By Jim Smith
How is it possible for a newspaper to survive these days without massive advertising from big corporations? And while we’re at it, how is it possible for a Venice identity to survive nearly 85 years after it lost its legal standing as a city? There may be a connection.
The Free Venice Beachhead is the largest – and only – newspaper in Venice. It’s true that a number of papers from Santa Monica, Los Angeles, as well as some of unidentifiable origin, dump their excess copies on Venice. However, coverage of Venice is definitely an afterthought except perhaps for the Marina del Rey Argonaut and the Santa Monica Mirror. Those of you who haven’t yet unsubscribed to the Los Angeles Times may detect a note of hostility toward Venice on the rare occasions that it stoops to writing about our fair city. This is nothing new, the Times Mirror Corp. has never tolerated our anti-establishment attitude, much less understood it. Radio and TV generally ignore Venice, and that includes the progressive nonprofit FM station KPFK. Websites and blogs exist in Venice, but most are mainly concerned with selling something. An exception is YoVenice.com which often gets the jump on Venice news.
The Beachhead has been the paper of record in Venice for 41 years now. We’re interested in getting every issue on the internet to give everyone a fuller understanding of what’s happened here since 1968. If you would like to help fund this project or have the technical facilities to scan the Beachheads, please let us know. Meanwhile, all issues since 2002 are on-line at www.freevenice.org. At this web address you can read every article, or look at the layout. Articles from some earlier issues are on Pat Hartman’s website: virtualvenice.info.
Back in Venice’s earlier days it had its own daily newspaper, the Venice Vanguard. In its pages are the history of Venice from its inception until the mid-1940s, when it was bought by the Culver City News. From then until 1955, there were a few Venice articles in what was essentially a replate of the Culver City paper. What happened between the end of the Vanguard in 1955 and the beginning of the Beachhead in 1968? Nobody knows. Well actually, a lot happened – the Beats, the counter-culture, The Doors, the destruction of many old buildings by the city of L.A. – and much more. Researchers can dig out the details and many people still live in Venice who experienced much of this time period. But there is no one place, a newspaper, to dig into all the events of the time.
Without a newspaper, some of the collective memory is lost. The first issue of the Beachhead explained to 1968 Venetians who Abbot Kinney was and what he had done. Some people already knew the story, but others didn’t have a clue (who was that bearded man on the post office mural?). When the Beachhead began publishing in December 1968, there simply wasn’t any other media source for the people of Venice. Oh sure, there was the Santa Monica Evening Outlook – called the “Evening Outrage” by Venetians – that vilified Venice in nearly every issue. The Los Angeles papers, The Times and the Herald-Examiner, mostly ignored Venice.
Venice did have informal methods for disseminating local news. They included the Lafayette Cafe at the corner of Ocean Front Walk and Westminster, Juergen’s no-name restaurants, which were identified by preexisting signs on the outside of the buildings, including “Da Driftwood” and “NuPars.” Other good places for news and rumors included the benches that lined Ocean Front Walk, the old wooden Pagodas and the Boardwalk, itself, especially around sunset.
There was Val’s Pharmacy, a drug store in the big brick building that’s east of Pacific and south of Windward. When Moe Stavnezer became the pharmacist , locals came in just to find out what was going on. Moe seemed to know everything that was about to befall Venice. He became Venice’s pre-eminent expert and activity with the California Coastal Commission and rallied the community many times to defeat big and ugly projects planned for our town.
This was before hoards of tourists descended on Venice. In the 60s and early 70s, most people wandering the Ocean Front Walk were Venetians who were familiar with one another, if not by name, then by face. Nowadays, many Venetians avoid the Walk, especially on summer weekends unless they have out of town company visiting that wants to see “the sights.”
Where were all the tourists, if not at the beach, in the old days? For one thing, it was harder to get to Venice after the Red Cars stopped running and before the freeways were built. Venice was just a foggy derelict at the far end of Venice Blvd. A “slum by the sea,” as Larry Lipton called it. In addition, it had a bad reputation, even though it was probably safer then than it is now. No self-respecting kids from the Valley would come to Venice. They’d go to Zuma or some other Malibu beach. Inner-city kids would come down, but they were always at risk of being hassled by the police. We had two motorcycle gangs – the Hells Angels in the canals and Satan’s Slaves on the Boardwalk. But they’d pretty much leave the locals alone.
Probably the main reason why Venice was avoided was that it was integrated, at least as much as any American city could be 50 years ago. Back then, and to a lesser extent today, Black people scared the hell out of suburban whites. Since then, the proportion of African-Americans in Venice has been declining, although not fast enough for many speculators, real estate agents and developers. Venice has also had a long-time Chicano community, going back to the Machados, who owned Venice by virtue of a land grant from the King of Spain. Latinos also scare white people, who think they are all knife-wielding gang members just waiting for the opportunity to cut their throats. The ubiquitous V13 artwork helped to keep Venice for the locals.
When the Beachhead began in 1968, more than half the population of Venice was under the poverty line. For Blacks and Latinos, this was due to institutionalized racism. For the white poets, artists and occasional workers, this was a lifestyle.
