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Wacky, Wonderful Venice Has Bright New Face

Renovation: Mayor Riordan rededicates the Boardwalk amid artists, fans and, naturally, protesters.


In true Venice fashion, "Mad" Chad Taylor, the Chainsaw Juggler, used one of his roaring blades to cut the red wooden ribbon Monday at the Venice boardwalk's rededication after an $8-million face lift.

And in case anyone doubted that the oceanfront strip was fully back in business, another boardwalk regular, Tony the Fireman, also performed at the ceremony. Tony breathed, ate and rubbed fire onto his body. As if that weren't enough, he hoisted a seated boy into the air and balanced him by one chair leg ... in his mouth.

Mayor Richard Riordan cheered with the crowd of officials, performers, tourists and locals. In a brief speech, Riordan honored the diverse talents of one of Southern California's most popular tourist destinations.

"This is a place to come and wonder at the beauty and splendor of the City of Angels. This is Los Angeles," Riordan said.

The beachside renovations began in 1997 and were championed by the area's councilwoman, Ruth Galanter. The improvements include a skate dance rink and a colorful children's play park. Sculptures, murals and mosaics by local artists dot the boardwalk. The center walkway at Windward Avenue is embedded with a map of the original Venice in Italy.

Set back from the bike path, several walls were left standing from the former Venice Pavilion. Built in the 1960s for outdoor performances, that structure was rarely used due to its abysmal acoustics and frequently wet seats. It was a frequent target for graffiti. Some of that has been preserved on the walls, and officials say future graffiti are encouraged on them.

Children from Venice Arts Mecca, who painted murals on 100 trash cans lining the beach, received glass jars filled with concrete chunks from the former pavilion.

"The pavilion . . . was a dream of a previous generation," Ellen Oppenheim, general manager of the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, told the youths. "Now it's making way for the dreams of your generation."

The ceremony was briefly disturbed by two women who unfurled a banner protesting the proposed construction of the huge Playa Vista commercial and residential project on the nearby Ballona Wetlands. Galanter, who has supported the development just north of Los Angeles International Airport, quickly yanked the banner away.

A Galanter aide on roller-blades escorted the two women back into the audience.

After the ceremony, Bill Attaway, 36, who came to Venice to make it as an artist at age 15, watched as visitors inspected his new 15-foot sea-themed mosaic monument, inspired by the Spanish artist Antonio Gaudi.

His mosaics, made with broken bits of mirror, tiles, and Attaway's own fish and octopus designs, also decorate the exterior walls of the boardwalk's public restrooms.

"I knew I wanted to use the grunion. It's this fish that swims up and down the coast. The females come up and lay their eggs. Then they go back to the water, and the males try to fertilize the eggs," he said. "There are swarms of them, and on the weekends, it's kind of like that here," he added with a grin.

Attaway, who helped start the Venice nonprofit Clayworks, which teaches children from low-income families how to do mosaics, is leaving space for their tiles.

Runninghorse, a freelance Venice photographer, said he was overwhelmed by the improvements. "The tape I was playing inside my head as I came up toward the children's park with my two kids today was, 'I need more cash, I don't have enough to provide for my kids,' " he recalled.

"Then I looked at the park with the beach and the Pacific Ocean behind it, and I thought, 'I am a rich man. This is the most beautiful park I've ever seen.' "

Comedian Michael Collins returned for the reopening. "I stood out here on the beach for years telling jokes and passing the hat. Being here was my defining time," he said. Echoing the sentiments of many, he yelled during the ceremony: "I love Venice!"

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