by Chuck Bloomquist
So many memories of Arnie—my last and best one: he’d dropped by recently and I had the chance to tell him that I thought his book on Venice history was exquisite; that it was so beautiful—a work of art. I told him that it was his legacy. Little did I know. We will miss him: all three generations of this family. – Terry Bloomquist
We met in the early 1960s through a mutual interest in local politics he much more so than I. We both started families he and Jytte with Yuri; Terry and I with six before the decade was finished.
His activism involved opposing various developments in Venice including testimony before the Coastal Commission and filing lawsuits against developers.
In 1977 when Carol Fondiller and Linda Lucks were throwing in the towel in their almost single-handed efforts to keep the Beachhead alive, Arnie called an “Up for Grabs” meeting at his home to see if there was enough interest in the community to continue publishing the paper. Since I was recovering from a hip replacement operation and since I loved newspapers and knew Arnie, I decided to check it out.
To my surprise there were about 25 interested persons most of whom signed up for the next meeting. Attendance dropped at that and subsequent meetings until after a few months the Beachhead collective was down to about eight hard-core members. This group kept the paper going for years and published the largest single issue of The Free Venice Beachhead to mark its 100th consecutive issue.
During my tenure at the Beachhead the Free Venice Astronomy Club was formed to ease admittance to the reservation-only campsites at Joshua Tree National Monument. In addition to viewing the clear night sky through my 13-inch Dobsonian telescope Arnie would regale us all with old labor-movement songs such as “I Dreamt I Saw Joe Hill Last Night”. At one of our sessions, I pointed out the planet Mars to the gathering; most were mildly interested but quickly returned to the campfire after viewing it for a few seconds. Arnie observed it for several minutes and then told me he found it to be quite profound. The FVAC lasted for 25 years meeting twice a year around the Spring and Fall equinoxes and involving numerous members of the Venice community.
Arnie also led collective members in several annual wine making efforts the results of which were labeled “Free Venice Free Flow”. The resultant wines were barely worth the effort but the camaraderie in making them was priceless.
In 1986 Arnie and others in Venice strongly supported Ruth Galanter’s run against Pat Russell for the Los Angeles City Council; a seat which Ruth won and held for 15 years.
In parallel with this political and community activism Arnold earned a PhD in history at UCLA encompassing Russian History, European Intellectual History, Methodology and Philosophy of History, including Local History. He also traveled extensively to Russia, China, Japan and Mongolia among other exotic destinations. While he was in Mongolia, a country he loved, his attorney, Debra Bowen, informed him that he had won a suit against a Marina del Rey developer involving a substantial sum of money. On his return to Venice in 1990, he established the Ulan Bator Foundation.
Arnie’s own words as modified slightly by me for this article are as follows: “I thought I had been blessed with good fortune by my visit to Mongolia and also blessed by my good fortune for living in Venice and working on behalf of the community. Consequently, it was intended and stated in the original UBF founding documents that I would give back not only to Mongolia but to Venice for the good fortune of living here, and that I would accomplish this by producing and publishing a credible and accessible history of this place.”
From this promise two projects were established.
The first was the Venice History Project, which ultimately resulted in four “books” consisting of more than 1500 pages of over-sized text grouped into 28 “volumes” each covering a different aspect of life in Venice from Amusements to Art; from Agriculture to Aviation and a concluding volume containing materials for a biography of Abbot Kinney.
The second was centered on Mongolia. Although not versed in health matters, Arnold noted the plight of the children, especially the austerity and bleakness of the Children’s Hospital in Ulan Bator. As Scott Martelle noted in a 1997 article in the LA Times on Arnie’s project in Mongolia “The Maternal and Child Health Center is a vast and dank 800-bed complex that is clean, but rugged.” Arnold felt that he could do something and thought of bringing the predicament to the wider awareness of Americans through arranging tours and visits from the US. How could they not be enthralled by the collusion of culture, history and needs of the children.
He made contact with Richard MacKenzie MD, a Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at USC and Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles who suggested a program centered around service, education, facility improvement, fulfillment of family and children’s needs and development of research, an initiative that became known as the California-Mongolia Medical Program (Ca-MMP).
This project would work in collaboration with the Mongolian Ministry of Health, and Medical School. After an initial visit with a core health team to do a needs assessment in 1994, the Ulan Bator Foundation launched its medical initiative – a program that would enable Mongolia to leap over many of the medical problems solved in the 20th century in the Western world, allowing Mongolia to arrive squarely in the 21st. Arnie very much wanted to blend his Venice activism with his energy in Mongolia, something that was reflected in his writings, his home decor and his hospitality.
Mongolia had moved Arnie not only because of its primitive simplicity, its Buddhist way of life, its friendliness and acceptance of differences but the embedded intrigue of Russian historical influence.
The Ca-MMP continues to this day, now in its 25th year. The physical structure of the Hospital has been greatly improved now housing a children’s oncology unit, modern surgical rooms, neonatal and pediatric ICU’s, kidney dialysis along with much state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and a network of telemedicine with consultative links across the country and to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. Although Arnie’s leadership and the Ulan Bator Foundation was not responsible for all the advances that occurred, it provided the stimulus for change, the vision for what is possible and the models for bringing it to reality. Arnie reminded the physician leadership of Ca-MMP, that any sustainable and culturally sensitive solution must reflect Mongolian sensibilities.
As the Venetian environment has changed over the years, many of our old friends and neighbors have moved to “greener pastures”. Arnold and I agreed, over lunch, that we would only leave Venice by being carried out “toes up”. As in so many things, Arnold has once again led the way for me.