Nobody Leaves Venice
NOBODY LEAVES VENICE A-K
NOBODY LEAVES VENICE L-Z
Carol Biddulph Dickinson reminiscences
It's been 30+ years since I met Venice and my never good memory has not improved. I tend to remember the good stuff so this may seem a bit romanticized. But, what the hell, a little romance never hurt anyone.
There is very little commonality between the Venice of today and Venice of 1972, when I got involved in the community. The community was so different then: the peninsula was just starting to get rich, the canals were the cheapest place to live and were falling apart with rundown houses everywhere and walkways that were crumbling, you could walk down OFW on a Sunday and see your friends and the people who came to Venice then actually came for the beach! There was no Silver Strand development (oil wells still dotted that land). In the 70's Venice was considered by the City of L.A. as a major haven for heroin addicts. That was determined by the number of reported Hepatitis cases and Venice was at the top of the list. It was a place to stay away from.
When I got involved in Venice, Oakwood was largely black, North Beach & the Canals were hippie havens and there was no organized community-wide political anything. There were real neighborhood restaurants along OFW that you could walk in to and join friends for breakfast. There were neighborhood bars like the Dew Drop inn & The Brig where there are now fancy restaurants. There were music places like the Comeback Inn, The Blue Lagoon Saloon, St. Charles & Honky Hoagies Handy Hangout (the first place I saw and danced to Greg Hines's band, Severance). There was an activist Israel Levin Center, run by Morrie Rosen, which provided meeting space for many groups and championed the cause of senior citizens.
There was the Beachhead, which, by the way, was almost always supported entirely by ads. That's not a criticism of the current paper, but it does, I think, say something about the status of the paper then and now. I think it also says a lot about the community then and now. The Beachhead published the first article I ever wrote and many more afterward. I was a collective member for 5 years (a hangeroner for years before) which had a profound influence on me. It involved a commitment like none I'd ever had before or since. It meant a day long meeting for 3 Saturdays of every month, writing and typing, on a manual pawnshop purchased typewriter, articles and quite literally pasting up the paper. What to leave in and what to leave out. There was no online edition of the Beachhead because there was no online and there were no computers so the typefaces varied depending on who typed them.
There was Free Venice, the North Beach planning task force and JOYA, which were the genesis of a community political movement that neatly dovetailed with the anti-war movement. There was also a great camaraderie among activists back then. Meetings frequently became parties or sharing a meal together. We partied together, danced, ate, made wine and slept together. We agreed or agreed to disagree on various issues. We were friends and that is what I value the most about those days.
The Venice Town Council (VTC) of the 70's and 80's cannot really be compared to the neighborhood councils of today. The major reason is that the VTC didn't depend on the city (certainly not the councilperson or any City Agency) for anything. Anyone could participate in the neighborhood and general meetings and the city had no approval power over elections or anything else. The VTC, created by Councilwoman Pat Russell as a way to harness opposition to her grandiose plans for the community, quickly became her worst nightmare. It became a unifying force in opposition to the major development schemes that were on the drawing board.
I am not suggesting that there was complete harmony on the VTC because there was not. The canals area was the most radical, North Beach progressive but not so radical, Oakwood eventually dropped out, there was almost no activity east of Lincoln, the peninsula was wishy washy and the Silver Triangle was more to the right than any other area. But, even then, almost everyone involved in the VTC opposed the major threats to the community: hotels along OFW, the Marina Bypass, expensive development almost anywhere.
We also had a new tool to protect the community; the passage of proposition 20 (Coastal Act) in 1972! I cannot overstate the importance of that law and its impact on Venice. Suddenly there was an authority above the city, an authority that we took complete advantage of in opposing everything from new roads to new buildings and advocating affordable housing over housing for the wealthy. The senior housing at #1 Venice Blvd, Navy St & OFW, Tabor Courts on 4th street, among others, exist because of this. Much of this, after 25 years, has evaporated. All of the new affordable housing in Venice can be attributed to the Venice Community Housing Corp. (the brainchild of Steve Clare) which, I am very proud to say, I helped to found
I salute the Venetians who still fight the good fight! I must, however, confess that the fight for the Venice that I once knew was over quite a while ago. Venice is now a rich, desirable place to live and you are fighting to preserve what little of the old Venice that remains. I have not lived in Venice for some time now and, to be quite honest, I don't miss the place. Venice today is far more like the Venice of 100 years ago than 30 years ago. It's become a kind of amusement park (one of the top tourist attractions in L.A.) as Abbot Kinney envisioned back then.
I can honestly tell you that Venice changed my life. I learned about community and the value it brings to life, I met people who, after 30 years, remain my friends, I support and occasionally contribute to the Beachhead. But now I email people instead of actually talking to and seeing them which was what Venice was all about back then. We, and Venice, have all changed in the last 30 years. Many of the people I met then have scattered to the winds or, far too many, have died. But, what I learned has stayed a central part of my life and I am grateful for the experience.
Happy Birthday Venice, you have my best wishes and my love,
© 2004 - 2012 Pat Hartman