What Makes Venice Beach Unique Essay

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Venice Beach


Originally founded in 1905 by a tobacco businessman, Venice, California, was an independent city until 1925 when it merged with Los Angeles. Today, it is known for its beach boardwalk and its circus-like atmosphere, and in the past decade Venice has undergone a process of gentrification like many other cities across the U.S. (Abcarian). However, Venice Beach was for years a center of the arts. In the 1960s it was ground zero for the counter-culture movement, with musicians like Jim Morrison and the Doors getting their start at Venice Beach. It was home to late R&B musician Teena Marie, now forever memorialized in a Venice mural (Argonaut). It was the home of Muscle Beach, boardwalk roller skating, diversity and cultural foods. It was home to Oakwood African Americans, who helped dig the canals of Venice but who were not permitted to settle along them and instead were placed inland on the one square mile of roads known as Oakwood—which today is now threatened by the expansion of Silicon Valley and the influx of gangs (Carroll). Venice Beach was a popular resort—a place that brought tourists in from around the world, people who came for the beach sunsets, the shops and tattoo parlors and artists selling their art work right on the streets. It was a place full of culture and history and life and stories. Today it has gone the way of most other cities that have had pasts: today, it is entering into a new phase of existence—a new stage of life that is disconnected from the past, that has more to do with avocado toast, Millennials and the gentrified tastes of those spilling over from Silicon Valley than it does with hippies, dancing, roller skating or the doors of perception. This paper will describe the history of Venice Beach and how it has changed over time.

The Beginning

The canals of the Venice of America were originally dug to drain the area of the marshes that kept the land uninhabitable. Abbot Kinney, who founded the city, constructed a large pier, more than a thousand feet long, that included a ship style restaurant, an auditorium and a dance hall. Venetian architecture studded the business street, and tourists took a miniature railcar or a gondola down the various lanes of the Venice-inspired city.

Kinney died in 1920 and the pier was destroyed by fire about that time. Prohibition had also come into effect, which threatened the revenues of the city—but the Kinney family restored the pier and constructed new amusements for the people—roller coasters, a racing derby, a fun house and much more. It was a top-notch attraction for tourists year round (Stanton). It was generally a destination of innocent fun that fit right in with the culture of pre-1960s America. Americans were generally jubilant throughout the 1920s, depressed throughout the 1930s, energized by the 1940s, and exultant during the 1950s.


Venice in its original state did not last long. When Kinney died, the city essentially went up for grabs: its infrastructure was in need of repair and Prohibition had cut into its funds. Los Angeles annexed Venice in 1925 and the changes to its character began immediately. While designed to reflect the Venice of Italy with its canals, dug by the African Americans imported from New Orleans and now settled in Oakwood, Venice quickly took on a more status quo character as L.A. did not want to pay the costs of upkeep. Many canals were filled in and paved over (a cheap solution to the problem of maintenance) and During the Great Depression, the city…

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…and even the African Americans of Oakwood—the original population that helped dig the canals and construct Venice of California are leaving their community for other shores as the upper class white collar workers of Silicon Valley move in.


Venice Beach started off as a kind of ode to the most architecturally stunning and iconic city in the world: Venice, Italy. Kinney had a dream to bring the Renaissance of the European world to California. He constructed the city of Venice with the help of African-Americans, who, though they dug the trenches and made the canals, were not permitted to live on the streets they lined because segregation was still a reality of American life at the time. Kinney designed the 1200 foot pier that was a destination in and of itself, complete with rides, an auditorium for performances, a dance hall and room for skating. There was the restaurant in the ship and all manner of entertainments. When Kinney died in 1920, the city fell into disarray and with Prohibition underway it lost a great source of funding. Los Angeles swooped in to save the city by incorporating it but did little to shore it up or to further its charm. Instead, the City of Angels filled in many of the canals, installed oil wells, and allowed it to turn into a giant slum. By the 1950s, however, the Slum by the Sea became a refuge of America’s starving artists. The Beat poets, the musicians, the painters and performers gathered in Venice Beach: it was cheap, fun, exciting and eclectic. There were body builders, beatniks, bars, dancers, skaters, musicians and more. It was a place where diversity was one of its biggest qualities. But by the 1990s, the culture had changed once more and Venice was best viewed as a washed-out representation….....

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Works Cited

Abcarian, Robin. “They discover, they gentrify, they ruin: How 'progress' is wrecking Los Angeles neighborhoods.” LA Times, 2017. https://www.latimes.com/local/abcarian/la-me-abcarian-venice-density-20170719-story.html

Argonaut. “Teena Marie Mural.” Argonaut, 2012. https://argonautnews.com/venice-completion-of-teena-marie-mural-culminates-long-road-to-honor-late-rb-singer/

Carroll, Rory. “LA's black enclave buffeted by police pressure and tech-driven gentrification.” The Guardina, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/01/venice-gentrification-oakwood-african-american-california

Horowitz, D. Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Maynard, John Arthur (1993). Venice West: The Beat Generation in Southern California. Rutgers University Press.

Stanton, Jeffrey. Venice, California: Coney Island of the Pacific. Donahue Publishing, 2005.

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