Quirky Venice Beach Shows Colorful Side of Southern California

Palm Trees at Venice Beach, Southern California
Palm Trees at Venice Beach, Southern California

Recently featured in the book FunkyTowns USA by Mark Cramer, Venice Beach is one of Southern California's most unique oceanfront towns. Situated in western Los Angeles, this sunny stretch of sand has been a resort since 1905, when tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney strived to make the area "The Coney Island of the Pacific.''

Co-owner of the existing Ocean Park Casino and Resort, Kinney envisioned the area south of the casino as a "Venice of America'', complete with canals and gondolas, plenty of amusement rides, and hotels and other buildings constructed in grand Venetian style. After winning the land in a coin toss with his partners, Kinney hired workers to begin construction on the 70-foot-wide, .5 mile long Grand Canal, smaller canals, and one of the largest amusement piers in the world, measuring 900 feet long and 30 feet wide. The Los Angeles Pacific Trolley Line was to bring visitors to the area and, after a few setbacks, the newly-christened Venice Beach opened to guests on July 4, 1905.

During the next few years, Kinney added a number of new attractions including a roller skating rink, a dance hall, and a heated indoor saltwater "plunge.'' In 1909, the Venice Aquarium opened and eventually would become the marine biology station for the nearby University of Southern California. Scenic railroads, carousels, Ferris wheels, and other rides also appeared on Kinney's Pier and soon Venice Beach's popularity warranted the building of another pier - Fraser's Million Dollar Pier - which later burnt down but was rebuilt.

The beach resort continued to thrive despite Prohibition and Abbot Kinney's death in 1920. The town of Venice was annexed to Los Angeles in 1930 and for a short time became a boom town when oil was discovered there that same year. At the site, 148 wells were built, producing 40,000 gallons of oil each day.

Times were lean during the Depression, with beach outings dwindling to almost nothing. But the onset of World War II in 1941 saw Venice Beach assume a different role as a daytime entertainment destination for soldiers and sailors on weekend leave from nearby military bases and shipyards. In 1946, however, the lease expired on Kinney's Pier and the city of Los Angeles chose to tear it down. Ocean Park Pier, however, remained open until 1967.

The 60s ushered in a decade of decay for Venice Beach. By the late part of the decade, it had become a haven for those associated with the Beat movement and later was popular with Southern California's hippies. Bands like The Doors were the epitome of Venice culture and performed often for excited crowds. Pot parties on the canals were common. However, though life in Venice during that time wasn't always peaceful, the counterculture brought a uniqueness to this beach area that still exists today.

In the 1970s, the city of Los Angeles began to take steps to reinvigorate the oceanfront area, adding an oceanfront walk and an 18-mile-long bicycle path. When the inline skate was introduced in the late 70s, the wide bicycle path became popular with skaters and remains so today. That same decade brought artists, street vendors, body builders, and street entertainers to the area, and this colorful seaside destination began attracting more than locals, with new visitors providing a financial boost to the area.

Today, street performers are everywhere, entertaining crowds with everything from singing and dancing to juggling and telling jokes. Artists of all genres are part of Venice Beach's world-famous Art Walk, which features galleries, art studios, and easels set up along the ocean walk. A few of the original canals still exist and are now lined with multi-million dollar upscale homes that are among the most beautiful in Los Angeles County.

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Jul 21, 2010 @ 12:00 am
June 1960 saw nobody coming to the beach and the amusement park closed, nobody the last 9 or ten times I had been there. July 1960 saw me plant the palm trees(no charge), donated to the City of Los Angles with one note that said "Put Bobby to work". I said to Los Angeles Mayor Poulson that the parks had enough of my trees and plenty of people, but the beaches had no people and nothing to attract anything, so I planted the palm trees that are there now. A basic long row to tie the small groups together, a general design that had worked in Santa Barbara where I had planted more than 1,000 palm trees on the beach front.

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