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Two Faces of Venice : Though Time and Development Have Taken a Toll, the Heart and History of a Dream Can Still Be Seen

August 06, 1988|ROBERT JOHN PIERSON

Venice today might be compared to Central-Park-at-the-beach or a circus on wheels. On any warm, beach-weather weekend, thousands of Angelenos flock to the wide sandy beach and the carnival-like Ocean Front Walk to enjoy Los Angeles' most celebrated urban beach. Roller skaters, street entertainers, artisans, beach boutique shoppers and urbanites parade along the seafront walk.

Yet just inland from the sandy shore and crowded promenade exists a very different Venetian community. Quiet neighborhoods of Craftsman cottages and post-modern villas nestle side by side. A few miles of narrow canals remain, creating a serene setting of water-side paths leading to lacy footbridges and hidden retreats.

What follows is a three-hour walking tour of these two faces of Venice. On the walk, you'll explore peaceful neighborhoods as well as the historic core of the turn-of-the-century planned community, now mobbed by beach visitors.

To get to Venice, take Interstate 10 (Santa Monica Freeway) west, exit at 4th Street (west). Turn right on Pico Boulevard, then turn left on Main Street and to Windward Avenue. Arrive before 10 a.m. as parking is scarce.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 13, 1988 Home Edition View Part 5 Page 13 Column 6 View Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Small World Books, 1407 Ocean Front Walk, was incorrectly identified as Old World Books in the article entitled "The Two Faces of Venice" (View, Aug. 6).

Begin the walk at the traffic circle where Main Street and Windward Avenue meet. This unassuming circle marks the heart of Venice as originally designed by its founder, Abbot Kinney.

Kinney had been involved in the development of nearby Ocean Park in the 1890s. An avid horticulturist, he began the nation's first experimental forestry station in Rustic Canyon. But in 1904, he turned his energy to a lifelong ambition: to create an entirely new city that would mark Southern California on the world's cultural map.

A world traveler, Kinney had visited cities throughout Europe, where he was constantly impressed with the cultural vitality of its opera houses, art museums, concert halls and urban promenades.

Perfect for Artists

He believed that Los Angeles, with its Mediterranean climate, diverse geography and almost unlimited potential for growth, was the ideal region for an artistic community that would spark cultural interest in California.

Inspired by the romantic beauty of Venice, Italy, Kinney envisioned a seaside city laced with canals and walkways. Italian villas and Byzantine hotels would welcome artisans and craftspeople from around the country; auditoriums would present the best and brightest musicians and lecturers. Venice-of-America became Kinney's dream.

Kinney left his Ocean Park project and acquired the land south of Ocean Park, which was filled with sand hollows and marshes. In the summer of 1904, men, steam shovels and horses began to dredge 16 miles of canals to create his town. Streets were laid out and colonnaded Italian buildings constructed. He even brought over gondoliers from Venice and pigeons from St. Mark's Square.

The traffic circle marks what was the central hub of Kinney's project: the Grand Lagoon, from which two networks of smaller canals branched. By the summer of 1905 when Venice opened, boating docks, aquatic activities and a high dive welcomed visitors.

The public showed less enthusiasm for his cultural events than he had expected, so Kinney later constructed an amusement zone along the Lagoon, including a roller coaster called "Race Through the Clouds."

History in Post Office

Walk inside the small post office at the southwest corner of Main Street and Windward Avenue. Here, Work Projects Administration artist Edward Biberton's 1932 mural depicts the iridescent history of early Venice. Kinney's dream evolves from placid canals, amusement parks and gondola excursions to its 1925 annexation by Los Angeles, oil wells and canal fill-ins.

Walk south on Windward Avenue toward the ocean. Windward Avenue served as the primary access to the bay-side amusements. Lined with elaborate Byzantine and Italian Renaissance-style buildings, Windward's shaded colonnades led to the old Venice Pier and the huge Venice Bathhouse. As you walk, you can still catch glimpses of Kinney's original Venice. Observe the ornate arcaded walkways, the detailed capitals and the old brick walls.

At 25 Windward Ave. stand two landmarks. Terry Schoonhoven's 1979 mural "St. Charles Painting" rises three stories on the side of the building, creating a trompe l'oeil image of the opposite cityscape. Sadly, the mural is now fading and vandalized.

At Ocean Front Walk, turn right and join the menagerie of beach visitors. Across the lawn is the Venice Pavilion, marking the site of the Venice Pier, where once thrill rides, arcades, bingo parlors, a concert hall and the old Ship Cafe welcomed weekend and summer revelers. Hurt by declining revenues and a series of disastrous fires, the pier was torn down in 1947.

Studios, Galleries on Market

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