Fascinating History of Venice Beach in Los Angeles & Greystone Doheny Residence
July 25, 2019
We love to keep coming back to Venice Beach in Los Angeles for its forgotten astonishing history; there is so much more than just that crazy beach! Today on this rainy June Saturday we slip in the hippie-like, carefree, wild scene, that presents its gig rain or shine, winter or summer, going strong daily! And it is like a deja vu for our family all over again passing by the magicians, belly dancers, painters, acrobats while eyeing all of those characters, peeking in the stalls with any goods you can imagine including the authentic Czech turnovers sold by an authentic Czech. We scrutinize the outfits of all kinds, bodies exposed, beautiful and the less beautiful, small or big, tattooed or pristine....it is a packed colorful noisy vibrant boardwalk, a some scene to behold. And as always we and other tourists are in a way of the racing locals on a roller skates, skateboards, bikes, scooters. Wow and wow, and the gorgeous beach so generously wide and long and romantic. But this Venice Beach that some bid as "just too crazy" is actually one of the rare corners of Southern California with astonishing history and vision.
Venice Beach. Why the name?
It sounds like a fairy tale: A gentleman Abbot Kinney, a millionaire from New Jersey that was a tobacco tycoon, came to visit San Francisco and found the California whether so appealing that he decided to stay. In 1891 he bought, with his partner Mr. Ryan, 400 acres of swamp marsh with two-mile stretch of beach south of Santa Monica. About a decade later, alone in this prospect, Kinney decided to make out of his property "Venice of America". And he did!
He decided to drench the swampy lagoon and make in into a city of canals that would be connected to the beach by a Windward Street. He built five beautiful canals with "Venice" like bridges, the surface of the canals were dotted with gondolas navigated by handsome Italian gondoliers brought form the New York City. Oh those beautiful love songs they sang! :) The parcels by the canal were out of this world, and selling quick.
Kinney had a great vision not only of a beautiful seaside city, but also a renaissance city of great culture. He built a large pier with attractions, beautiful Venice Palace offering educational programs, classical music concerts, operas, dancing hall... Sarah Bernard, the most famous of actresses of time, had her farewell concert there before sailing off back to Europe. An elegant Ship Hotel modeled after the Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo Ship (1542) was built by the pier and it was that place you wanted to stay! Another pier about a mile north had a huge plunge (opened in 1907 and free to public) with heated ocean water and other sport attractions. The Aquarium opened in 1909, had very fine species, and quickly became a research center for University of Southern California. Kinney later added Ferris wheel, restaurants, Japanese Tea House, next to the pier was a railroad ride with amazing manmade scenery.
The streets of the neighborhood were lined by the renaissance palaces a la Venice, the lagoon had an amphitheater for 2,500 people.
A Frazer Milion Dollar Pier opened in 1911 close to the Kinney's, and offered many attractions including a grand a dancing hall. Frazer used to be Kinney's partner and when he saw Kinney's success he tried his own luck. Very easy when Kinney cultivated all of this marsh area into an attractive town with a great vision! And then more investors/prospectors flew in: Pickering pier was built in 1920 and an enormous Lick Pier in 1821....
The grand opening of Kinney's town was on July 4, 1905 and it is said that 30,000 people came to enjoy this splendid city of canal and beautiful beaches. The tremendous
success was, of course, not only due to Kinney extraordinary vision and humanistic approach to create something for posterity, but also the advent of railroad that enabled people to flock in.
In 1920 Kinney died and a month later his pier burned down. It was rebuilt under the auspices of his son. It burned again in 1924, but opened in 1926. That perseverance, that bad luck!!
When the city of Venice was struggling and Venice Beach lost its independence, becoming a part of Santa Monica, an Ohio oil company marched in, took over the beach as oil was found in Venice Beach in 1929. Before you knew it, 146 pumps dotted
the beach till 1990, dominating this once beautiful amazing "renaissance" beach. The year 1929 was also a year when the inhabitants of Venice Beach were pushed by Santa Monica government into agreeing that the canals are impractical and should be made into streets where cars, rather than gondolas, can ride. And yes, the developers got their way and the biggest three canals (today Venice, Grant and Windward Ave) were turned into roads. What a pity, what a shame, what a shortsighted vision. But, rather than cry over it, and when I first read it I almost did, I celebrate the fact that there are still beautiful canals left, called Linnie Canals Historic District. There are four east-
west canals: Carroll Canal, Linnie Canal, Howland Canal, and Sherman Canal, and it makes for a beautiful, unseen romantic adventure. You can access them from 25th ave & Pacific and enjoy the beautiful scenery. When exploring this rare and beautiful corner of SoCal we sense that the people who live here are one of the kind: patriotic Venetians, protective of the environment around them, creative, tradition and water (!!) loving, social and, judging by their houses, displays and signs, they seem to be "our" kind of people. I would move in happily!
Our last stop is at Doheny's residence called Greystone (905 Loma Vista Dr, Beverly Hills) built by the oil tycoon Edward Doheny in 1923 for his son Ned Doheny. It is in Beverly Hills, close to UCLA.When Doheny built it, it cost close to 4 million dollars, at that time it was the most expensive private residence built. Wow!
It belongs today to the city of Beverly Hills and it is a public (free) wonderful park! Built in Tudor style by an architect Gordon Kaufmann, this 55-room, 46, 000 sq feet mansion is something to see. As a private wedding is inside when we arrive (anyone can rent the mansion), we walk through the 16 acres English and French gardens, admiring many fountains and hidden paths. The interior — as much as we see — is quite grand!!!! Lots of details made out of wood and stone, just impressive. My goodness, I can understand maybe 6 bedroom, but 55....?
The house has a quite story to reveal: Edward Doheny was and oil magnate and a philanthropist (Doheny Beach, Doheny Eye
Institute, Doheny Library at USC.....), but his reputation was stained (even though he was acquitted of charges) in the famous Teapot Dome scandal. It was the biggest scandal to the day during President's Harding administration. His Secretary of Interior, Albert Fall, was accepting bribes from oil tycoons and companies for favorable terms of oil leasing and no bidding, just giving. Doheny's son, Ned along with his secretary Hugh Plunketh, delivered the monetary gift to Albert Fall on behalf of the Doheny's Pan American Oil Company. In the midst of the investigations and only four months after Ned and his wife along with their 5 children moved into this residence, Ned and his secretary Plunketh were arguing and were both shot. It is not clear till today who killed who... Doheny's wife remarried and lived in the mansion till 1955. When a tycoon from Chicago Henry Crowd purchased the mansion and wanted to tear it down, the city of Beverly Hills purchased it and in 1971 made it a public park.
And here is the last comment: 2007 film "There will be Blood" is loosely based on a book by Sinclair Lewis "Oil" that describes the Teadome Scandal. A character Arnold Ross is based upon Edward Doheny.
And thus ends an account of another fabulous, inspiring, fun family trip!