All Aboard the Tram

August 1, 2014

By Marty Liboff

When Abbot Kinney opened his Venice of America in 1905, he had a small steam train running around the canals. On the Venice Ocean Front there were wicker basket trams that were pushed from behind by people power. (A good idea for today?).

By 1920 the trams were electric battery powered. They ran from Windward Ave. and the Venice Pier, to the Ocean Park Pier, and then to the Santa Monica Pier, and back. Believe it or not, when I was a kid, the Ocean Front Walk continued straight to the Santa Monica Pier with shops, homes and hotels just like in Venice.

In 1923, the Venice Tram Company was formed. By the 1930s, the trams had 4 cylinder, Ford model A engines and canopy tops. There were also similar 4 cylinder, Chevy engines.The seats faced toward the ocean or shops plus a back seat.

In 1958, the Ocean Park Pier was transformed into Pacific Ocean Park, or P.O.P. It  was an amazing ocean-themed Disneyland. (This is another great story.) The old trams were spruced up and painted blue, and cute seahorses were attached to the fronts. On the back was an ad for P.O.P. During the early days of P.O.P., the 18 tram fleet carried 20,000 people a day!

The old engines kept rolling for over 40 years. They never went very fast, especially in later years. Sometimes they would even stop if there were too many people on board. It was a nickel early on, then a dime. My pal Hank reminded me that for a while you had to pay an extra dime to go all the way to the Santa Monica Pier.

When I was little, my mom would take me on the tram to Windward ave. There were all kinds of shops there: grocery store, drugstore, clothing shops, notions and a bar. She would do some shopping and then we would ride the tram back home to Ocean Park. The conductor would stop for us by our house. I loved riding the tram, watching the walk go by with people and sites and with the ocean breeze blowing through my hair. It was wonderful sunny days…

Most of us poor kids in Ocean Park and Venice would wait until the tram slowed or stopped and then we’d hop on the back and sneak on. Back in the 1950s, a dime could buy us kids a comic book, a Coke in a bottle, or even two Hershey chocolate almond bars. We wouldn’t want to spend our precious dime on the tram if we could sneak on for free. A couple times we got caught and the conductor stopped and kicked us off. I remember him yelling at us! Sometimes the conductor saw us but let us poor kids ride anyway. Some of the early skateboarders in the neighborhood would grab the back and be towed along the beachfront. Real cool! Sometimes the conductor would yell at them! It was great fun…

As I remember, they had a big garage on Brooks and the Speedway, behind where the Cafe Venicia is today. They were kept there and tinkered on. There were 18 trams, and 16 before they stopped running. They were always tuning up those antique engines. It was an amazing shop with strange tools and lifts and things going on.

After P.O.P. opened, Santa Monica began its Ocean Park Redevelopment Project and tore down most of Ocean Park. A couple years later, L.A. began condemning the old Abbot Kinney buildings around Windward and other old buildings around the beach. The beach became blighted. Then P.O.P. closed in Oct.1967. P.O.P. soon became a crazy, scary ghost town. There was no reason to take the tram and no place to go. The few buildings left on Windward just had a couple seedy bars. Ocean Park was gutted. The heart of old Ocean Park was Pier Ave., with shops of all kinds, and it was torn down. Many of us locals had been kicked out and our homes demolished. We were some of the trams ridership. I remember watching the old torn up trams sadly chugging along the boardwalk with rarely any riders.

In September 1970, after one of many fires on the closed P.O.P. pier, the trams stopped running without any fanfare. The manager, Robert Bestor, a relative of the original owner, said that “Revenue was way down since P.O.P. closed. Our revenue doesn’t even cover the cost of our insurance. The beach is in a state of decay. Vandals have cut up the seats and canvas tops. Some neighborhood kids jump on to ride for free. Some kids even throw rocks at us and dent the trams!” He also blamed TV: “TV hurt business also. People don’t go to piers and ballrooms anymore. They stay home and watch TV.”

In the next few months, there was some discussion by the L.A.City Council whether to save the trams in the hope that the beachfront would improve. Some councilmen wanted the Parks and Recreation, or Transportation departments, to take over the trams, but in the end they decided to end the franchise.

