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Plan for Kinney Boulevard in Venice Runs Into Pothole

August 10, 1989|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | Times Staff Writer

The process of renaming a portion of Washington Boulevard in Venice to honor the seaside community's founder, Abbot Kinney, seemed to be sailing along so smoothly. But then Walter Woods said: "Whoa!"

A chorus of community groups clamored for the change. One group in particular wanted the change so badly, and was so sure of succeeding, that it renamed itself the Abbot Kinney Boulevard Assn. a year ago. A leader of the association, developer J. Kevin Brunk, even named his planned office-retail complex the Abbot Kinney Building.

After submitting name-change petitions to the city of Los Angeles, the association began planning an official renaming ceremony for this Sunday at the sixth annual Venice Summer Arts and Crafts Festival.

After all, who could quarrel with a plan to pay homage to the visionary who had grand plans to form "Venice of America," complete with the waterways and gondolas of its European namesake?

Woods, for one. The longtime resident--since 1951--was not about to kowtow to civic groups that want to change the name of his street to honor the founder of Venice, rather than the father of his country.

"To change the boulevard name from Washington to Kinney is like exchanging a diamond for a mud brick," Woods wrote in a petition he said was his first foray into grass-roots politics.

In Woods' view, Kinney was no more than a failed real estate developer out to exploit the area, "a slapdash, careless developer to boot. . . . When it came to digging the canals, he made a horrible engineering blunder," that turned them into a stagnant health menace within 10 years, Woods said.

The retired aerospace science consultant said he is also troubled by talk of naming other sites after Abbot Kinney. Before long, he said, Venice "will be called Kinney-ville."

There is already a Kinney Circle, Kinney Place, Kinney Street and Kinney Walk in the Eagle Rock area, which he also developed. Venice has The Kinney Plaza and Santa Monica a Kinney Street.

The Kinney Boulevard boosters did not make their request based on sentiment alone. They say there is a practical reason for the name change: confusion with nearby Washington Way, Washington Street and Washington Place that delays fire trucks and ambulances. The city fire chief and a local police captain wrote letters of support.

Adding to the confusion, the city of Los Angeles some years ago changed its designation of the street segment in question, which begins just west of Lincoln Boulevard where Washington Boulevard makes an abrupt turn, and ends at Main Street.

To the city, the street's official name is "Washington Boulevard South." Merchants, however, insist that it is "West Washington Boulevard" on their letterheads and in their advertising.

Woods does not stand alone in his opposition to the name change. Thirty merchants and residents of the boulevard, which is dotted with antique stores, restaurants and boutiques, separately wrote the city to complain about the name change. Many more than that signed petitions.

Compounding the muddle, however, is the fact that many people signed both petitions.

Opponents of the change argued everything from the cost of reprinting their stationery to problems remembering the obscure name. From the looks of the letters, spelling will be an issue too. Folks on both sides had a tendency to add a "t" to Abbot.

The cost of new street signs, an estimated $8,000, was also criticized. "Why not spend the time and money on more practical, obvious problems such as the huge potholes on Venice Boulevard?" asked Randa Wells.

The opposition, estimated by the city engineer at roughly half of those affected, was convincing enough for him to recommend against automatically approving the name change.

Those numbers are hotly disputed by Abbot Kinney Boulevard fans who contend that they have nearly all the property owners on their side. They also include nearly 800 members of community groups who say they "concern themselves with the safety and betterment of this community."

Those groups read like a Who's Who of Venice organizations: The Venice Town Council, the Venice Action Committee, the Venice Historical Society and the Venice Area Chamber of Commerce.

"He had a dream," said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Marge Alatorre of Kinney. "If we don't start to pay attention to our dreamers, we won't have a country."

There seems to be no way to sort out the validity of the petition signers or the relative merits of tenant-merchants versus property owners. So the decision, which will be made by the Public Works Committee of the City Council, will be mostly a political one, according to those involved--and it will not be made until after Sunday's festival.

Thus the festival committee has been stymied, at least temporarily. Developer Brunk fulminates over the monkey wrench thrown into his plans by the likes of Walter Woods. "What has Mr. Woods ever done for this community lately? Is he out raising money for children or planting palm trees?" Brunk asked.

Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, initially inclined to back the name change, has apparently taken a step back from the fray. Although proofs of Sunday's program suggest she will participate in the street dedication, that is still being negotiated, according to Brunk.

The Abbot Kinney Boulevard Assn. will, however, forge on. With or without the city's blessing, they will "dedicate and commemorate" the street Sunday to the area's founder. He will be lauded for his contribution to the area. His grandchildren will be presented with certificates.

"We can dedicate and commemorate whatever we want," Brunk said.

Someday, Kinney may actually get the street named after him too.

Would he like that? One irked opponent thought not. "If Abbot wanted a street named after him, don't you think he would have done it himself?" Bart Carpinelli asked.

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