Neighborhood Spotlight: Marina del Rey sets a course for a comeback

Long before the sailboats, paddleboarders and kayakers filled the placid waters of Marina del Rey’s main channel, the neighborhood was intended to be the West Coast’s busiest port.

In 1887, a developer named M.C. Wicks set out to create the commercial harbor, choosing a marshy area known for excellent duck hunting and fishing. But within three years, a flood had destroyed the port, and Wicks’ Port Ballona Development company went bankrupt.

The marsh was mostly spared for the next 70 years. Duck hunters and their dogs roamed its brackish waters while development slowly nibbled away at its margins. Houses were built along the spit of beach to its west. Venice rose to its north. Howard Hughes whiled away the years with the construction of his Spruce Goose at a private airfield to the east. Oil was struck, wells were drilled, then exhausted and capped.

By the 1950s, the plan for a port had morphed into an ambitious scheme to create the nation’s largest man-made marina: The Playa del Rey Inlet and Harbor of Venice, CA. The development’s boosters, understandably concerned about the downsides of trying to promote such a mouthful of a brand name, lobbied successfully to change it to the more marketable “Marina del Rey.”

After 12 years of construction, the first boats sailed into the harbor and settled into their slips, and for three decades afterward, Marina del Rey played a raucous, outsized role in SoCal life.

MdR was for years a notoriously active outpost of L.A.’s swinging singles scene. The marina lifestyle of the ’70s and ’80s inspired the retroactive dubbing of California soft rock as “yacht rock.” Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys dove into the marina and never came back up.

And now, 50 years after it opened, the marina is trending again. Once-dowdy industrial areas east of Lincoln Boulevard are sprouting new loft-style housing, modern condo and apartment buildings are going in along the margins of the basins, and even Fisherman’s Village and its iconic, kitschy lighthouse are set to be redeveloped.

Neighborhood highlights

Seafaring in SoCal: The experience of sailing out to sea from the marina, with the wind in your face and the blue-green expanse of Santa Monica Bay stretching out before you, should be on everybody’s bucket list.

Where the ’70s still live: Whether you're lying out at Mother’s Beach, lazily pedaling your beach cruiser down the Marvin Braude Bike Trail or just watching the sea lions sunning themselves, the chilled-out vibe of Marina del Rey is hard to resist.

Dining by harbor light: From the old-salt ambience of Whiskey Red’s to the New American cuisine of Cafe del Rey, there are plenty of places to dine while the sun lazily drifts below the horizon and the marina transforms into a wind-ruffled mirror alive with reflected running lights.

Neighborhood challenges

Lincoln Boulevard: Traveling to, from, and through MdR more often than not requires a drive down the Westside’s most congested north-south artery, a test of even the most Zenned-out commuter’s mettle.

Expert insight

Jesse Weinberg, principal real estate agent at Marina del Rey-based Jesse Weinberg & Associates, said the neighborhood has become an attractive place to live for tech employees who work in nearby Venice and Playa Vista.

“The big difference with the Marina is you do get more for your money,” he said. “Venice average price per foot is easily around $1,000 for single-family homes, but in Marina you could find stuff for $600 to 700 a foot, so you get a nice discount.”

The value tends to get better the further south a buyer looks in Marina del Rey, Weinberg said. And there’s a lot to choose from.

“It has a really unique mix of properties, from single family-homes to full-service high-rises that you don’t see so much of in Venice or other parts of L.A.,” he said.

Market snapshot

In June, the median for combined single-family home and condominium sales in Marina del Rey was $900,000, up 11.1% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

Report card

There are no schools within the boundaries of Marina del Rey, as defined by the L.A. Times’ Mapping L.A. tool.

Nearby schools include Coeur D’Alene Avenue Elementary, which scored 911 out of 1,000 in the 2013 Academic Performance Index. Short Avenue Elementary had a score of 835, and Westside Leadership Magnet scored 787.

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