The coolest block in America. #GQHQ for the day. The audacity of appropriation abounds. A new hotel being pushed for Abbot Kinney has a PowerPoint presentation selling itself as the logical conclusion to the neighborhood's iconic history. "The Birth of a Scene," it starts, before seguing into "Birth of Skateboarding," then "Birth of California Contemporary Art Scene," and ultimately, "And Now the Birth of a Boutique Hotel."
All that beautiful imagery and none of the soul behind it.
I came here 14 years ago. I learned to write here. I started a newspaper here. I became myself here. And I'm so sorry they got it wrong.
Venice was an island off the coast of Los Angeles.
It was a place where people arrived lost or unknown and they become great.
They were not respected because of how a market reacted to them but on the strength of their work alone. Their ideas, alone.
As long as you were serious about what you were doing, you were given the support and room needed to grow.
This is true not just for people in the arts or other quintessential outsiders but "establishment professions," too. Lawyers, real estate agents even. I'm thinking of two men who came here entirely different people from the men they are now, both forces within their field who, having become that, keep turning back, extending a hand for others.
In Venice, we might call that community.
This was different than Hollywood, which lay in that vast city/state to our east.
In the entertainment industry, if you're going through a bad year, or even month, you're ostracized faster than an ex-Scientologist is labeled a Suppressive Person. Because there, people weren't friends or ideas but stepping stones. But in Venice, the tradition of the low-income and artist communities is to help keep people afloat till they have legs to stand alone. In Venice, if you are down, someone eases the path back.
Ed Ruscha or Ed Moses buys a painting from you -- or maybe the latter makes sure there's food in your fridge. Craig Stecyk mentors you because he sees something of relevance in you. Fourth-generation Venetian Laddie Williams, a single mom, helps a gifted classical violinist decimated by a crack addiction who can't possibly afford a tony sober-living situation. Jataun Valentine, whose grandfather worked for Abbot Kinney, is always there for her peeps, even if they have greater resources than she does.
Venetians are passionate, hard-fighting people. But we watch each others' back.
We didn't move to Venice because we thought it made us cool. We moved to Venice because we loved her.
The deeper you fell into Venice, the more she loved you back. On Abbot Kinney you were never lonely.
You'd rendezvous with friends in the morning at Abbot's Habit before heading out to your day. You'd go to Hal's on a Friday night and never worry about showing up alone. If it was 11 p.m., and you were on deadline, Johnny at Abbot's Pizza would take extra care of you. If some guy broke your heart, your homeboys -- pacifists, all -- would threaten to beat the crap out of him and they'd fill up your heart without having to throw a fist. If you were in the hood and biking down the street, you'd follow decorum and call out hello to a couple sitting on their porch even if you didn't know them, and they'd always call out hello back.
There were New Year's parties at the Lantern House thrown to make sure everyone was still together. Or the post-canal parade bash where a hundred people, probably more, were fed. There was the fashion designer who had a polite chat with the officer who'd dared to pulled over his neighbor, a barber, for Driving While Black.
Everyone has their own date that Venice, as an idea, ended. For me, the heart of Abbot Kinney got sucked out when Stroh's closed. No disrespect intended, #GQHQ, but it #represented.
Stroh's was the upscale gourmet lunch deli when it opened, but it always had room for everyone. One Sunday epitomized it -- Rage Against the Machine's Zack De La Rocha riffing with a woman he didn't even know about Patti Smith's induction to the Hall of Fame. A born-and-bred Venice local who'd had his ups and downs behind the counter. Gourmet food for the new wave of Venetians within it. Jason dropping some cash on a local homeless guy to keep the area outside clean. And he did.
It was a meeting point.
That's the thing about Venice. It was a place of connection. It was not as carefree as some have styled it. Venice was New York before L.A. knew it wanted to be that. It was urban, it was walkable, it was gritty. If Angelenos were removed and apathetic, Venetians were in the messy heart of things, so they had opinions, and those could be virulent.
But the diversity was so different from anything else in this segregated city. Long before Barack Obama's election, it gave me hope for L.A.
Venice has always been about change, but lately a narrative has been developed for commercial reasons.
If you're against something, anything, going on in Venice, you're labeled as "against change." And you're marginalized, pushed out of the conversation. Like a Suppressive Person. Or, closer to home, a homeless vagrant.
It's totally anathema to Venice that this is occurring because Venice, the incubator, was always about the idea. Venetians have always been about the debate.
I'm not so easy to pigeonhole. In truth, I helped to gentrify the place. Those salacious "You Ruined Venice" bumper stickers make me laugh, but they're actually applicable to me. I know what I've cost people who came before me. It's heavy.
I fought some developments and supported others, but I'm concerned about the rampant appropriation of Venice's identity, with no understanding of what that identity actually gives L.A.
Sometime last year, I began to think about leaving. I wasn't the only one. But looking around, I realized how lucky many of us were. I started calling people to say, "Don't buy the narrative, we are all still here, it's just that the scene has gone underground, we're just not on Abbot Kinney anymore." I made sure to start spending more time with friends.
And the community started taking care of me, just like it used to.
I needed a place to live, and an old friend hooked me up with her friend from the dog park, a property manager who'd lived here for forever too, and she gave me a place literally on the spot. Coincidentally, it was across the street from a structure where I used to live, where my old landlords live now. Immediately, there was an invitation to come over for drinks and an offer to help move a heavy piece of furniture. Next to them was a newer local, in a more recently built house, but he understood what was so good about its architecture and knew all its history. He cherished it. On Halloween, I dropped by and so did another neighbor, and we just hung out.
I'm not ready to leave the island yet.