After nearly 48 years and over 10 million riders, the Venice Tram Company disappeared. There had been trams on the Ocean Front since the beginning of Abbot Kinney’s amazing Venice of America, over 65 years before the last run. Now, only a handful of us old timers even remember the tram.

(For more history read ‘Venice California: Coney Island of the Pacific’ by Jeffrey Stanton)

Damn Where’s that Venice Tram!

Hot damn Madame
Let’s ride the Venice Tram.
For only a Dime
We’ll have a great Time.
From Windward to the Santa Monica Pier
I’m gonna kiss my Dear.
We can eat green eggs and Ham
On the Venice Tram.
Its fun at the pier in Venice
Eatin pizza & Coke with Ice.
We’ll ride the roller coaster at P.O.P.
Then swim in the Sea.
Off to Santa Monica Pier we Zoom
To dance at the La Monica Ballroom.
Then back again to Windward
Where the conductor yells,”All Aboard!”
Hot damn Madame
Lets ride the Venice Tram!

– Marty Liboff

Tram2 copy

Tram1 copy

Tram6 copy

Tram4 copy

Above: The Venice Tram through the years: Top postcard: Man-powered push roller chairs, 1905 to 1910; Second and third postcards: Electric trams, 1910 to early 1930s; Bottom postcard: The tram from the 1930s to when it stopped in 1970.

LAPD Steps Up Harassment of Boardwalk Patrons

July 1, 2014

By Clay Claiborne

Sunday, June 29th, the LAPD introduced a new tactic designed to clear what they consider “undesirable” people from the Venice Boardwalk,

As has become almost a Sunday summer tradition, the Doors tribute band “Peace Frog” was playing at the Venice Bistro. The club has an open front and many find the music sounds best outside the club, so as has also become a tradition, several dozen people who either couldn’t afford the cover charge, didn’t want to drink, or simply wished to remain outside, had gathered in front of the Bistro to listen and dance.

I was also there as usual when four LAPD cars entered the boardwalk from Rose Ave about 8:30pm and did something I have never seen them do in many years living in Venice and listening to bands at the Bistro. They drove two abreast very slowly down the boardwalk all lit up like Christmas trees. Their lights were flashing like they were rushing to an emergency but it was clear they were going nowhere slow. They were clearly intend on forcing people to move from in front of the Bistro so I approached one of the lead cars to ask what the ruckus was about. I spoke briefly to the lead officer, Sgt. Y. Moreau [badge #26116] who told me that they had just broken up the drum circle [down by Brooks Ave] and some of the people had come down here so they were clearing them out of here as well.

From their lights down on the beach, I had seen them break up the drum circle but I saw no influx of people from that joining us in front of the Bistro. In any case, in the hour before the arrival of this police task force, I had observed no drinking outside, no fights, no disruptive behavior at all, certainly nothing requiring police intervention; and neither did they, because they never got out of their cars. In spite of Sqt. Y. Moreau’s attempts to connect this action to shutting down the drum circle, it was clear that it was directed at everyone in front of the Bistro and while the business owners might like to see the LAPD stop people from enjoying a free concert, there were no public safety issues that warranted this sweep. Harassing people into either paying the Bistro or going home is not a proper use of police powers or resources.

Venice Bistro

Free Venice

June 1, 2014

By Marty Liboff

Bike your walk. No smoking. No littering. No loitering. No sleeping in cars. No overt begging. No vending after sundown. No feeding birds. No people after midnight. No vending anything useful. No bottles on beach. No dogs off leash. No selling anything wearable. No beer on boardwalk. No barbeques. No dogs on beach. (Are elephants O.K.?) No selling fruit. No public drunks. No loud music. No amplified music. No vending outside spaces. No hair wraps. No hair cutting. No dumpster diving for food. No nudity. No nude sunbathing. No living in vans. No vending without resale number. No skateboards on walkway. No massages. No smoking pot. No pot shops near beach. No dogs without poop bag. No weekend dogs Memorial Day till Halloween. No sleeping on beach. No camping on beach. No sleeping in parks. No selling water. No public urinating even if toilets are closed. No sleeping on bench. No loud drums. No noise after sundown. No drum circle after dark. No skinny dipping. No selling books. No enclosed tents. No selling jewelry. No breast feeding. No washing in bathrooms. No bathing in bathrooms. No leaving belongings unattended. No cooking on beach. No posting flyers. No being without I.D. No loud yelling. No playing music outside spaces. No talking back to cops. No having too much fun. No being different. No smelly farts. No breathing. No life. No, no, nein, no, no, no … Enjoy Your Beaches. “One thing I can tell you is you got to be free.” – The Beatles

