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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Experiencing L.A. at the Venice Canals

The Venice Canals are a series of historic waterways in small, residential neighborhood a few blocks from Venice Beach. It's yet another one of Los Angeles' "hidden gems".

Venice, California opened to the public on July 4, 1905. The community was the dream of millionaire Abbot Kinney, who modeled the area after it's Italian namesake, complete with gondoliers, covered colonnades, art, and culture.

Then, as now, most people weren't looking for high culture at the beach, and Abbot Kinney quickly added varied amusements, rides, and attractions. Much more of Venice's fastinating and colorful history can be found in Jeffrey Stanton's outstanding book "Venice California: Coney Island of the Pacific."

Here's a map of the entire canal system, circa 1925. Unfortunately, the canals didn't have an adequate drainage system, and in 1929 the larger group of canals in the center of the map were filled in as streets, leaving only the smaller grid on the right.

Oil was discovered in the 1930's, creating an short-lived economic boom, but ultimately adding to the area's decline.

By the 1950's, Venice was known as the "slum by the sea."

The area, especially around the beach and the four (or six, depending on how you count them) canals, began to turn around the the 1970's.

Homes along the canals became sought after. While many of the original cottages remain . . . .

. . . many of the more dilapidated ones were razed, with larger homes taking their place.

The neighborhood has a beautiful mix of styles, colors, and sizes - although I'm sure there are some long-time residents who are unhappy with the gentrification.

I took my wife and kids on a walking tour of the canal district. It was great, something I'd definitely recommend to others!

My wife and I both walked, but we allowed our kids (who were 5 and 7 at the time) to bring their little scooters.

The sidewalks are narrow - there's actually a city ordinance prohibitting bikes, rollerblades, skateboards, or scooters on the sidewalks. Oops.

Makes sense - but little kids on a scooter doesn't seem the same as an adult on a bike. Our kids are older now. If we went back, we'd all be on foot.

It's a beautiful, relaxing place for a walk.

I like what one Yelp reviewer wrote:

"I had to ask the question: How can I have lived in LA for three years, and never experienced the Venice Canals?"

Or what another Yelp reviewer wrote:

"So you're walking down dusty streets, you turn a corner, and suddenly you're transported to another world. The canals with their paths through the back gardens are on oasis only a few blocks from the Venice Boardwalk, the motherload of dreck.

"Usually I feel resentful toward the 1% and their ostentatious houses. Not here. More power to these people who, rather than a gated community, live in such a beautiful place with people walking around gawking at them and their houses."

These photos were taken over a couple days: once with my wife and kids - and other with a friend visiting from Europe. Above, one of the original 1905 pedestrian brides.

Another bridge, another view.

One of the original 1905 Dell Avenue brides. You can drive over this (one way).

Looking north.

Another view of a Dell Avenue bridge. We also noticed several canoes and small boats in front of homes. That would be fun.

In fact, here's a mom and her kid out canoeing. Pretty cool anywhere, but especially in the heart of the city like this.

A couple enjoying time on the water.

View Venice Canals, Venice CA in a larger map

Whether you live in Los Angeles or are justing visiting, I highly recommend a walk through this amazing little neighborhood! Of course, please be considerate of the residents.

Parking is virtually impossible in the canal district: try something along North or South Venice Blvd, or maybe the neighborhood to the east (around Olive Avenue). You'll also notice that the canal district is close the beach, I wouldn't recommend trying to find parking anytime during the summer on a weekend - unless you get there early in the day and are prepared to pay.

Here's a link to more information.


Experiencing L.A. on Abbot Kinney Blvd (Part II)

Abbot Kinney Blvd. is one of the most eclectic and unusual shopping districts in Los Angeles.

"Bohemian" - not original with me - is the word I used in Part I (I suggest reading Part I first).

I'm still trying to figure out what Zingara (above) is.

Here's a link to their website (their site features interesting background music).

I think it's some sort of antique store, but I'm not sure. That pretty much sums up a lot of the businesses on Abbot Kinney.

The diversity of architecture - and businesses - is amazing. It makes for a great, pleasant walk.

I terms of businesses, this Pinkberry Yogurt was the only "chain" anything I found of Abbot Kinney. Everything else was definitely one of a kind. More on this later.

I thought this liquor store was interesting only because it was so different from the rest of the immediate community. Looks like it belongs someplace else in L.A. Definitely old-school Venice.