Beginning in the early 1950s, the disaffected veterans, gays, intellectuals and malcontents ended up in Venice where they created their own Beat community, which was probably more authentic, and underground, than those in San Francisco and New York. It was natural that the 60s generation found fertile ground among the Beats of Venice. Just as the Beats did not call themselves “beatniks,” the 60s generation did not call themselves “hippies.” For the most part, if we called ourselves anything, it was “freaks” or “heads.” Hence the Beachhead. You won’t find the term hippie in the early Beachheads, unless as a derogatory term used by a “straight,” as we called those who didn’t get it.
There was always a strong anarchist tendency among Venetians. This is not surprising since most Venetians of that time were well-read and often came from non-conformist families whose parents might have been communists or bohemians themselves.
Life in 50s and 60s Venice revolved around the local community. Most of us avoided Los Angeles unless we had business with The Man – social workers, courts, police, etc. We had everything we needed or wanted – which wasn’t much – in our foggy city by the Bay. Even with low rents, we sometimes had to venture into the the straight world to earn some money. My work record was typical: telephone installer, post office employee, welfare father, taxi driver, waxed boats in the Marina (ugh), sold lids, GI Bill and construction work. Women could usually find employment as cocktail waitresses and receptionists in the Marina, a place that most Venetians saw as a representation of all that was wrong with society. Signs were popular that said, “Venice is not Marina del Rey.”
And then came developers. They were met by an aroused community that gathered together, first as the Peace and Freedom Party, then as its local manifestation, “Free Venice.” This became part of the name of a number of organizations that took on one or another of the problems we confronted, or promoted our culture with theater groups, child care and food co-ops. The Beachhead was one of these Free Venice creations.
The early Beachheads were strident. Each issue usually raised a battle cry. Venice’s very survival was at stake. Los Angeles’ Mayor Sam Yorty famously said that Venice should be bulldozed in its entirety so developers could start from scratch. There were plans to turn the remaining canals into yacht harbors, run a freeway down Electric Avenue (thereby blocking Oakwood’s access to the beach), and build hi-rises along Ocean Front Walk. These were no idle threats. In the early 60s, between 25 and 40 percent of Venice’s Ocean Front buildings were leveled, including the beautiful St. Mark’s Hotel at Windward. Others had their top floors chopped off, by order of L.A.’s Code Enforcement Department. The “strategic hamlet” of Ocean Park was destroyed. Blocks were bulldozed and replaced by hi-rises. This object lesson was not lost on Venice activists.
Venetians rose to the occasion and defeated all of the schemes to turn Venice into a haven for the rich. Developers had to back off and become content with incremental encroachment instead. The Beachhead chronicled these new forays by speculators and the community’s fightback. The paper educated and agitated with each issue. From the beginning, poetry was a part of the Beachhead, just as it is part of Venice.
Our sleepy community was discovered by mass media in the early 70s. It became an era of roller blades and boom boxes. What had been the most deserted part of the metropolis became the hottest place for TV news. Those who had recently been turning up their noses at Venice, now had to be part of the scene. For the first time since Abbot Kinney’s day, wealth intruded on our happy slum. The cohesion of our community was never quite the same. While some moved in with plans to drive the “bums, beats and hippies” out of Venice, many of the newcomers ultimately joined with the old timers in the struggle to preserve Venice as a unique community. Today, they are the old timers.
Some of them even found their way on to the Beachhead Collective. The paper thrived during the late 70s and most of the 80s. Even today, we have to marvel at how issues running 30 or 40 pages could have been put together by an all-volunteer collective – and without the help of computers.
The Beachhead helped elect a Venetian – Ruth Galanter – to the L.A. City Council in 1987, after months of ragging on the incumbent, Pat Russell, who was pro-development. Galanter’s election meant access, even appointments to staff positions, for Beachhead types. Many old-time activists were now part of the Establishment. It became more difficult to maintain, let alone expand, community organizations including the Beachhead. The new Collective at the Beachhead included those who didn’t like to compromise with developers, or Playa Vista, even if Galanter was at the helm. Venice activists became split between those who thought Galanter was part of the solution and those who thought she was part of the problem. The paper began appearing less frequently. By the mid-90s it had gone into a coma from which it didn’t revive until 2002.
In 2002, two old Beachhead hands – John Haag and Carol Fondiller – and two new ones – Yolanda Miranda and Jim Smith – decided that Venice desperately needed a monthly Beachhead. Development was increasing, the neighborhood council system had been formed, the L.A. city council was planning to impose an unelected councilmember on us and the arts were lagging badly. A new Collective was formed consisting of Chuck Bloomquist, Mimi Bogale, Sherry Chovan, Carol Fondiller, Vessy Minkovski, Yolanda Miranda, Calvin Moss, Jim Smith, Alice Stek, and Suzy Williams. Over time, some people left and new people took their places, while three of us continue to plug away.
Has the 21st Century Beachhead been helpful to Venice? We believe we have a “fan base” unlike nearly any other newspaper. When we distribute the new edition to 125 locations around Venice, we always run into people waiting to tear a copy out of our hands. We only wish that more of those “fans” would become part of the Beachhead, at least, distributing it on their block, or writing an occasional article. No matter what, the Beachhead continues to be an important part of the lives of thousands of Venetians. We hope to keep it that way as long as the community continues to support it financially and look forward to reading it.