What’s Up With the Beach Curfew?

May 1, 2014

By Peggy Lee Kennedy

On March 13 a coalition consisting of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), Occupy Venice and the Venice Justice Committee appeared before the California Coastal Commission meeting in Long Beach regarding the City of Los Angeles’ illegal curfew law enforced on Venice Beach and the Boardwalk (Ocean Front Walk). Why is it an illegal curfew law? Because, according to the California Constitution and the California Coastal Act, no beach can be closed without first obtaining a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) from the Coastal Commission. This is State law, which a City has to comply with. And L.A. has not.

Opposing this L.A. City beach curfew law is not a new effort. The first complaint was filed in November 2007, when the Venice Justice Committee discovered that the City had closed the beach without a CDP. They are State law breakers. Even more egregious to denying us all our right to access of the beach, the City was arresting people with this illegal law. That is why the effort to oppose this law became part of a local Homeless Bill of Rights campaign.

Further to this, a comment was published regarding the illegal beach closed matter in a Coastal Commission staff report June 2013 (on a somewhat separate matter) that created more urgency with the issue. The terms of amending this law, without any recognition that the law itself is a violation, were being negotiated between Coastal Commission staff and the City

The coalition of Occupy Venice, the Venice Justice Committee, and LACAN collected almost 1,000 recent signatures by hand on a petition to open the beach. Copies of the petitions were taped together into a scroll that doubled across the room and up the stairs behind the three speakers’ presentation given in the March 13 Coastal Commission meeting during general public comment. It was so compelling, the Commission instructed staff to act on this enforcement issue and to report back at the April 2014 Commission meeting. See for the excerpt of the meeting.

Unfortunately, Coastal Commissioners instructing its staff to act on the matter also is not new. Since the original November 2007 complain was submitted, multiple other complaints or mentions of this violation have been submitted to the California Coastal Commission. The past Commission Chair, Sara Wan, instructed staff to act on the matter in 2009. Lawyers defending criminalized homeless people in 2010 urged for Coastal Commission enforcement to act. Multiple letters from the Coastal Commission staff enforcement person were sent to the L.A. City Attorney in 2010. The prior and now deceased Executive Director of the Coastal Commission, Peter Douglas, then wrote a serious four page letter dated August 2010 stating that further action was at hand, which would be a cease and desist order.

That is what we asked the Coastal Commission for on March 13 – a Cease and Desist Order. What happened was a weak conciliatory letter sent in April to the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks. Why was it weak and conciliatory? The law is illegal and prior letters were submitted to the City Attorney demanding action. These prior letters were not lost. In fact, we just gave copies to staff and the Commissioners. The April letter offered mitigation solutions to an unproven reason for closing the beach. No beach can be closed, with or without mitigations and with or without proof of a public safety reason, prior to first obtaining a CDP (Period). The law is a violation of the California Constitution and the California Coastal Act.

So here we are. I suppose one important part of the story I haven’t mentioned so far is how the City decided the beach curfew should also pertain to the Venice Boardwalk (Ocean Front Walk) in March 2012. These are two different lands: Venice Beach and Ocean Front Walk. Ocean Front Walk was deeded as a forever sidewalk by Abbot Kinney. It is also a walk street and a Boardwalk. Venice Beach, not to be confused with using the term to describe the whole of Venice, is the area west of Ocean Front Walk.

