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Venice's new bloom

Urban planners say Rose Avenue's rapid change suggests the area's bohemian days are numbered

December 11, 2012|Matt Stevens
  • Brothers Day, left, and Matthew Schildkret spend time with their mother, Wendy Schildkret, at Venice Beach Wines on Rose Avenue in Venice. Owner Oscar Hermosillo built the wine bar by hand six years ago, and other business owners on Rose Avenue credit him with kick-starting the street's transformation.
Brothers Day, left, and Matthew Schildkret spend time with their mother,… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)

Step inside the Rose Market near the corner of Rose and 5th avenues in Venice, and make your way to the refrigerator in the back. Small orange price stickers say that $3.50 will get you 40 ounces of Bud Light.

To pay, slide your money through a slot to a cashier who sits behind bulletproof glass.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, December 13, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Venice gentrification: An article in the Dec. 11 Section A about changes on Venice's Rose Avenue misspelled the name of Venice creator Abbot Kinney, and the boulevard named after him, as Abbott Kinney.

Take 10 steps west and you're staring at a funky building that looks as if it's been covered with moon rocks. At Moon Juice, $3.50 will buy you just a two-ounce shot of a detoxifying acid mineral complex called "Liquid Light" and a bit of change for the tip jar. If you want a full glass of organic cold-pressed "Gracious Greens" juice, it'll cost you $12.

To pay, hand your money to young workers who give each other massages behind the counter while serving their customers.

Skid Rose, meet Restaurant Rose.

Urban planners say Rose Avenue is unlikely to become the next Abbott Kinney -- the nearby boulevard recently dubbed "The Coolest Block in America" by GQ magazine -- but the breakneck pace of change along these once shabby blocks connecting Lincoln Boulevard to Pacific Avenue suggests that the down-and-out bohemian days of this countercultural beach neighborhood are numbered.

If Rose Avenue could turn white-hot overnight, other Venice streets could soon follow.

"The tipping point," said former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, "has been tipped."

When he created his "Venice-of-America" in 1905, Abbott Kinney envisioned a showcase of art and culture. Instead, said Betsy Goldman, Venice Historical Society co-founder, the public insisted on a "honky-tonk" carnival atmosphere with gondola excursions and camel rides.

For decades that carnival vibe was reincarnated: In the 1950s and '60s, Goldman said, Venice served as a gathering place for hippies, homeless people and beatnik intellectuals and musicians like Jim Morrison. Beach life and an atmosphere of permissiveness drew motorcycle gang members and drug addicts as well. Pawnshops and liquor stores sprouted.

Venice gained a reputation as a rough outpost among beach communities. Occasional violence and the presence of homeless people deterred business owners for years. By the early 1990s, police say, area crime had hit an all-time high.

But Rose Avenue rents were cheap. A few retailers thought they might draw shoppers from Santa Monica. So Alan Schniderman opened his DNA Clothing store on the block in the 1980s.

People slept in a nearby parking lot, he said. Cockroaches scuttled across the asphalt. Schniderman recalls a red curtain that marked a peep show just off Rose Avenue on Main Street.

The rehabilitation of the Venice Canals in the early 1990s made the surrounding property in the south part of the neighborhood more attractive but largely left Rose Avenue and adjoining Oakwood behind.

Schniderman was shocked when a tiny wine shop opened two blocks down in 2006.

"When they opened," he said, "I thought, 'They're never going to make it.' "

"Hey, hey, good to see ya!" Oscar Hermosillo shouted over the chatter, clapping a friend on the back. The owner of Venice Beach Wines couldn't even walk out the back of his wine bar one recent Friday night. The 500-square-foot space was packed tighter than standing room only.

When Hermosillo got some wiggle room, he greeted three more people on the way to the door and then stopped to chat with two men outside. A few steps away, a woman bundled in layers of shirts and jackets emerged from Rose Market with a beer and retrieved a shopping cart filled with her belongings. Two couples wrapped in peacoats and sweater vests strutted past her in the other direction.

Friends told Hermosillo he was crazy to lease the former Mexican bodega on Rose Avenue for his wine shop six years ago.

And things got worse before they got better: About a year after the wine shop opened, the neighborhood's famous Pioneer Bakery across the street was bulldozed. Pedestrians were mostly Rose Market regulars. There were no street lights; Hermosillo said some customers would call before coming in because the street felt unsafe.

Still, locals bought wine by the case. By 2008, Flake Cafe had opened a few doors down, followed by a Whole Foods to the east and a landscape design house called Big Red Sun. Hermosillo eventually converted his wine store to a wine bar.

Meanwhile, population was dropping, and median household incomes were rising, up 40% in the vicinity of Rose during the decade, according to recent U.S. census data.

There was also a shift in the neighborhood's ethnic makeup as whites moved in and Latinos moved out. In 2000, about half the people living in the two census tracts along Rose were Latino, and only a third white. But by 2010, the proportions had flipped, with whites now making up nearly half of all residents.

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