Free Venice Beachhead
Webslave's note: Each month, back
when I lived in Venice, someone from the Beachhead Collective would
drop off a bundle of a hundred copies at my door, and I would distribute
them house-to-house around Oakwood. My way of continuing to be a Beachhead
volunteer is to resurrect and re-type selected articles from its past
(pre-computer) issues, for which the Beachhead has graciously granted
by Moe Stavnezer September 1980
A decade or more ago people planning
the future of Venice, for a very different community than was then in
residence, visualized a mall on Windward Ave. The street, between Pacific
and Ocean Front Walk, would be closed to cars allowing only pedestrian
traffic. Both sides of the street would be rebuilt or rehabbed with buildings
with colonnades - just as in Abbott Kinney's days. There would, of course,
be fancy shops and restaurants for the gentry on this gentrified street.
It would be lovely.
The plan failed but it did not die. Over
the years it has reincarnated in different guises,different bodies but
always in the same essential form. Most recently it appeared in the new
Venice plan which calls for a study to determine the feasibility of creating
a Mall on Windward.
Lots of Change on Windward
In the past couple years Windward has
been very spruced up. Taste determines if you like the new paint jobs
and the mural but economics determine if "F. Scott's" is more
desirable than the old "St. Charles Place." Fancy art stores
and roller skate businesses have replaced liquor stores and hock shops.
The street is busier than I've ever seen it.
And More Change to Come?
And now, what some people are calling
the first real step toward creating the Mall, artist Robert Graham has
come forward with a major development project. He is proposing to build
two tastefully designed buildings on the north side of Windward which
would house his studio, other, much smaller, studios for other artists,
another version of the existing savings and loan, and a fairly small amount
of retail space. One structure would abut the St. Charles building and
completely obscure Terry Shoonhoven's wonderful mural (we have been told
that lime in the wall of the St. Charles is already eating away the mural.)
The other part of the project would stand where the savings and loan now
is and would also add a second floor to the adjoining building. Two vacant
lots will remain between the two buildings which both would be as tall
as the St. Charles, about 50 feet.
Both buildings would have colonnades
at street level, continuing the present design on both sides of Windward.
The 75 parking spaces are more than ample for the currently proposed use
and will be reached via Zephyr Court behind the buildings. Graham plans
a considerable amount of open space in the "lobby" of one structure
and intends to commission different artists and craftspeople to provide
works for both buildings. This ambitions proposal would certainly set
the tone for future construction on Windward and therein lies the rub.
The project would surely attract attention,
business and traffic. More, similar, buildings would attract even more
of the same and blocking the street to cars, to accommodate pedestrians,
would become more feasible. The completion of the proposed parking lot
on the Venice Bl. median strip would provide the parking lost to a Mall
and make the Mall even more feasible. A fancy Windward Mall would change
the North Beach area of Venice dramatically and irrevocably.
In order to give Graham's proposal, and
its possible ramifications, a full and thorough discussion by and in the
community, The Venice Town Council is sponsoring an open forum.
The meeting is open to every interested
resident of Venice who wishes more information and discussion. The planner
of the project, Robert Graham, Venice artist is being asked to attend
to present his proposal It is the desire of the Venice Town Council to
generate discussion and feedback concerning this important development,
This meeting will take place Wednesday, October 15, 1980, at the Israel
Levin Senior Adult Center, 201 Ocean Front Walk, Venice - 7:30 p.m.
Blowing it on Windward?
a minority point of view by Rick Davidson
January 1981 #133
too often we separate
the creative process
from the created form
accepted we have
the viewing of art
in the emptiness
of the museum room
taking without question
as an art that is real
some finite object
representing as it does
the indefinable process
yes all too often
we miss the transformation
without which there is no art
The political-art process in Venice the 19 years that
I've lived here has been an ever changing one. Some call this change "forced
relocation" and the struggle to combat it. The political aspect of this
process has been the evictions of poor residents in order to make room
for a newer, wealthier class: the New Venetian. The art of this process
has been to plan the evictions so that those of us allowed to remain don't
feel the pain of eviction, don't feel the reality of eviction.
As many of us know, Venice was built at the turn of the
century. It had a wild, stormy, starry-eyed beginning, but with the combination
of the Crash of '29 and the discovery of oil in 1930, the bright new beach
colony was transformed into a poverty center on the Westside for the elderly,
minorities, artists, drop-outs of all sorts, and just plain poor folks.
The population explosion that hit Los Angeles after World War II by-passed
Venice because the beach was quarantined due to contamination from the
sewer plant to the south. Thus the strange mixture called Venice continued
to enjoy the beach.
It was not until the late 50s and early 60s that the
greedy eyes of speculators turned to Venice. What they saw was a gold
mine: the widest beach in LA; close proximity to LAX, but not too close;
close proximity to two freeways, but not too close; old buildings ready
to be torn down; and an out-cast population without representation in
the halls of government...a combination that made Venice the most speculative
land in California.