It's not just in the movies. People in California - both male and female really call each other "dude." The use is directly proportional to proximity to the ocean. It's also an expression: "Dude!" as in "Dude! I almost missed that exit!"

It's amazing what some color and patters do to any otherwise industrial looking building. Palm trees help, too.

Every wonder what happens to old playground equipment? Neptina turns it into artwork. Just another local store specializing in "mid century glass, lighting, tables, and art." Here's a link.

Mystic Journey Bookstore. A new-age bookstore. There were tarot cards and a crystal ball in the front window. While I wouldn't recommend this bookstore to others, I enjoy trying to find common ground with individuals who consider themselves "spiritual, but not religious."

I love this color!

I like to think that everyone is in favor of peace and love, but maybe not.

A view looking backwards (east).

My favorite orange building - with a turquoise building next to it. Amazing was some bright paint will do to otherwise bland buildings.

I love this tile mural - I thought this was a Jewish cultural center, but now I'm not sure. If you have a clue, let me know.

This entire poster of (at the time) President-Elect Obama was made from newspaper clippings. Creative, engaging artwork. Was it OK for me to still be impressed with the historical significance of our nation's first African-American President, even if I didn't vote for him?

Glencrest Bar-B-Que helps balance out the "Organic Vegan" place down the street. This, along with the liquor store down the street, looks old-school, pre-gentrification Venice.

Abbot Kinney's pedestrian traffic isn't limited to adults. I think this dad is taking his daughters to Pinkberry Yogurt, or ...

... to Tales & Toys. Nice to know that even that even in an funky, eclectic neighborhood like Venice, you can find a toyshop. Of course, it's not Toys R Us - which might be a good thing.

What looks like a former auto repair or garage is now a ... bookstore. Makes perfect sense.

Inside: artistic, open, with books (I'm guessing) won't find at Barnes & Nobel. I was running out of time, so I didn't go in.

Towards the end of Abbot Kinney is a small bi-lingual private school (French).

And a church. A web search didn't give too much information (unfortunately they don't have a website). From what I can surmise, Second Community Baptist Church is a historically black church serving Venice. I'm not familiar with them, but I appreciate seeing a church in the community.

Another block - and then I turned around (at Brooks) and headed back. A helpful overview of Abbot Kinney can be found at here
(thanks to John for this link).

Across the street I noticed what is actually an small office building. See what you learn on foot? I've driven by this building over a hundred times, never knew what it was. My guess is that is a restored, historic home ... although it could be a new building designed to look old.

Having owned two VW bugs, I had to get a picture of this. I'm not sure where the paint stops and where the graffiti begins, but for some reason this car did not look out of place in the neighborhood.

Abbot Kinney ends at Brooks Ave (a few blocks from the beach). Time to head back.

Walking back to my car I noticed these old tracks running parallel to Abbot Kinney. My guess is they're a piece of the Red Car Line that use to run between downtown Los Angeles and Venice. The convenience of private automobiles doomed the Red Cars after WWII (subject for another blog). Ironically, the tracks are now covered by a narrow parking lot.

A view through my windshield - a final look heading home on Abbot Kinney.

What's the appeal of Abbot Kinney? Why is walking up and down the street more enjoyable than a trip to the (yuck) mall?

While many (but not all) of the stores are just too "funky" for my taste, I really enjoyed my time walking up and down this street. So what's the appeal?

Perhaps it's simply the variety of shapes, sizes, styles, colors, textures, and ages of the buildings and shops up and down the street. Yet no one building dominates - each one seems to work in concert with the others. This didn't happen by accident. There's a reason why (with the exception of Pinkberry Yogurt) there aren't any chain restaurants or stores: there's a culture, and both written and un-written rules, that make Abbot Kinney what it is today.

As a Christian, I wish more churches functioned like that (some actually do!). Each member exercising his or her God-given gifts and talents. Unique, but working together. Colorful, different, and a variety of ages and styles. Yet sharing a common faith and purpose. Working together in concert. Both unity and diversity. A strong sense of community.

Almost 2000 years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote to churches in the cities of Ephesus and Corinth:

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Ephesians 4:3

"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kids of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." I Corinthians 12:4-7

Just a few thoughts the next time you walk - or drive - d
own Abbot Kinney.

© 2012 - originally posted 1/11/2009