday August 23 because of the IBEW contract with DWP debate at City Council. Again, another email was issued from City Hall saying the date was changed, yet again, to Wednesday, August 28 for the final vote on the new mural ordinance.

One of the highlights on this long awaited day when LA City Council would vote to approve a new mural ordinance, besides observing the newly elected officials in action, was connecting with the people in Council Chambers. Yes, we had Juan Alcala, the guy with the wild headgear, testify during the hearing when those opposed to the new mural ordinance could speak. He added some humor to the occasion with, “Oh, I’m just kidding. I support the ordinance,” which drew some laughs in the council chambers. Former staffer in charge of murals with the Department of Cultural Affairs, Pat Gomez was excited to give her first public testimony supporting the ordinance. I sat next to Maura McLaughlin with “Off the Wall Graffiti” who works with kids who show a talent in graffiti art and a willingness to learn about art, a chance to create, compete and win art supplies, be mentored and have access to scholarship opportunities. A member of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council, Kwazi Nkrumah, was at City Hall for the “Stop the War on Youth of Color, Wage War on Poverty”, Justice for Trayvon Martin, Jail Zimmerman and Overturn ‘Stand your Ground’ laws” rally to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, and stopped in to check things out. Felipe Sanchez from SPARC distributed colorful yellow and red stickers “#LA Murals NOW” to show support for passage of a mural ordinance. Mr. Rothman, a city official in the Planning Department, wanted a sticker. Some council members proudly wore them.

Council President Herb Wesson from CD 10 took other agenda items before ours which again, kept us waiting. He announced that we would only be allowed 15 minutes for comments. Isabel Rojas Williams, Executive Director of The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, was instructed by Councilman Huizar’s planning deputy, Tanner Blackman, who deserved to be acknowledged for his tireless and passionate efforts, to create a list of names, allowing one minute each.

There were 10 organizations: SPARC, The Mural Conservancy, the Venice Arts Council, Self Help Graphics, UPPA, Mobil Mural Lab, LA Freewalls, Plaza de la Raza, Mictlan Murals, the Siqueiros Foundation of the Arts and the Conservancy of Urban Art who previously issued a joint statement to City Council in support of version “A”, which allows murals on single family homes and an “opt out” for those council districts that want a “mural free zone”. Why penalize districts that want murals? The letter said, “The mural community has worked hard to help shape a mural policy that we all believe to be fair and just. When you have the majority of us who have made murals a key aspect of our artistic life, our voice should not be ignored”.

Muralists from across LA were there to show support for the new mural ordinance.  Unfortunately, only a few muralist and arts organizations such as Kent Twitchell, Anna Siqueiros, David Botallo, Willie Heron, Daniel Lahoda, Noni Olabisi, Isabel Rojas Williams and Carlos Rogel were allowed time to comment. Other muralists and arts advocates had taken time off from work, childcare, or from painting murals to attend the hearing. Venice muralists Emily Winters and Francisco Letelier, as well as me, were bumped from the list of selected speakers. Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks was not given time to express the VNC support for the new mural ordinance either. President Lucks also commented that Venice had submitted a Community Impact Statement but it was not included in the council file. Folks from the Aztlan Gang Intervention program did not have the opportunity to share how murals help stop the cycle of violence in their communities.

Apparently, the list of “painfully” pre-selected speakers submitted by Rojas-Willams to Huizar’s deputy Blackman disappeared or was ignored by Councilman Tom LaBonge, who was chairing the meeting at the time.

In the future, I hope our council president and members show more respect towards the artists and arts community by: 1) not postponing the vote, 2) not limiting public speaking time so that supporters can express their options and enlighten elected officials, and 3) stick to the agenda and not keep us waiting or pushing us back on the agenda.

Although he had two versions, A and B referred from PLUM to Council, Councilmember Huizar, chair of PLUM, introduced the motion in support of Version B. He noted that only 2-3% of murals on private property are located on R-1 properties. Councilmember Bernard Parks CD 8 was concerned about assault weapons being included on murals along Crenshaw Boulevard. Earlier in the day, Councilmember for CD 9 Curren Price gave a commendation to his constituents in memory of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. He is well known as a supporter of the arts and expressed his support for murals on R-1 properties, Version A.

Councilmember Bonin CD 11 gave a shout out to muralist Judy Baca (who along with SPARC Executive Director Debra T. Padilla viewed the hearing online from Mexico), Emily Winters and Francisco Letelier. “People need to know that not all great muralists live in East LA,” said Councilmember Bonin during a follow up conversation.  Unfortunately, the councilman stood with his constituents in Brentwood, Pacific Palisades and Mar Vista and would not support version A, murals on single family homes. Although he had previously expressed that he would love to have a mural on his house in Mar Vista, he could not be convinced to support “opting out” instead of “opting in”.

