After leaving San Francisco, we continued down the coast of California, and docked at the Port of Los Angeles. A gargantuan complex that occupies 7,500 acres of land and 43 miles of waterfront. Queen Victoria was wedged between an oafish container ship and an crude oil tanker. I think she was insulted.
You were not permitted to get off the ship to stretch your legs due to the industrial location, and all the attractions were at least an hour away. It must have been a record sales day for the Cunard shore excursions team with a captive audience.
Los Angeles is comprised of 80 separate districts and neighborhoods; a sprawling metropolis that covers 469 square miles. There are over 18 million people living here, making it one of the most densely populated regions in the world. It is also one of the most polluted. The city is home to people from 140 countries and 224 different languages are spoken.
We decided to hop on a bus going to Venice Beach for the day. We booked transportation through the ship and swallowed the inflated price without complaint. Why? The traffic here is an abomination, all day, every day. When traveling on a sanctioned shore excursion, the ship will not sail until all the buses are back. Passengers on their own who don’t show up by the “all board time” are left behind. Period. The captain will not turn around, even if he sees you frantically waving from the pier. You are left to admire The Queen’s shapely derrière as she disappears from view. Then, you have to figure out how to get to the next port when your passport, wads of cash, and credit cards are safely tucked away in your stateroom safe.
Traffic was thick, but moving, so it took us about an hour to travel 23 miles north of the port. We were dropped near the beach. Venice was laid out in marshland by tobacco millionaire, Abbott Kinney in 1905 as a beach resort town. He loved the city by the same name in Italy, and wanted to create a fantasy replica here.
Kinney dug several miles of canals to drain the marshes for his residential area. Amusement piers were built that had carnival rides, a dance hall, auditorium, and restaurants. The commercial buildings were designed in a Venetian architectural style. Tourists arrived on the Pacific Electric Railway from Los Angeles and Santa Monica. The Venice Miniature Railway was used to tour the town. The major attraction was Venice’s one mile long sloping beach. Cottages and housekeeping tents were available for rent and the town drew up to 150,000 visitors on the weekends by 1910.
Kinney ruled the town with an iron first until he died in 1920. After that, the infrastructure deteriorated quickly. Building the canals, which were not properly engineered, ended up being a really bad idea. With so many people using the toilet, raw sewage regularly filled up and overflowed from these manmade waterways, especially at high tide. I wonder how that impacted real estate values? Yuck.
By 1925, Venice was a disaster, and annexation to Los Angeles (LA) was proposed and approved by the local board of trustees. LA immediately forged ahead to remake Venice in it’s own image. It was felt that the town needed more solid streets. After a three year court battle led and lost by canal residents, most of the waterways were paved over in 1929. LA wanted to immediately close Venice’s three amusement piers but had to wait until the first of the leases expired in 1946.
LA had neglected Venice for so long that by the 1950’s it had become known as the Slum by the Sea. A new police and fire station were built in 1930, but beyond that, no improvements were made. The main street (Pacific Avenue) was not paved until 1954. Low rents for derelict bungalows attracted European immigrants, along with young counterculture artists, poets, and writers (known as the Beatnik Generation). Gangs moved in, and violence escalated dramatically. Police raids were a daily occurrence.
By the year 2000, gang members in Venice was reduced due to gentrification and a hugely increased police presence. The grubby bohemian charm is still quite prevalent, which is why we wanted to come and check it out. It’s a strange mix of insanely high prices homes on the ocean and canals, with scary ghettos a few block away. You do not want to wander off the main drag at night. Even during the day, some of the side streets had bad mojo.
We had 3 hours of free time here, and two areas we planned to explore. First, we meandered along the handful of remaining canals, and yes, the sewage problem has been fixed by modern engineering. Although, I would not suggest taking a swig of the stagnant, murky water. Most of the homes were contemporary, some had splendid gardens and all were meticulously maintained. There was one tiny lot earmarked for “duck use” only. It was full of feathered inhabitants chilling out in their own private oasis. I loved that.
Strolling on the two mile long Venice Beach promenade was next. We passed by the famous Muscle Beach, where Arnold Schwarzenegger pumped iron in the 60’s and 70’s. Do you think anyone saw him as the future governor of California back then? And, who thought leaving steel weight machines in the salt air on the ocean’s edge was a good idea? A lot of brawn, but not much brain usage I guess…
The outdoor recreation area spread along the beach for several blocks and was packed with basketball courts, playgrounds, gymnastics apparatus, handball courts, paddle tennis courts, volleyball courts, and a sophisticated skate park, loaded with dreamy future olympians. It was all quite impressive, and well used.
A highlight was sitting on a bench across from the Venice Beach Freak Show and listening to the barker’s attempts at soliciting customers. It was an awesome throw back in time. He guaranteed (or your money back) that there was a two headed LIVE pig inside, the smallest man in the world, a man with a forked tongue, a woman with 3 eyes, a two headed turtle, a half dog/half deer combo, and, this is really pushing it… the oldest, senior citizen in the WORLD with head to toe tattoos. I really don’t need to see that.
Oh, and the Bearded Lady, who was sitting outside, looked suspiciously male, even though the dress was very flattering.
Other sights included this pink haired muscle bound babe on her way to work out on the rusty weight machines in front of appreciative spectators. Check out the kid’s face on the left…
There were many people creating sand sculptures on the edge of the walkway and looking for admirers to contribute financially. This octopus was fantastic, and well worth a $5 tip to encourage continued creativity…
And, this guy selling cheap prints, dressed perfectly for the part. The mirrored sunglasses adding a John Lennon mystique, icing on the cake…
It was a quick visit, but we got a really good taste of Venice. I still like the “original” in Italy better.