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


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