This leads to the other important and final part of this story: this is about criminalizing homeless people. The City of L.A. wanted to squirm out of following the Jones Settlement in Venice, which allows homeless people to sleep on sidewalks between 9pm and 6am. They were already unjustly arresting and criminalizing people for being on the beach after midnight, so they just arbitrarily moved the illegal beach curfew law to include Ocean Front Walk. That’s our city. So much law enforcement, so few solutions. When will this change?

Our not-so-progressive City Councilman for Venice (Council District 11 – Mike Bonin) apparently wants the Beach and Ocean Front Walk to stay closed. He is also in favor of thinly veiled homeless sweeps called “clean ups” that cost untold tax dollars to spray bleach, confiscate belongings and harass homeless people. If someone reading this doesn’t care about human rights, look at the fact that actual solutions cost far less than using law enforcement to criminalize or harass homeless people. The latest fake beach “clean up” had thirteen vehicles along with city staff from the LAPD, Department of Sanitation, Hazardous Waste, and others. Yet there are no emergency shelter beds in Venice, extremely limited sanitary facilities (none at night and nothing near what’s required for the amount of tourist activity in Venice), and the voluntary storage for homeless belongings is over capacity.

Los Angeles, still the shameless Homeless Capital of the United States, really needs to find a more humanitarian approach. A genuinely compassionate outreach to help poor and unhoused people would ease this tension created by the City of Los Angeles.

Beach Curfew


Venice Activists mediate in Beach Cleanup

May 1, 2014

By Eric Ahlberg

I had the good fortune of being asked to join a 6:15 am crew of fellow Venetians out on Ocean Front Walk, to monitor and document the roughly bi-weekly cleanup performed by Parks and Recreation, and the Police, along Ocean Front Walk. This kind of cooperative, on the street involvement  by concerned and humane citizens of Venice is a great example of the meaning of Occupy, to manifest your love in the now.

These cleanups have been notorious in our community for their destruction or confiscation of any personal property that may be in the way of the cleanup, and for the harassment by the Police. The victims of the policy are more than the homeless. Artists, vendors and musicians may also find that their property has been thrown away or confiscated. Even locked bikes have been previously removed. Our role as interested community members is to warn everyone on Ocean Front Walk that they are coming, so that they can move their stuff to the beach or to the side streets. We also keep an eye on the police and crews in case there are problems.

The Parks and Recreation crew sprays down the western side of Ocean Front Walk with a dilute solution of bleach. The cleanup caravan is composed of a Parks and Recreation Van, a Police SUV, two Parks and Recreation Pickups, a Parks and Recreation Stake Truck, a Watershed Protection SUV,  a pickup pulling a trailer with a pressure washer, and a Hazardous Materials Truck. They are accompanied by community service trash picker-uppers, and about a dozen cleaner-uppers-workers in white Tyvek overalls, hats, gloves, and dust masks.  We received several reports of headaches and respiratory irritation from people on OFW, including businesspeople.

It is unclear what the liquid that they are spraying is supposed to eliminate, its efficiency is very questionable, and the amount of money spent on these cleanups must be exorbitant and could be better spent to actually help people as opposed to temporarily moving them and their belongings from one place to another. And if the liquid being sprayed is safe for humans, birds, dogs and plants – as it should be – why are the workers wearing the hazmat outfits?

OFW cleanup

Above: Ocean Front Walk “cleanup”.  Photo: Eric Ahlberg

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

New Bollards, More Yellow Than the Old Bollards

April 1, 2014

By Greta Cobar

It is unclear why Mike Bonin, our Councilperson, held a Town Hall meeting on October 29, 2013 to hear the public’s input concerning bollards, cameras and blocking off the streets leading to Ocean Front Walk (OFW). During the meeting the public was vehemently against all such so-called “safety measures.”

Speaking as any other politician, Bonin assured us at the Town Hall meeting that he was there to listen to us. Whether he listened or not is irrelevant, for he went ahead with the plan that he had before the meeting, to install bollards and cameras and to block off the streets.

“I appreciate that many people were outspoken against bollards or cameras, and I very much took those opinions into consideration.  Ultimately, I weighed those opinions against public safety and came to a different decision,” Bonin stated in an email message to the Beachhead.

