My first ever visit to Venice Beach confirmed what I had read about the place: fun, lively, interesting, and yes, unique. It took me awhile to find a free parking spot as Venice Beach parking is notorious. But I was lucky to find a perfect street parking spot only four blocks away from the beach. From there I took a short walk to the famous “Canal District”.
The canals were built by Abbot Kinney in early 1900′s. The area was an important wetland but Kinney, a millionaire, decided to drain it to build an amusement park to attract fun-seeking folks, who didn’t have a whole lot of entertainment options in those days. Business was booming in the area, including the near by Santa Monica. But about three decades later, oil was discovered in the area and that created a severe impact on the waterways. To make things worse, cash flow generated from the amusement park got dried up because Disneyland became the new main attraction. And the Great Depression didn’t help either.
With the long neglect of the Los Angeles city government, Venice deteriorated to the status of a slum from the 50′s to late 70′s. During this time, properties in Venice, including ocean front properties. were very cheap. And that created a great opportunity for the low-income (and no-income) folks to flow into the area. But starting in the 80′s many developers and investors brought their cash power to Venice and turned the place around. Today homes around the canal zone are priced in the millions range.
A short walk west is the famous boardwalk of Venice beach, where people – tons of people of all walks of life – create a vibrant atmosphere in sharp contrast to the quiet and peaceful neighborhood of the canal district.
Subtracting the tourists and visitors from all over the world, a little over half of the residents in Venice are White. In the past decade, the growing Latino population has become the dominant “minority” in Venice (about 25%). This growing Latino population (mostly Mexicans) in the area has caused more complication to he street gang problem in the area, where the Venice Shoreline Crips (an African American gang) has been ruling for decades. By the way, this dangerous area is not far from the main tourist section of the town.
What attracts people to Venice today is perhaps its unique atmosphere that blends the 60′s hippie culture and the modern day’s confusing hybrid culture. Walking along the long boardwalk, officially known as Ocean Front Walk, you would experience this cross-breed culture live! I saw people trying to sell hotdogs next to people trying to promote marijuana. They employed (?) a beautiful blonde model (possibly ‘imported’ from Eastern Europe) dressed in a ‘modified’ scanty nurse uniform, standing at the front of the store (which they called a “clinic”) to entice curious tourist to spend $40 on a “medical-marijuana” purchase permit. They called their business “the Green Doctors”.
Historically, body builders found themselves a good start of their careers on Venice and Santa Monica beaches. For those who don’t want to go through the pain of building their muscles, they can always get “fake muscles” in a very inexpensive (and painless) way: taking pictures of their faces in a cheap-looking cutout body-builder painting. At least these folks don’t go as far as coming up with a fake Apple store.
With the poor economy, people have become more creative in their survival skills. This man decided to allow people to kick his butt for one buck!
Someone in the crowd yelled out that he would make more money if he had worn a mask of George W. Bush.
When people get tired of the noisy atmosphere of the boardwalk, they can always take a few steps to the beach, where they’ll become part of another noisy crowd. Only this time it’s closer to the water.
As the sun fades away, the beach becomes more like what I was hoping to see: a less crowded sandy beach. After dinner, I wander back down the beach to catch the last few minutes of the sunset while a few hard-core surfers trying to catch a few more evening waves.
And I am sure Venice will wake up to another vibrant day tomorrow.