(This interview originally appeared in the Beachhead’s March 2007 issue)
By Rex Butters
Beachhead: How long have you been with the historical society?
Navalette Tabor Bailey: Oh, about 20 years, I guess. I know it’s been a long time.
Beachhead: What does the historical society do?
Bailey: They try to restore and protect the original Venice. You know, they put up these monstrosities now, just ruin the architecture all together. Upside down houses, and everything.
Jataun Valentine: They look like bunkers.
Bailey: Until recently, Venice was just small cottages. It wasn’t designed to be a city, more of a resort. That’s what Abbot Kinney had in mind.
Valentine: One of the things the Venice Historical Society has been doing, they have all this history and artifacts and it’s costing them a fortune to keep it, because they don’t have a building of their own. That’s their goal, to have a building where they can show all of this history and things that they’ve been keeping, that people have given them.
Bailey: Especially photos, you have to keep them under certain conditions. When they built the library, they should have had a portion of it so we could store things. We’re trying to purchase one of those big red trolley cars, but we can’t find one. Put it right behind the library.
Beachhead: Did you get down on the old pier?
Bailey: I lived on the pier. That’s why I don’t care about Disneyland. I’ve had it all my life. Mr. Reese was the town decorator. He decorated the ballroom and the pier. He had a crew of men who cleaned the pier. He was in charge of everything, the plunge, where to get your towels, all that kind of stuff. Everybody knew our family, so we could go on the rides for free. We’d leave early in the morning and be gone all day long. My father was a Tabor, he was a cousin of Arthur Reese. And, his brother was a chauffeur for Abbot Kinney. He willed him his house. It was sold recently, the grand kids sold it. It’s sad. It was a beautiful old place. About 20 of the grandkids got married there.
It was sort of like a meeting place. It was large and our family was large, we would utilize the house so often for social events. We couldn’t go anyplace, we couldn’t go to any dances, because they didn’t allow us in the ballroom. We had this big house, we could do anything we wanted to do. My uncle was very good about letting us use it.
Beachhead: Where was it?
Bailey: Sixth & Santa Clara. It’s still there.
Valentine: We went through it not long ago. They were very nice. One thing I thought was interesting was that wall made of hide.
Bailey: Leather walls all the way around. Full hides each panel, beautiful.
Beachhead: Did you ever think it would get so expensive around here?
Bailey: No, I couldn’t imagine it. These flats they built all over Venice after the war, they were selling those for $10,000. I thought that was exorbitant. I wouldn’t buy one. Now they sell for a million dollars.
Valentine: There were a lot of empty lots around, now you don’t see any empty ones.
Bailey: We had that fear of losing, because my parents lost everything in the Depression. But, they weren’t the only ones. It made you leery of conditions and you didn’t take advantage of things like you should. Well, we’re still here, anyway.
Beachhead: Did you find work during the Depression?
Bailey: We didn’t have a lot of opportunities. We had to make the best of what we had. When I got out of high school I went to work in Malibu Colony, I was working for a family up there. A dollar a day, 30 dollars a month, sometimes 16 hour days.
I graduated from high school during the Depression, 1933. I was the first black woman to graduate from Venice High School. I didn’t want to be a burden on my family, because they were struggling, so I got myself a job.
I was taking care of two little girls, doing the hardest work. But one good thing, I had a car and a chauffeur’s license. I drove the kids to school. I was independent that way, on my day off they let me take the car, which is the only good thing I got out of it. I guess that’s why I stayed for that little of money. I dressed myself, I wasn’t a burden on my family. I stayed with them about four years I guess.
The woman’s family owned a lot of property in La Cañada. Her family put her on a budget. They’d only give her so much money a month, because she was a spendthrift. She was kind of spoiled. One day, she must have lost it. I had one day off, on Thursday. I heard her on the telephone inviting a lot of people over. It was the 4th of July, it came on a Thursday, my day off. I’d made plans, I heard her, I said, “You better call the employment agency in Santa Monica, see if you can get someone out here to help you, because you know I’m not going to be here.”
She hauled off, and POW! She hit me in the face and knocked me on my butt. I sat on the floor for a minute because I was stunned. I shook my head, and she was stunned too, because I didn’t get up right away. I got up slowly to get my bearings, because I was groggy. See, she didn’t know I could fight. My cousins were all amateur boxers and they use to teach me how to, 1-2-3 punch. So when I came up, I came with a hay bale. I hit her, POWEE! And I threw her up against a door, all this was in the little bathroom. It got too much for her in the bathroom and she ran into her bedroom, and I was right behind her. She turned around and kicked at me, so I just grabbed her foot and threw her on her back. Then I straddled her, and I was whaling on her.
Her husband came in, he pulled me off of her, and she said, “She hits like a mule!” She didn’t know what I would do. I was taught to fight, I didn’t fight like a woman, scratching. I was really throwing some punches. She ended up with a wet towel on her face begging me to stay. I hated to leave the kids, I was attached to them. But, I called home and had them come pick me up. I got another job, paid just as much.
Beachhead: You’ve been here since 1915. If you were granted the wish, what would you like to see happen in Venice in the next hundred years?
Bailey: I’d like it to remain like it used to be, a mecca of excitement. The railroad would bring car after car, people would get off in droves. Now it’s cars. They should never have gotten rid of the railroad.
Valentine: Those were the days, too, when we didn’t have to have bars on the windows, didn’t have to lock the door. That made a big difference.
Bailey: Everybody had passkeys. One key could open any door, so why lock them?
Valentine: It was fun when kids could be kids and stay out. Our parents didn’t worry about us, we didn’t have the kidnapping. As long as we got home before dark. Everybody knew everybody, too. It was a community. If you did something wrong, by the time you got home, your parents knew about it. Neighbors could discipline you, and the parents were glad they did it.
Bailey: They had a curfew. There was a big whistle that blew right where Bank of America is. But, you’ve got to give way to progress. I know it will never return like it was.