The safety concern was raised following the August 3 death of Alice Gruppioni, an Italian tourist on her honey moon who was struck by the car that Nathan Louis Campbell drove onto OFW from Dudley. Ironically, Dudley is the one of the few streets that has permanent, metal bollards at its intersection with OFW. Campbell intentionally drove onto the sidewalk to get onto OFW. As many have stated at the Town Hall meeting, nobody can stop a madman.

The plastic bollards that flatten to the ground when any vehicle touches them and that were installed immediately after the August murder became nothing but an eye-sore and a tripping hazard in a matter of weeks. Bonin recently replaced them with identical ones, except that the new ones are yellow and the old ones were white. In the numerous places where one of the bollards has broken off, a new one was not installed. That gives plenty of space for a vehicle to pass – if space was actually needed, but it is not, because they flatten. How is this supposed to prevent a murder similar to the one that occurred in August?

The hidden goal of this so-called “public safety” measure is to install cameras all over OFW. It is nothing but an excuse for increased government surveillance right in our back yard.

“The new bollards are temporary, and I hope to replace many of them (depending on location) with bike racks, art, large flower pots, or permanent bollards. We have not determined the total number of cameras or locations, and nothing will happen all at once.  Things will likely be phased in,” Bonin wrote in an email message to the Beachhead.

“Bonin is our elected rep. I respect that he listens to the community and makes his own decisions.  That is his right,” Linda Lucks, VNC President, told the Beachhead.

Whatever happened to our right to privacy?


Above: New bollards installed by Mike Bonin against public input

Police Selectively Enforcing Vending Ordinance on OFW

January 1, 2014

By Timothy Trygg

Municipal code LAMC 42.15 was established to stop the selling of commercial items on Ocean Front Walk (OFW) so that there would be more space for the artists and the stores would have less competition. Venice has been known for its free speech zones, musicians, jewelry makers/wire wrappers for years. Since the beginning of time jewelry has been considered an art-form, and most prestigious, well-established art museums worldwide have jewelry pieces on display.

Selling jewelry on OFW was made illegal under LAMC 42.15, code which does not include jewelry in the definition of art. Quoting a price for your jewelry is punishable by a fine, and a second offense can result in a misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine or your arrest and confiscation of your property.

In fact, LAMC 42.15 is so broad that it has banned the selling of hula hoops on OFW. Do you think that selling a hand-made hula hoop should be considered a crime? My friend Jennifer Jenson  has been given three tickets, and was grabbed by her wrists, very aggressively, by LAPD cops, for being hesitant to sign the ticket. She had to go to the doctor because of her injuries.

Several other items that have been sold in Venice for years were banned by LAMC 42.15. For example, wrapping someone’s hair is now illegal. I was given a ticket three months ago for selling a bracelet I made. The cops warned me that jewelry is illegal, and proceeded to go around the corner and spy on me until I made a transaction and served me with a ticket.

On December 15 the LAPD used undercover officers to entrap and record people without their knowledge. I was approached by an undercover officer, who asked the price of an item. I quoted him a price for an item I made, and as he walked away I was surrounded by three officers. They began to photograph me and my jewelry without telling me what they were doing. I asked officer Skinner what was going on. She told me to go and stand over there, for I was getting detained. She proceeded to record the entire conversation.

Venetians, why are we tolerating this police misconduct and our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression being trampled right in front of our eyes?

I am an artist, jewelry maker, poet, and peace maker. I moved here in 2000, and Venice has helped me to grow as an artist. Venice helped me to simply be me. I am an artist/poet who just wants to be free.

Municipal code LAMC 42.15 is so broad that it has banned tilting your umbrella to protect yourself from the sun. It has banned jewelry and all other hand-made items that do not fit into the code’s own, original definition of art. Some white-collar people sat in a downtown L.A. board room and wrote LAMC 42.15 while being totally oblivious to Venice and what we are all about.

Native American Indians are being fined for making hand-made crafts that they’ve been making since long before the Europeans showed up. So why are there so many made-in-China dream catchers being sold on OFW? Why was I targeted for my hand-made jewelry and not the vendor next to me selling dream catchers from China and the guy on the other side of me accepting signatures for a new banking system? How much did he get paid per signature collected?

