With its amusement pier gone, Venice didn’t recover financially after World War II. Its housing stock was run down and it became a slum by the sea. It was the least expensive place in Los Angeles to live, and it attracted young beat poets and starving artists because studio space was cheap. It became a counter-culture mecca, much to Los Angeles’ dismay. It soon became clear that the city was waging a campaign to evict the ‘undesirables’ from the community. The police harassed, arrested and often beat hippies, anti-war protesters, blacks and Chicanos. A federal project called Neighborhood Legal Services often defended the poor and oppressed.
In the early 1960’s the city, using money from bond issues passed in the late 1950’s, built a new recreation center along the beach on ex-pier property purchased by the state from the Abbot Kinney Company in 1950. Athletic facilities, beach parking and a main pavilion building were constructed and opened in 1962. There were plans to construct a swimming pool beside the pavilion, but when costs escalated, the Board of Education offered to contribute if they would build it adjacent to the Venice High School campus.
Since Venice residents were a thorn in their side, they naturally wanted to redevelop Venice just to get rid of the residents. They slyly crafted a measure in 1961 that all buildings in Venice had to be brought up to present building codes, and if the owner couldn’t comply for financial reasons, he had to demolish his structure at his own expense, The project would be done in three stages and take three and a half years.
The first two buildings inspected in January 1962 were the Gas House on Ocean Front Walk, a center for artists and poets, and the St. Marks Hotel on Windward. Neither passed code and were found in such a state of deterioration that repairing them would be useless. When they were condemned for demolition, the owners asked for a hearing. After all the buildings on Windward were either condemned or the owners were asked to make expensive repairs for which they couldn’t get loans, they formed a Shoreline and Landmarks Society to get them declared historic landmarks. The city claimed the Venetian styled buildings weren’t representative of Southern California architecture and denied them landmark status. A lawsuit to stop demolition failed and much of the Venice’s historic buildings were demolished. Phases II and III took place in 1963 and 1964 with little opposition. By the end of 1965, 550 buildings, one third of the Venice community had been demolished, much of it near the beach. Venice took on the appearance of a bombed out war zone just cleared of rubble. Fortunately code-enforcement for Oakwood and other inland sections of the city were minimized by a series of lawsuits that prevented Los Angeles from redeveloping an entire city as one big project.
It is quite apparent that the city of Los Angeles took Venice’s tax money and in returned provided few municipal benefits, while continually destroying the community. They filled in the canals, closed its amusement piers that generated its tourist business, and destroyed most of its historic buildings. Annexation to Los Angeles was a definite mistake.
One could speculate what would have happened if Venice had consolidated with Santa Monica. The canals would have been likely filled in because Venice wasn’t laid out for automobile traffic and the age of the automobile meant progress. It is unlikely that the city of Santa Monica would have torn down Venice’s historic buildings, and they would have supported an enlarged business district that would have been built along Venice Way. The three amusement piers complexes would have lasted at least until the late 1960’s, if not longer. The amusement park business throughout the nation hit bottom during the decade of the 60’s and parks were closing everywhere, and it is unlikely that all three could have survived financially. Santa Monica did their best to run Pacific Ocean Park out of business while they were redeveloping Ocean Park into tall apartment blocks. They feared that people didn’t want to live near an amusement pier, and despite providing the pier with a new parking lot, made getting to the pier nearly impossible with deliberate street closures. Its City Council, which was against all piers, voted to tear down the Santa Monica Pier in 1970. And when citizens rose up in anger, those who voted for it were kicked out of office. But overall it would have been a better match between the cities, since both communities had the same interests.
There are still factions, although fewer than a decade ago, who yearn for seceding from Los Angeles to form an independent city. They believe that Venice’s high residential property values and taxes (which are dropping rapidly) will fund its city government. But property tax is paid to the State, and then divided up for education, for County government, and only about 15% is allotted to local cites. City income has to be supplemented by taxes on industry (Venice has none) and commercial business sales tax. Frankly there isn’t a lot of revenue from selling cheap sun glasses and T-shirts along Venice Beach, and Venice’s many tattoo parlors don’t generate sales tax either. There are a few hotels, but not enough.
The solution is to have a larger city that might include Mar Vista, Playa Vista and Westchester. But it is doubtful that they would have the desire to merge with Venice. I would expect the new government to be just as factional as it was in the 1920’s. Just go to any meeting and if there are 100 people, there are 70 different opinions and no one wants to compromise. Besides the sticky part is that not only getting the residents of the seceding city to agree, but to get all the voters of Los Angeles to agree to the divorce. That is highly unlikely.
Jeffrey Stanton is the author of Venice California – Coney Island of the Pacific, the definitive 288 page hardback on Venice’s history with an 80,000 word text and 367 historic photos of Venice’s canals, amusement piers, and historic buildings. He sells his $50 book, which was published for the Venice Centennial in 2005, along Ocean Front Walk on weekends, or you can call him at (310) 821-2425. firstname.lastname@example.org