Lifting the 2002 mural moratorium that denied artists the right to create freely and legally, murals on private property appear to be moving forward as version B was approved, 13 yes, 2 no votes, with amendments referred back to a joint committee of Arts, Parks and Neighborhoods and PLUM (Planning and Land Use Management Committee). Councilmembers Paul Koretz CD 5 and Bob Blumenfield CD 3 were the only no votes. Koretz said “I have not heard from anyone who lives in my district that they want murals”. One would think the other “no” voter Blumenfield, whose wife Kafi serves as President and CEO of Liberty Hill Foundation, one of the nation’s most admired social change foundations, would be more supportive of making LA the mural capital of the world once again. He was more concerned for neighborhood control and asked for a 2/3rds sign off from those in the view shed of the mural.  Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell CD 13 and Nury Martinez CD 6, (shamefully, the only woman on council), expressed support for the arts and the passage of Version B. Councilmember Joe Buscaino CD 15 chief of staff Jacob Haik told me that Joe wanted to see the ordinance return to committee for further vetting.  Councilmembers Felipe Fuentes CD 7 and Paul Krekorian CD 2 (SPARC’s Great Wall, is located in his district), were relatively silent on the matter.

The big surprise of the day was from Councilmember Mitchell Englander, CD 12 who serves on PLUM with Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo and chaired by Huizar. After attending many PLUM hearings on this issue and listening to Englander spew fear of the “other” and wanting to keep his communities mural free zones, he appeared to have done a 180. He sent out letters to 95 neighborhood councils asking them to way-in on the proposed ordinance. He was more concerned about protecting those who don’t want murals. He said “this is more difficult than it should be. We have a museum in the San Fernando Valley which will include a new mural on the history of Northridge”. Perhaps those tours of murals in other districts helped. Or perhaps he listened to himself and realized that his comments were racist and he needed to clean up his act. David Diaz, Director Urban Studies Program CSU Los Angeles, wrote a great letter to City Council on this matter.

There was a lot of confusion about the vote. Amendments were offered but not available to the public. We were told that since the vote was not unanimous, a second hearing would have to take place. I still was not clear what exactly happened. I listened to a press interview with Councilmember Huizar following the vote to confirm what I thought took place. Thankfully, I received clarification from Councilmember Bonin.

Essentially, the council approved Version B with instructions for staff to move quickly (within 30 days) to come up with a quicker “opt-in” process for R-1 properties, to report back on proposed requirements that murals be maintained, have protective anti-graffiti coating, include the neighborhood notification process and report on a proposed pilot project allowing Version A to be in effect in Councilmembers Cedillo’s and Huizar’s districts. Cedillo has been an avid supporter of murals on R-1 properties from the beginning. These reports and proposals will go to a joint meeting of PLUM and the Arts Parks and Neighborhoods Committee chaired by newly elected councilman Mitch O’Farrell. As of this writing, the date and time for this meeting have not been set.

We have waited long enough. Thank you former Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, former Councilmember and former PLUM Chair Ed Reyes, current PLUM Chair and Councilmember Jose Huizar, and Planning Deputy Tanner Blackman who served as the initial convener of the Mural Working Group, as well as my colleagues on the working group, Emily Winters, folks at SPARC Judy Baca, Debra T. Padilla, Felipe Sanchez, Carlos Rogel, Pilar Castillo, and folks with The Mural Conservancy of LA Isabel Rojas-Williams and others such as David Diaz, and the muralists, for their tireless and artful efforts to organize, unify,  create and implement a new mural ordinance for the City of Los Angeles. Special thanks to the press, KCET, LA Times, The Argonaut, NBC Channel 4, The Huffington Post, KCRW and especially the Free Venice Beachhead for their continued coverage of the proposed LA City Mural Ordinance. I have been honored to work and struggle with all of you to this final victory. Now let’s attend the PLUM hearings and give our input on the rest of the amendments, continue to identify potential funding sources and create more great murals! Visit www.veniceartscouncil.org or on Facebook.


Sixth Annual Philomenian

September 1, 2013

By Mary Getlein

The Sixth Annual Philomenian was a big success this year. You would think that after all this time, people wouldn’t be as interested in Philomene Long’s poetry, but they are. The room at Beyond Baroque, where the event took place, was filled with ardent lovers of everything Philomene.

