Venice Beach has charm that sometimes feels too good to be true. Just ask the tourists photographing the iconic Venice sign off Pacific Ave & Windward Ave…. the street performers and skaters along the Venice Ocean bizarre boardwalk…the trend setters drinking green smoothies on Abbot Kinney Blvd… or even the residents along the canals.
Strolling along the beautifully landscaped walkways of the Venice Canals, it is easy to see the appeal of living in this one-of-a-kind neighborhood. When looking at the manicured yards and non-motorized boats tied to residents’ canal docks, it’s hard to fathom the history behind the canals.
The Venice Canals Historic District is the brainchild of New Jersey native and developer, Abbot Kinney. In 1905, his “Venice of America” vision became a reality, as he not only aimed to spark a cultural renaissance, but also to innovate infrastructure by turning reclaimed saltwater marshland into man-made canals.
Although the canals were initially a success, the age of automobiles led to their eventual demise; there was an increased demand for parking and a decreased need for transportation via the canals. In the name of progress, the canals were filled with dirt, paved into public streets and given new names.
Only six of the canals were spared; the four east-west canals (Carroll Canal, Linnie Canal, Howland Canal, and Sherman Canal) and the two north-south canals (Eastern Canal and Grand Canal), that front under 400 residences.
Walking through the present day canals is a more attractive, safer experience than many years ago. In 1940, the canals were declared unsafe and were closed to the public. Uncertainty about funding and methods of protecting the wetland habitat caused extensive debate among the community and lawmakers for decades, preventing a timely decision on how to best reconstruct this area.
In the early nineties, thanks to the City of Los Angeles’ approval of the Deep Water Plan, the six million dollar renovations began. The canals were dredged, toxic soil was removed, crumbling sidewalks were replaced, foot bridges were reconstructed- the list of renovations was extensive! Work began in March 1992, and was completed a year later.
When I’m asked what the most charming location in Venice Beach is, my answer is always the same: the Venice Canal Historic District. Although there’s little remaining evidence of Kinney’s “Venice to America” vision, this neighborhood gives me a glimpse.