Venice is a truly fascinating Los Angeles neighborhood. Best known today as a hip, vibrant, and charmingly eccentric beach community, it tells a long and interesting story.
Through its first hundred years, Venice wore many faces – from a raw and undeveloped swampland to a whimsical beachside resort, as well as the center of a frenzied oil boom.
How did Venice go through all these incredible transformations? Read on to learn more about how this beach town’s roller coaster journey.
It all started with a leap of faith
“Venice of America,” as the place was originally called, was founded in 1905 by tobacco mogul Abbot Kinney. Many ridiculed his choice of location to invest, as the area was little more than a beachy marshland.
Kinney defied his doubters and put in the necessary work to reform the place in the mold of his favorite Italian city. He dredged the marshland by carving out a 16-mile system of canals to drain the marshes. These canals would later serve as channels where gondola rides were offered.
He also had a pier built to feature a variety of all-ages recreational amenities. It boasted various carnival and amusement park-style attractions, including fun houses and roller coasters, while also providing plenty of space for entertainment venues, restaurants, and cafés.
From whimsical beach resort to productive oilfield
In 1926, Venice of America was annexed to Los Angeles, triggering a dramatic change in the area’s profile and purpose.
The demand for oil transformed the place from an up-and-coming beachside haven to a lucrative industrial production site. Towering oil derricks were built and drilling machinery arrived in droves, displacing Kinney’s charming project.
Toward the end of the 1920s, the frenzy for oil drilling ramped up. Motivated by the economic relief that the oil promised during the Great Depression era, even residents lobbied at the Los Angeles city hall for rezoning to allow more drilling operations.
The oil boom produced more than 47 million barrels of “black gold.” However, the drilling operations left the area heavily polluted and hazardous to human health. Sludge filled the canals and the entire beachfront was left an unsightly, oil-stained mess.
A welcome change of perspectives
Removal of the oil derricks began as early as 1942, as local residents began to reclaim their beach.
It would be a tough and gradual climb back, however. The last oil tower was only taken down in 1962, while it took more than another decade for most of the oil wells to be capped. In fact, Venice’s last remaining oil wells were only put out of commission in 1991.
Throughout these decades, Venice welcomed all sorts of characters as its new residents: Body-builders and fitness buffs flexed in the 1950s. Beatniks, musicians, poets, and artists created in the ‘60s. Skateboarders and punk rockers partied in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Venice became the melting pot for a diverse range of interests and personalities as the years went on.
By the turn of the millennium, Venice has embarked on yet another metamorphosis. Having revitalized the boardwalk to create a new hub of social and commercial activity, this neighborhood now embraces and builds on the best qualities of its diverse and vibrant population.
This community continues to grow, as well. The latest additions to Venice’s already multi-faceted character are members of the lucrative and innovation-minded tech industry.
The rich history and eclectic culture of Venice as told by public art
There is no better way to gain a deeper appreciation of Venice’s colorful history and present-day identity than with these two significant works of art.
- Venice Kinesis (2010, Rip Cronk)
Located on the west wall of the Danny’s Deli building Windward at Speedway, this sprawling mural is considered by many the definitive Venice mural.
Venice Kinesis is a playful take on Botticelli’s Renaissance period masterpiece, “The Birth of Venus.” It depicts Venus (or in this case, Venice) as a modern-day Southern California girl in roller skates, breezing along the boardwalk past various objects that represent the many subcultures and fads that the beach town has embraced through the years.
The version you can see today is a super-sized update to Venice Reconstituted, which Cronk painted in 1989. The 2010 restoration adds contemporary elements to incorporate the new trends that emerged since the original painting.
For Cronk, refreshing his original work was the perfect way to depict “Venice in motion [and as] a place of change.”
- Abbot Kinney and the Story of Venice (1941, Edward Biberman)
This mural graced the walls of the Venice Post Office during the 1940s. Commissioned by the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts, Biberman created this work of art as a tribute to Kinney, whose vision set the wheels in motion for Venice’s unconventional growth as a community.
Biberman’s mural was last on display in 2014 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It is currently in storage while the post office building undergoes renovation.
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