Anything-goes Venice is a feast for the senses

Venice was conceived and built in the early 1900s, once part of a string of Southland coastal amusement parks that stretched from Santa Monica’s Pleasure Pier to the Pike in Long Beach. 

It was a time so genteel that men’s and women’s bathing suits ran from ankle to neck, and attractions like ballroom dancing, a saltwater swimming lagoon and languorous gondola rides through man-made canals could draw a million or so visitors a year.

Venice founder Abbot Kinney took a coastal marshland, drained it with a series of canals and created a planned community that would use those same canals as a selling point, pouring $500,000 into improvements that one contemporary flier trumpeted as “characteristic of the original Venice” (that would be the one in Italy). 

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Annexation by the city of Los Angeles in the late 1920s meant big changes for Venice. The original canals were paved over, and the lagoon was replaced by the Windward Avenue traffic circle, though the canals to the south, which were not built by Kinney, were spared. 

Venice went into a long decline punctuated by an oil boom that turned the beach into a forest of wooden derricks, and by the 1940s rents were so low that artists began to move into the area to take advantage of the affordable coastal living.

The creative community that formed included Charles and Ray Eames, Ed Ruscha and the Doors. The area also became a hotbed for architectural experimentation in the 1970s and ’80s, with seminal works by Frank Gehry, Morphosis and others. Now many startups, including Snapchat, make their homes in Venice.

The neighborhood endured significant gang violence in crime in the ’80s and ’90s, but Venice today is increasingly an upscale neighborhood — although the boardwalk remains, as always, a pleasingly gritty experience. Abbot Kinney Boulevard is a premier shopping and dining destination, and the ultramodern homes of tech executives and celebs now sit up against modest cottages that date from the original Venice of America tracts.

Neighborhood highlights

A feast for the senses: From the weird and wonderful boardwalk to the tranquil canals fronted by beautiful homes old and new, Venice offers some of the most unusual sights and experiences in L.A.

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Dining and drinking: From upscale Abbot Kinney Boulevard to earthy Ocean Front Walk, there is a wide range of places no matter how much (or how little) you’re willing to spend. Whether you prefer having a cold PBR at the Townhouse or sharing a bottle of wine over dinner at Gjelina, Venice has something for everyone.

Architecture: Gawk at the exterior of both of the Eames’ Venice workshops, take a photo next to Frank Gehry’s binoculars in front of Google’s L.A. headquarters or browse through the galleries on Abbot Kinney.

The beach: It’s not just a beach, it’s the quintessential L.A. beach. Surfing, skateboarding, bike riding, fishing, Muscle Beach, graffiti and amazing sunsets — it’s no wonder tourists flock there.

Neighborhood challenges

High demand and low housing stock are driving up prices and creating pressure to tear down older homes to make way for huge infill homes. Like everywhere in L.A., Venice is struggling to find a way to balance market forces with the preservation of neighborhood character.

Expert insight

“You can really be yourself in Venice, which is what I like,” said Tami Pardee, a real estate agent and chief executive of Halton Pardee and Partners on Abbot Kinney. “You can go from one type of lifestyle to another very quickly here and be accepted in all of them. They mix well together.”

People are flocking to the eclectic, beachside town, so prospective buyers will often run into a multiple-offer situation, she said. She recommends submitting backup offers just in case things fall through and encourages people to broaden their search to a larger area than they might have initially considered.

“People want to be west of Lincoln,” she said. But “you have to open your mind up to other areas, because they are up-and-coming.”

Market snapshot

The 90291 and part of 90292 make up the Venice area. 

In March, based on 18 sales, the median price for single-family homes in the 90291 ZIP Code was $1.825 million, according to CoreLogic. In the 90292 ZIP Code, the median price was $1.808 million based on three sales.

Report card

Coeur D’Alene Avenue Elementary tops the list with a score of 911 out of 1,000 in the 2013 Academic Performance Index. Broadway Elementary had a score of 885, Westminster Avenue Elementary scored 841, and Walgrove Avenue Elementary scored 804. Westside Leadership Magnet scored 787, and Mark Twain Middle had 715.

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