Venice has always been too good to be true. From its not-so-humble beginnings, when a tobacco magnate named Abbot Kinney dredged a bunch of unnecessary canals to build Venice of America, to The Doors, man, and Ed Moses and Dennis Hopper, to the sliding and flying Z-Boys, to the warring V13 and Shoreline Crips — the chapters of Venice history are written before the era is even finished. Venice is “where art meets crime,” but the art has not been good for years and the crime not as bad for almost as long.
I love it. Venice is the best neighborhood in Los Angeles. Forget Echo Park. Never mind Highland Park. No neighborhood is more quintessentially Los Angeles than Venice, none more in love with its own myth in a city built on them.
The Venice Boardwalk is full of crap, but even locals don't stay away. Their parents or grandparents came to Los Angeles, to Venice, and found a town of facades, but the breeze was better than back home, so they stayed, and they bought a T-shirt.
Venice is incredibly walkable. Groceries on Lincoln, dinner and drinks on Rose or Abbot Kinney, the beach, the canals, the boardwalk, the pier, the skate park, the boutiques, the outdoor vendors — everything is within 30 brisk minutes of everything else.
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And once you hop on a bike, you're in Santa Monica, home of chain stores and tall condos. Santa Monica is nice enough — J. Crew and the Apple Store have to live somewhere — but I wouldn't want to live there. Give me access to your manicured Palisades Park, just not in my backyard. And if you could quit flying your damn planes over Venice instead of your own neighborhood, that'd be cool too.
The water quality in Venice is among the best in the county. The freeways are just close enough, and just far enough away. The neighborhood council fights chain stores and zoning variances. The homeless take naps on alley couches. The rich and the rent-controlled live side by side, their style of fencing (horizontal wood or chain link) the only outward indicator of who lives where.
Venice is the best neighborhood in Los Angeles, but I'm leaving.
I'm leaving quiet morning walks to Groundwork Coffee, where the regulars ask your dog's name and wonder aloud what it says about your politics. I'm leaving the anarchy of First Fridays, where hideaways like the upstairs at Hal's let you feel like you've just entered a saloon after a long day of herding cattle. I'm leaving the beach basketball courts, where your ability to argue the score makes you a more valuable player than your jump shot.
The dumpy Oakwood one-bedroom I'm renting is part of a triplex with a deck that would make Mr. Miyagi proud. The building was sold a few months ago for $1.2 million, and the new owner is relocating my neighbors, a couple of Venice locals, so he can tear down some walls and make himself at home. I could stay, but I'm out, heading east. Goodbye, Venice.
The rents have gone up. Google is here now. The neighborhood is trendier than ever, covered in chambray shirts and entitlement. Small-plate restaurants and surf-chic shops flank Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which jumped the shark a long time ago but lately it feels like the boat pulled back around for another pass over a Great White.
The bodega across from Abbot's Pizza was chopped in half to make room for another boutique. Someone is trying to build a boutique hotel down by Joe's. There's a new outdoor cafe with fake grass serving organic juice — it's wildly popular.
Like any gentrifier, I believe the line stopped right after me. I've only been in Venice a few years, so any old-timer could point to when Licks Pier was demolished, or the Pavillion disappeared, or the Whole Foods arrived, and say he's seen a lot more, that I am part of the problem, and he'd be right. But Venice has always been a myth, a signpost to an arcadian You Should've Been There. And now it's time to move on.
I'm leaving the best neighborhood in Los Angeles.
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