Venice Community Activist Whose Story Goes Back to Abbot Kinney: Jataun Valentine

By Greta Cobar

March 8 marks the 103rd anniversary of International Women’s Day, and it is with great honor that the Beachhead spotlights Jataun Valentine: a political activist, volunteer, ever-present member of our community whose family tree goes back to the days of Abbot Kinney.

Jataun: Irwin Tabor, Abbot Kinney’s chauffeur, was my grandmother’s brother. In September it will be 99 years since my family came to Venice from Louisiana. My grandmother Jenny Tabor Henry was the last one to come. At that time my mother Hazel Petty was eleven. My grandfather Alphonse Joseph Henry and his siblings were children of slaves. In Louisiana he was a fisherman, and here he became the first Black cement contractor. He laid the cement on Rose, Main, and did a lot of the work close to the beach. At that time it was mostly bare land, with dirt streets. They traveled by horse and carriage, and it would take three to four hours just to get to Sawtelle.

Beachhead: What made them decide to move over here?

Jataun: When Abbot Kinney started to do the canals, there was a lot of stuff to do. My cousin Arthur Reese was the first to come to Venice. Kinney found out that he had a knack for  decorating – some people are born with some talent. He started doing decorations for balls, and because he worked there our family could use the pools and baths that Blacks were not allowed to use at that time.

BH: Abbot Kinney must have really appreciated the Tabor family – he willed his house to Irwin Tabor.

Jataun: Yes, and it had to be separated into three pieces and moved from where the new post office is now to 6th and Santa Clara, because Blacks couldn’t live so close to the beach at that time. It stayed in my family until 1989 – now it has new owners, but it’s still there.

BH: You’ve been around Venice longer than anyone else I know.

Jataun: I’m 77 years old now, born and raised in Venice. I went to St. Clemens School as a child, it was where St. Joseph’s is now. Then I went to Saint Monica’s for High School, it was a Catholic private school. In 1925, when my family first moved into this house, the KKK lived on the street. They would burn the cross on their front lawns.

BH: Did they harass your family?

Jataun: Yes, and the way the police dealt with it, they told my family to walk up and down the street with empty guns. Which they did, I just don’t believe that the guns were empty. Anyways, it worked. Some moved away, and the ones that stayed became good neighbors.

BH: How was Venice different back in the day?

Jataun: It was really quiet. Venice wasn’t all that well known. People always came to the beach, but not in the residential areas. People didn’t have to lock their doors like they do now, and there were lots of empty lots on the street. Back then everybody knew everybody else, now you don’t. People move in and out. But I still make a point to know the people on my block. But with these high illegal fences now you can’t even see your neighbors anymore – it’s like a fortress, not like a community. These new houses look like bunkers.

BH: I see you around at most community meetings. You even came to Long Beach to fight Overnight Parking Districts in June.

Jataun: I really care about what’s happening around. Right now I’m totally against that hotel they’re trying to put on Abbot Kinney. They shouldn’t put a hotel in front of a school, because it brings out the bad elements, like alcohol and drugs. The school opens its doors for other things, like meetings, and you don’t know who is going in there. They can find another place for the hotel.

BH: Ya, over-development is taking over Venice as we speak.

Jataun: It’s five houses across from me – a big thing going up – it says “single family house”, but there are six parking spots on the property. What would they need that much parking for? We should’ve received notice of the proposed development, to go and say something at the Land Planning meeting, but we didn’t.

BH: It’s a common grievance around Venice that the neighbors are not being notified of new developments. What was there before?

Jataun: Twenty-five years ago it was a vacant apartment building, and they were cooking PCP, it was a miracle, because the whole building exploded, but nobody got hurt. It was an empty lot from then until a year ago, when it was sold.

BH: There are a lot of those big single-family box-like houses going up all around Venice now.

Jataun: Yes, frankly on every street. Here in Venice we’ve always had a cool ocean breeze – with these high-rises we’re gonna lose it. When people sell, the developers come in.

BH: Yes. Who would have known?

Jataun: Pearl White did. She lived down the street, passed ten years ago. She said: ‘it’s gonna change.’ Nobody believed her. People called her ‘crazy’ and ‘silly’, but what she predicted happened: the gentrification. She used to say that most of the families we went to school with would be selling when the property would be high. She said that all of a sudden it’s gonna be high. She also said that it’s gonna go even higher after all the pioneer families sell.

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BH: How have the attitudes towards women changed over time?

Jataun: Young people don’t have any respect for women. I volunteer for people with Brail – I’ve been doing it for fourteen years. We used to help a blind person when the light changed, now the young people act like they don’t even notice. They don’t have any respect for women now – they used to never use foul language in front of you, but now it’s part of what everyone says, it’s part of their vocabulary. When I was coming up nobody said that. Women used to be respected – now they’re just an object.

BH: What other organizations are you involved with?

Jataun: I volunteer for Venice Community Housing Corporation as the vice-president of the Board, and I’m also involved with POWER, People Organized for West Side Renewal. Anything that can be improved in Venice, I train leaders to go out and organize to do it.

BH: We’re not giving up on our efforts to preserve the character of our community.

Jataun: It just takes a group of people – numbers count. That’s how we won a lot of things. Anything can be stopped, you just gotta keep at it. People think: ‘oh, that’s just the way it is,’ but it’s not. We’ve had defeats and victories, and I believe that hotel can be stopped. They need to find a suitable place to put it – not near a school.

BH: Has it been hard to deal with the defeats?

Jataun: I just take things the way they go – there’s no use to being depressed – it’s not gonna get me anywhere. When someone at a meeting has a different point of view, I don’t hold a grudge. They got their view, I got mine. I learned that from Pearl White and my mother.

Just as we were wrapping up the interview, Jataun’s sister Winola Smith, known as Jackie, walked in and chimed in.

Winola: There’s money down here now. Old money don’t like new money – they’re fighting. Houses used to be $20,000 – now they’re a million or two. It’s basically the lot they’re after. Venice is right between Santa Monica and the Marina, and look what happened there. When they built the first two high-rises and hotels in the Marina or Santa Monica they said that’s all there’s gonna be. But if you put one, you’re gonna get the rest.

Well, this has been a most entertaining and educational interview for me. Thank you for welcoming me into your home and enlightening me with your personal history of Venice over the last century. 

 Jataun Valentine