Birth of the Boardwalk: Scenes From Venice Beach in the 1970s and ’80s

Birth of the Boardwalk: Scenes From Venice Beach in the 1970s and ’80s

When my parents moved to California in 1978, my dad didn’t want to go. My mother had landed a job as a professor here, but my dad was just getting established as a photographer in New York. So my mom told him that he could pick what neighborhood they would live in, and he chose Venice, which was still affordable back then.

On weekends, my dad would take his camera to the boardwalk and photograph the scene, which in fact had just become a scene, thanks to a newly installed bike path, the rise of disco music and the invention of the polyurethane wheel, which made rollerskating on the street viable. I was born in the summer of 1979, and my dad used to push me along in a stroller and photograph everyone hanging out there — the rollerskaters, the body builders, the sunbathers, the sidewalk vendors, the street performers, the daredevils, the musicians, the dope smokers, the hippies, the derelicts. My dad says they all knew me as a baby — except they all pronounced my name wrong.

We moved to the Pico/Fairfax area shortly after I turned 1. About 10 years later, I went back to the Venice boardwalk with my dad. I distinctly remember a shirtless Jamaican guy in Rollerblades and short shorts walking up to us, greeting my dad and pointing at me, saying, “My God. Is this El El?”

My dad was lucky enough to be there as the modern boardwalk was being born. These never-before-published photos capture, I think, not only the boardwalk as it was back then but the boardwalk that lives on in our collective memory.


When my parents moved to California in 1978, my dad didn’t want to go. My mother had landed a job as a professor here, but my dad was just getting established as a photographer in New York. So my mom told him that he could pick what neighborhood they would live in, and he chose Venice, which was still affordable back then.

On weekends, my dad would take his camera to the boardwalk and photograph the scene, which in fact had just become a scene, thanks to a newly installed bike path, the rise of disco music and the invention of the polyurethane wheel, which made rollerskating on the street viable. I was born in the summer of 1979, and my dad used to push me along in a stroller and photograph everyone hanging out there — the rollerskaters, the body builders, the sunbathers, the sidewalk vendors, the street performers, the daredevils, the musicians, the dope smokers, the hippies, the derelicts. My dad says they all knew me as a baby — except they all pronounced my name wrong.

We moved to the Pico/Fairfax area shortly after I turned 1. About 10 years later, I went back to the Venice boardwalk with my dad. I distinctly remember a shirtless Jamaican guy in Rollerblades and short shorts walking up to us, greeting my dad and pointing at me, saying, “My God. Is this El El?”

My dad was lucky enough to be there as the modern boardwalk was being born. These never-before-published photos capture, I think, not only the boardwalk as it was back then but the boardwalk that lives on in our collective memory.

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