By Vanessa Cabello
Since so few of Abbot Kinney’s visionary buildings remain in our beloved Venice, we should cherish what we do have left, and what better time to so than July? Did you know the Fourth of July has always been a big deal in Venice? That on July 4, 1905, the Tobacco millionaire turned real estate developer Abbot Kinney celebrated the Grand Opening of his Venice of America?
Indeed, the Grand Opening lasted almost the whole week! The celebration began on Friday, June 30, as workers completed building Venice of America, Kinney’s bold attempt at recreating some of Venice, Italy’s famous canal system here in Los Angeles County. But it was the Fourth of July that hosted the main event: the ocean waters pouring into the canals for the first time.
On June 30, at exactly 2pm, with the rise of the ocean tide, thousands of workers, locals and tourists gathered at the Grand Lagoon to watch Abbot Kinney’s wife, Margaret, turn the valve that opened the pipes from the ocean, and the newly built lagoon and canals began to fill.
In his book entitled Venice California, Coney Island of the Pacific, author Jeffrey Stanton writes, “Ocean water, streaming in through two huge pipes, began flowing at a rate of 500 gallons a second thus filling the canal’s central lagoon. With the majority of the canals filled and the pier completed, Venice, California was ready to celebrate.”
Stanton continues, “On July 4th weekend, the festivities featured something for everyone. Yacht racing, swimming races in the lagoon, band concerts, fireworks at the lagoon’s huge 2500 seat amphitheater were some of the many events that amazed and wowed the 20,000 spectators…Venice of America was a success.”
According to Tom Moran in his book entitled, Fantasy by the Sea, “The auditorium was filled to capacity. Benjamin Fay Mills, an evangelist that Edward Everett Hale had labeled ‘the most wonderful preacher in America,’ addressed the crowd.” Moran also tells us there was an invocation and the Venice Children’s Chorus sang patriotic hymns to the audience, while outside of the auditorium, up to 40,000 visitors strolled around the new resort, though many of the buildings and attractions were still under construction. Moran describes, “The tourists had begun arriving with the first green electric car from Los Angeles in the morning and the influx had not slackened throughout the day.”
Moran continues, “Realtors reported that 355 Venice lots had been sold in two hours…They went for gondola excursions and sampled the food at the Ship Hotel. That evening they listened to the music of Arend’s Venice Band and watched a display of fireworks above the swimming lagoon.”
Another book that highlights details from Venice’s Grand Opening celebration is that of Carolyn Elayne Alexander. In her book entitled Abbot Kinney’s Venice-of-America Volume One, she states, “Elaborate plans were made for a week of grand opening ceremonies, sporting events, cultural attractions and just plain fun. A Venice Yacht Club, organized at the Country Club, announced a regatta for the beginning of July. The Southern California Swimming Association made plans for aquatic championship races and other events…”
One can only imagine the hustle and bustle from that day. The excitement, the joy, the hope. None of that really ever makes into the history books as it’s so difficult to capture those emotions.
Today celebrating July 4 may not be as grandiose or exciting as it was back in 1905, but Venice still knows how to party. This year for the Fourth, my friends and I are staying local, taking a few days off to enjoy the Venice atmosphere at the beach. We locals all know the tourists still arrive by the busload and carload to experience some Venice magic. As we celebrate the birth of our nation, we will proudly remember to celebrate the Grand Opening of Venice too!
To learn more about the history of Venice, please explore the local history book collection at our local public library, fittingly named: the Abbot Kinney Memorial Branch Library. Below are some photographs from books in the collection which provide glimpses of the fateful Independence Day that started Venice Beach, and remind one of Abbot Kinney’s original slogan for his resort “To See Venice Is To Live.”