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Board OKs Venice Pavilion Demolition

Landmarks: Coastal panel votes to replace closed, crumbling structure with a park, beach space.


There was no pardon for the crumbling Venice Pavilion on Tuesday as state environmental officials approved plans to demolish the hulking community center, which is Venice Beach's most visible and controversial landmark.

Heeding the call of residents and officials who described the pavilion as a financial sinkhole and a haven for rats and transients, the California Coastal Commission voted 8 to 1 to replace the building with a park and beach space. That is part of a larger $15-million plan by the city of Los Angeles to spruce up Venice Beach in time for the Democratic National Convention in August.

The Coastal Commission overruled objections of about half a dozen protesters who mounted a last-minute campaign to save the beach-side pavilion, which has been closed to the public since 1984.

Most notably, longtime Venice activist Pearl White, 80, accused commissioners of racism for failing to preserve the pavilion. She said it was intended to host entertainment events, day-care, and community service programs, especially for low-income black and Latino families. "You have turned against the poor people," White told the commission. "That beach is there for everybody."

Commissioners did not view the plan as limiting beach access. "There is no color bar here," said Commissioner Cecilia Estolano, a former Venice resident. "This will open the area up to everybody."

An equal number of Venice Pavilion foes attended the hearing, and said the 3,000-square-foot structure took up valuable beach space and was too inviting to criminals. "It's a building that has a lot of blind corners with dangerous people in them," said Venice resident Steve Heumann.

The pavilion complex was built by the city in 1959 as an indoor arts and recreation center with an outdoor amphitheater. In the 1960s and 1970s, the building was well known for its rock concerts--Fleetwood Mac performed there--and for its outrageous stage performances. (In one production, a producer ran through the aisles tearing out pages of the Bible.)

"I met a lot of beautiful people there," Demetrius Tahmin said as he urged commissioners to save the building. Since the city ordered it closed in 1984, several attempts to reopen the pavilion have failed.

City officials say that it would cost $3 million to renovate the pavilion and $400,000 to demolish it. Once cleared, the pavilion would be replaced by beach sand, a playground, a landscaped park, a public sculpture and a single-story police substation and park maintenance office. Police now complain about their dilapidated substation in the pavilion basement.

Several of the pavilion's decaying charms would be preserved, though. The city will keep two walls standing in the picnic area, or graffiti pit, where high concrete walls are layered thick with colorful bursts of spray-paint. (The city has identified the walls as a "cultural resource.") The state panel, which controls all oceanfront construction, could have stopped the demolition plan. But only one coastal commissioner, Christina L. Desser, voted against demolition, saying that she wondered if there was still a hope for rehabilitating the building. "You know," said Desser. "The Santa Monica Pier used to be a dark and drug-ridden place."

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