The Merchant of Venice

By Delores Hanney

Today Mike T. lives a life of gracious bohemianism with his longtime love Laura. He’s an artist; she’s a writer. Their enchanting Venice home and its 800 square-foot studio behind are hidden from view by thriving gardens swoony with scent and color, tinkling chimes and little surprises tucked in here and there. Sometimes they are in residence enjoying a mellow, mystical lifeway. Other times, when fortunate travelers have taken up occupancy, they load up their trailer and sally off to bask in the alternate pleasures of San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, Laguna, Monterey or some other lush by-the-sea location: a pair of nature-enthralled gypsies in a rolling abode. But back in the time of hippies, Mike was part owner of a psychedelic book store-cum-gallery, an emporium purveying all manner of accoutrements, trappings and regalia for enhancement of the 1960s counter culturists’ lifestyle.

The Earth Rose, as it was called, was located at Ocean Front Walk and Rose Avenue, where the Venice Ale House currently stands. Next door a Jewish delicatessen was operated by Holocaust survivors; the hotel across the street was known as the Ocean View in that era. The shop came into being when Mike threw his lot in with trust fund endowed Steve Richmond who made a hobby of casual entrepreneurship. “He was an edgy kind of guy, a poet and both of us were pretty weird,” Mike told me. “Steve was responsible for ‘content,’ mostly books of poetry or spirituality.” While Mike was the ambiance maker and finder of groovy merchandise irresistible to hippy taste, they shared the role of shop clerk and chatter-upper of whoever happened to walk in. Keeping a surfboard at The Earth Rose, with his current girlfriend or Richmond watching the store, he regularly nipped across the sand to surrender to the sea for a deliciously mind-altering hour of riding the surf, his co-passion along with painting.  “Painting and surfing bring similar feelings of being put in touch with something bigger than me,” he says.

The building the shop inhabited was roughly 3000 square feet, with thirteen-foot ceilings and a bright red floor. Aurally permeating the space, music by the Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, the Grateful Dead and suchlike ripped and roared from the sound system.

A large painting of a rose, similar to the one that now decorates the Rose Café, reigned as emblematic greeter above the grand double door entrance. Inside, the walls were filled with the work of local artists, including Mike and a guy who made a specialty of dayglow colored scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There were posters from the Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco’s famed rock venue. Square black tables covered in lace displayed jewelry and there were racks of handmade items of leather clothing. They sold incense, Indian rugs, beaded curtains. Before long they expanded their inventory to openly include drug paraphernalia: pipes, rolling papers and whatnot. It was a charmingly notorious enterprise when considered from the perspective of today’s medical marijuana peddlers common as cabbages along Ocean Front Walk.

“The store was the most visible feature on the boardwalk, as merchants were then few,” Mike reports. The gathering of a gaggle of comfortable chairs around the cash box area helped create a relaxed, clubby atmosphere for hanging out that brought a kind of focus to the community. Ray Manzarek – of The Doors – and members of the nearby Strawberry Fields commune were frequently countable among the throng of congenial regulars. From this it grew into a neighborhood resource that under the auspices of others was part of a free food program and additional grass roots services. It also provided public meeting space supporting issues of humanitarian concern.

The Earth Rose was a modest success, financially, but its incarnation was a brief one. The inevitable demise oozed from the fact that neither of the owners was a sit-around-all-day-and-watch-the-shop sort of chap. Richmond bought Mike out but shuttered the doors not long after, because it just wasn’t fun anymore.

Faced with a delightful dearth of daily duties, Mike T. pootled off to Oahu (one of the Hawaiian Islands) to be a part of the North Shore surfing scene’s golden age for nine months. Returning to Venice, he resumed painting with renewed vigor and was taken to the bosom of the booming L.A. art crowd. A few years later he was inspired to travel to Europe in the role of manufactured mescaline evangelizer for the incredible spiritual highs it induced. As a mission the trip was a bust, but just being there was an epiphany for the artist in him. Back at home again, his art flourished. In time Laura arrived.

And The Earth Rose was only a memory.

Earth Rose

Categories: History, Ocean Front Walk