Jim Smith was the MC, and he was wearing a neon orange Hawaiian shirt, which was so bright and neon that it looked like it would glow in the dark. Jim himself made a joke about it, saying that if the lights went out, we could always follow his shirt out of the room.

The readers were Suzy Williams, who sang a Philomene poem and a John Thomas poem. Pegarty Long, Philomene’s twin sister, read five of Philomene’s poems. There was a five-minute video, “The Making of the Irish Vampire,” in which Philomene was the main actress. The movie short was funny and it showed them all goofing around between filming.

Karl Abrams read a Stuart Z. Perkoff poem about Philomene, and a Philomene poem about Stuart Z. Perkoff. Jim Smith read a prose piece about Jack Keroac written by John Thomas. Suzy Williams finished with a poem by John Thomas, describing a day trip to the mountains.

They then showed the film “The Beats: An Existential Comedy,” a film made by Philomene Long. We saw some rare footage of various poets and artists in the Beat scene. They included interviews with many poets, including Felinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Shirley Clarke, Jack Hirschman, Grocho Marx, Stuart Z. Perkoff, Frank T. Rios, Aya Rose, John Thomas, Uiva and historic footage of Venice.

There was a funny scene when Stuart Perkoff was on the Groucho Marx Show, and Groucho asked Stuart what he did for a living. Stuart answered “I’m a poet, a painter, a sculptor and a philosopher.” Groucho leans forward and says: “Sooo – you’re out of work?”. This got a big laugh from the audience.

The audience was composed of many local poets and entertainers – and a good time was had by all. There was a great turn-out for Philomene’s poetry again.


Folksinger Fred Gerlach – Venice – circa 1969

September 1, 2013

By Michael Riley

Although I was born in Long Beach, I never went to Venice until I was in my twenties. The thing that brought me there was my love of music, in particular the 12 string guitar.

My friend and compatriot, Chuck Moore had just introduced me to a couple of recordings: The 12 String Guitar, and Songs My Mother Never Sang, both featuring guitarist and folksinger Fred Gerlach. (Who would forever be referred to in the familiar “Fred”.) Chuck would bring me along to see all the folksingers that played around town in the day. Back then folk music was harder to find.  You literally had to know someone. So, when I was ready to purchase my first 12 string, Chuck says ” Let’s go see Fred.”

At that time I had no I idea that Chuck and Fred were that close. Fred was a Folk Music icon. He had lived with Leadbelly during the birth of the Folk Revolution. In the 50’s Leadbelly had a New York apartment where musicians from all over came to meet. Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry, Brownie MgGee, Cisco Houston, Woody Guthrie – Bob Dylan was also a kid in the corner.

Fred’s reputation as a guitar maker was well known. He made 12 string guitars for Pete Seeger, Leo Kottke, Dick Rosmini and others. Once when he was in San Diego He walked into a Music Store and saw a guitar he had made on the wall with a $10,000 price. When he asked why it was so expensive, the owner said “This is an original Gerlach! He’s dead.” Fred said “Oh!” and left.

He also went to England to play a command performance for the Queen, as well as teach slide guitar to a young Ry Cooder. The next day I would meet the man himself!

Chuck took me up to a little house on Glyndon St. and I met my hero. He was a nice, but gruff man who was generous with his time and knowledge. I learned so much about wood, guitars, woodworking, airplanes (He was building a wooden one – in the attic!), ivory,glue and glue joints, structural points… in one afternoon – my hungry mind was filled with knowledge I still depend on… 44 years later.

Eventually Fred said he had an old 12 string that I could have pretty cheap. It was huge. Bigger than any J-200. It had a fancy hexagonal sound hole, a super wide fingerboard, and it was tuned down whole-step to D.  It had a 5 piece “Cathedral” design back. It had a beautiful 7 piece indestructible neck. A slotted peghead. It had the biggest, most piano like sound of any guitar I knew.

Chuck and I built a very heavy case to carry it in. It was shaped like a coffin. I didn’t care – I eventually took it into The Ash Grove and met Reverend Gary Davis, who swapped guitars with me for a tune in the green room.  Like all 12 strings it eventually fell apart, except for the indestructible neck, which still adorns a dilapidated dory used as a garden bed.

A few years later I was living on Palm Street, in Venice, and came to Fred when I needed a six string guitar.  It was 1972. He let me choose the wood from his private stash and built me the guitar that I still play today. A deep drednaught that is still the best sounding guitar around, as far as I am concerned.

Thank you, Fred Gerlach for enriching my life and the lives of countless folkies.

 

Fred Gerlach at Chuck Moore_s Wedding copy


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