The LAPD cops, left to their own devices, will continue their selective enforcement of LAMC 42.15. Some artists selling their hand-made objects are being prosecuted, while others bringing made-in-China stuff from the downtown alley are left alone. Do we have to file yet another lawsuit to yet again try to stop police misconduct on OFW?

ImageAbove: Jennifer Jenson and one of her unique, hand-made-on-the-spot hula hoops, OFW


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.


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

Zipline Leaves Juan Smelling BS

October 1, 2013

By Greta Cobar

Following their promise to leave only footprints, Flightlinez removed the two towers supporting the zipline and are in the process of restoring the grass that was uprooted when the towers were installed. Unfortunately, the process of restoring the grass involved a stinky fertilizer that stunk up parts of Ocean Front Walk for days.

Business at the Sidewalk Cafe was negatively affected by the foul smell according to Mason, who works there.

In spite of the stench, Venetians have been delighted to see the ocean-view-obstructing zipline gone.

“It’s finally quiet again,” said Vivianne Robinson, whose Name on Rice stand on OFW is right in front of the location where the zipline operated.

The best news is that they did not make their anticipated profit, and therefore will probably not return. Their loss should stand as a testament and warning to other similar attractions that might consider coming to Venice.

“Our goal was to have 350 riders per day, but we did not touch that,” said Brina Marcus, marketing director for Flightlinez/Greenheart, in a conversation with the Beachhead.

The so-called attraction was sold to Venice residents under the pretext that it would provide money to the city of Los Angeles to clean and maintain the bathrooms in Venice. Three months later, the bathrooms are not any cleaner. This should stand as a testament to us Venetians to not be fooled again, and to remember that it is the city of L.A.’s job to clean our bathrooms. Such cleanup should never be contingent on an ocean-view-obstructing attraction operated by a company in Canada.

“Financially it doesn’t make sense for us to come back as temporary because setting up and tearing down is time-consuming and costly,” Marcus told the Beachhead. “To become a permanent project, however, would take anywhere between 18 months to 3 years, and it would involve permits and processes with the California Coastal Commission,” Marcus said.

“I can’t divulge anything we learned,” Marcus told the Beachhead. She was not able to tell us the average number of riders per day, nor the amount of money the city of L.A. received from Flightlinez. According to the contract, the city was supposed to receive 15 percent of gross profit. By the low number of riders that residents have witnessed throughout the summer, there might not have been a profit.

Meanwhile the Venice bathrooms continue to offer third-world conditions and to stand as a violation of basic human rights. Busy summer weekends witnessed hour-long lines, lack of toilet paper and no locks on doors. Of course we get annoyed when people pee in our neighborhoods, but where are they really supposed to go when nature calls and there is nowhere to go?

In Santa Monica they have new, state-of-the-art, well lit, clean bathrooms with plenty of paper and other basic necessities that we, over the border, see as fancy.

Cityhood is the difference between Santa Monica and Venice. They get to spend their money on what they choose, while all of the revenue generated in Venice goes downtown L.A. and we are left crying and begging like an ignored step-child.

The city of Los Angeles annexed Venice in 1925, following the discovery of offshore oil. The citizens of Venice at that time voted in favor of annexation, but the vote was rigged by just-arrived implants, who were moved to Venice right before the vote. In addition, Venice citizens were misinformed and threatened that without annexation, they would have no more drinking water.

Add this to the barricades the city of L.A. put against Venice cityhood: the entire city of L.A. would have to vote on and approve a current de-annexation. However, only the citizens of Venice voted to approve the annexation in 1925.

If Venetians were allowed to decide and vote upon, we would have our own magnificent city of Venice with the grandeur of yore. There would be no need for an ocean-view-obscuring zipline in the vain hopes of having clean bathrooms. One way to achieve that would be to change the requirement that the entire city of L.A. needs to approve de-annexation, and allow Venetians to once and for all decide for themselves.

Juan Smelling BS


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 66 other followers