What to do with all those poor people living around the
gold mine was the problem. In fact, the question wasn't even "what," but
"how." Everyone, everyone speculating that is, agreed that poor people
didn't have a right to live at the beach, but not everyone agreed as to
the best way to get rid of them. Then someone suggested that they work
with and through the City. What a great idea! so they were off and running.
First came the City Code Enforcement Program. That worked
pretty good; 25% of the Ocean Front was destroyed. Next came a plan for
the City to "improve" the canals. This plan dovetailed with the Community
Plan the City was also designing as a blueprint of the change from Venice
of America to Miami Beach West. Of course the Community, through its many
organizations, fought back. The fight was not a winning one, only a slowing
of the onslaught of the "progress" that was destroying the community.
Still by the end of the 60s things looked bright for speculators and City
Yet, my calendar says it's 1980 and the City's plan for
a final solution has not been completed (some of us are still here.) No,
the City didn't get to finish its code enforcement program; nor did they
get their new canals. Along with these projects the Community also stopped
the plans for a freeway through Venice - three times running. Development
along the Ocean Front has been either stopped, slowed or modified.
But times they-are-a-changing; many friends have been
forced to leave Venice; many of our funny looking homes have been torn
down to make room for new condos; and cars with impatient drivers have
replaced neighbors who used to walk and talk around the community.
1980: speculators are now zeroing in on Windward Avenue
(just a little behind schedule.) A major element of the City's plan is
the development of a Windward Mall. Windward Avenue is to be closed to
auto traffic from Ocean Front Walk to the traffic circle. Pacific is designed
to tunnel under the Mall. The Mall itself is to become the focal point
of Miami Beach West. The City, having learned form its past mistakes,
doesn't want to take up the Mall issue directly. We only see it coming
project by project. The Ace Gallery transforms the ol' Bank of America
into an art center. Next local merchants begin their move to "clean up"
the Ocean Front Walk. The City wants to move the bus center to Venice
Blvd. And now speculator/artist Robert Graham enters the scene with his
project to build himself a studio; plus a few other little extras, such
as subterranean parking, commercial shops on the 1st floor, more parking
on the 2nd, and artist studios on the 3rd. Of the 55,600 square feet,
Mr. Graham needs 6000 square feet for his own studio. The project will
only cost 1.4 million according to Mr. Graham. As an architect, it looks
more like 2 to 3 million to me. Whatever the cost, Mr. Graham agrees that
the project will have to pay for itself, so that the rents will reflect
that reality. What will such rents to to surrounding rent space?
Now some people say that this project is not part of
the City's Windward Mall plans. Yes, no, yes, no, the arguments go on
and on. Unfortunately, when truth comes to light many more of us will
not be around to say, "I told you so."
There have been many Town Council meetings on this project
and you may still find some old leaflets that lay out the pro and con
arguments. That's all history now. At the last meeting, after the various
arguments were presented in a good democratic fashion, a vote was taken
which was binding on the Town Council (as far as arguing before the Coastal
Commission). The body voted to support the project with the changes suggested
by the Coastal Committee of the Town Council.
The significance of this process around the Windward
project, i.e., the many meetings, arguments and voting is a true life
contradiction, a typical double-edged sword. On the one hand, the radical
approach, fight the project all the way, and even the middle of the road
approach, subsidized housing must be included in the project, lost to
the co-opted approach of supporting the project with only minor changes.
While this is a loss from my personal/political point of view (I was on
the losing side), it is a plus for the concept of the Town Council. A
true Town Council has within it all the various and contradictory points
of view of a community. The past few years the Venice Town Council has
gained the image of being more a :left" organization than a "town council."
The vote on the Windward project clearly shows that the Council is not
a "left" organization, but offers a democratic forum for left, right and
center points of view.
The basic philosophy of the Town Council has always been
to protect the Venice Community which includes the low - and -moderate
income residents. In speaking out for the rights of Venice's poverty community,
the Town Council puts itself in an adversary role with speculators, city
planners, and elected officials. In fact, the Council should stand up
against anyone who is threatening the less fortunate residents of Venice.
Who and what is threatening Venice is becoming a fuzzy
question. The transition for ol' Venice to Miami Beach West is creating
some hard political problems for the Council. As the New Venetians move
into town, the character of the Town Council will naturally begin to reflect
the attitudes and values of the Newcomers.
In 1973 when Councilwoman Pat Russell created the Town
Council, the Free Venice organization was in the process of reaching out
to the community for more activists. Since the principles of democracy
and the right of self-determination were the basis of both organizations,
Free Venice decided to put itself on the shelf and become active within
the Town Council. I don't know if the time is right to take Free Venice
off the shelf, but I do feel that there needs to be a radical grouping
within the Council, a left minority if you will.
Viewing the Council in terms of left, middle and right
is not a divisive way of thinking about the group. I see it as a positive
acknowledgment of reality. If we are to survive the 80s our thinking and
actions will have to be based on a clear understanding of reality. Free