By Laura Shepard Townsend
They say “if you don’t learn from history…then you’re just stupid!”
The changes currently assaulting the community of Venice, heralded as ‘progress’, call to mind 1926, a year of rabid dismantlement of everything Abbot Kinney, our enlightened doge-founder, wove into the fabric of Venice, a community he created to foster art, the humanities and the human spirit.
Let’s note some important similarities between 1926 and 2014. In 1926, newspaper headlines blared the record-setting numbers of building permits issued in Venice. It was marveled that each month broke the previous month’s record-breaking number of permits.
Now in 2014, unprecedented numbers of liquor licenses are applied for (108 counted and those are the ones we know about). Permits and variances have swamped and continue to swamp LUPC as well as the Coastal Commission. Yes sirree, folks, it is the wild, wild west here in Venice! At a recent Coastal Commission meeting, one owner abashedly admitted the one house under consideration for demolition had already been razed! Right under the nose of the Department of Building and Safety. WHOOPS!!! Didn’t that contractor hit the jackpot!! And what fine was levied for his serious digression? A bona fide permit by the Coastal Commission to continue the construction of yet another humongous box.
Getting back to 1926. There were so many permits granted in 1926 because that was the year after the City of Venice voted to annex to the City of Los Angeles. Venice had a lot of problems. Their city government was inept, bordering on corruption. Even though millions of dollars were needed to repair the failing infrastructure, in every election the Venice voters rejected the necessary bonds. The Kinney Company blessed annexation to L.A. as the most expedient way to get repairs done for the least amount of money; the esteemed newspaper, the Venice Vanguard, ran constant editorials touting annexation to the City of Los Angeles. When the vote was tallied, it won by a whopping 915 votes (3130 votes for annexation, 2215 against) – numbers purportedly padded by the importation of ‘temporary’ residents.
Okay, so let’s see what happened to Venice as a result of annexation in 1925, and the subsequent record-granting of permits in 1926. Since Venice had become the City of Los Angeles’ one and only beach city, it had to be rebuilt to be L.A.’s one and only beach city.
Los Angeles’ first act was to hasten the demise of the Red Cars by paving over Trolley Way. Simply, this ensured that the private automobile ruled, which meant roads had to be built for them to drive on. The Kinney Company added to the development hoopla by razing Villa City, Abbot Kinney’s prized cluster of 246 villas designed for the rich and poor, the traveler and resident. In its place, they would put a second business district. As a result of such rapid development, traffic ballooned – the solution: the glory of the Venice Canals had to be filled in, then paved over with asphalt. This was no small matter. Venice was absolutely defined by the constant delight and serenity of its canals, “where it seemed as if some magic hand had lined the banks with beds of flowers along the clear water”. Protesting Venetians were overruled by the courts. And it was done.
Because The Kinney Company seemed to be so insistent in killing off Venice, a statement had to be issued. Thornton Kinney, Abbot Kinney’s son, explained, “Venice was a dream city and without sentiment it could not be built. But financial calculations suffocate sentiment and the march of time and progress of the community demanded sentiment be stifled.” Obviously, Thornton had different dreams than his father. And obviously, the profit margins of the Kinney Company were insufficient.
But Venetians were going to pay even more penalties with its annexation to Los Angeles. Venice relied heavily on amusement for its revenue, but L.A.’s ‘Blue Laws’ would forbid not only gambling, but all-night dancing as well as dancing on Sundays. Tourists quickly abandoned Venice for Santa Monica, where there were no such restrictions on dancing and gambling. One-third of Venetian businesses ended up closing their doors.
1925 marked when Venice ceased to be its own community, but with distillation, this remains the core of all of the battles Venice is fighting against today. In terms of the variances and permit granting by Los Angeles to these boxy behemoths, (restaurants, bars, hotels and businesses), they hasten the destruction of what is left of community.
It is only because the structures and businesses being proposed are so out of line with this community, that they require permits and variances. Because the behemoths are so built out to the property lines, they ensure that the next box structure constructed must be even larger so the new building will absolutely not reside in the shadows of the one built before. And so the beat goes on…..Imagine living in a small cottage towered over by these huge boxes that block those precious commodities for which we all moved to (or stayed in) Venice – like sunlight and air flow. The Golden Rule has ceased to be operational in Venice. Money is the only trump in this game….
Our former City Councilperson, Ruth Gallanter, once had the wisdom and the audacity to put a moratorium on all construction. It might be time to do the same.
All the great cities of Europe maintain their architecture to encourage tourism. Venice is the second largest draw in California after Disneyland. However, with the razing of the quaint cottages and California bungalows that once graced our streets and canals, what will be the interest in our city to visitors? The box architecture currently being erected is not only anti-quaint, but one can see them anywhere and everywhere. One does not have to venture all the way to Venice, California for its unique perspective on the world.
The tourists can and will go to Santa Monica for restaurants; the waves are better in Malibu. If our City Councilperson is interested in retaining revenue for Los Angeles, then as Los Angeles’ one and only beach city, Venice’s signature, its spirit and community, must be safeguarded.
By Laura Shepard Townsend