Hank Kessler stood on the edge of a large dirt patch at the Venice Beach Athletic Center. The dirt patch had been a basketball court for many years, but it was torn up last September, leaving Kessler with no place to play. “They say new courts are coming,” Kessler said. “I’ve been waiting a long time.”
Kessler’s wait is almost over. The beach’s two courts were torn up as part of a $1.5-million project to refurbish the athletic center.
Three new basketball courts are among a number of improvements expected to be completed by the end of the month.
Quimby funds are paying for the project, sponsored by the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department. The Quimby Act, passed in 1965 and authored by San Bernardino County Assemblyman John P. Quimby, requires California developers to donate money to parks departments if they build within a one-mile radius of a park.
Bulldozers at Work
In the Venice project, the funds were drawn from developers who have built in the 6th Council District, project manager Richard Klink said.
The recreation area at Venice is cluttered with construction materials while bulldozers move huge mounds of earth and workers busily level dirt.
In addition to the basketball courts, construction has begun on three paddle tennis courts, three three-walled handball courts, three one-wall handball courts, a children’s play area, three sand volleyball courts and a parking lot.
The famous Muscle Beach weightlifting facility will be renovated by July.
Darlene Galindo, senior recreation director at the athletic center estimates that 1,000 people a day use the courts, play areas and weights during the summer.
The athletic center is one of the most heavily used facilities in the city, Recreation and Parks Department spokesman Al Goldfarb said. It draws people from all over the country and the world.
“Europeans love paddle tennis. We get quite a number from England, Australia and Germany, as well as (from) around the country,” Galindo said. Almost as she spoke, a man from Maryland asked to use some paddle tennis equipment. Soon after, two young men from Alaska bought a day permit for $3 to use the weights. “See what I mean?” Galindo said.
The Venice Athletic Center is unique because of the number and diversity of the programs it offers. It has events year-round, concentrated from May to September.
Among other events, Venice plays host to: The Penguin Club Swim in January; the National Singles Paddle Tennis Championships, sponsored by the U.S. Paddle Tennis Assn., and the National Outdoor Basketball Championships in May; a rabies clinic for dogs in July; the Muscle Beach Bench Press contest, sanctioned by the U.S. Powerlifting Federation, in August; an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the needy in November; a similar holiday dinner in December; weekly roller skating exhibitions and numerous body-building contests throughout the year.
Galindo said the most popular spectator events are the body-building contests, and the most popular participatory events are basketball tournaments.
There is also the Festival of the Chariots in August, sponsored by followers of the Hare Krishna religion. The festival features music, food and “lots of chanting,” Galindo said. “They used to bring elephants, but it became an insurance liability.”
Even without the elephants, Kessler, the basketball player, is looking forward to the summer. “As soon as the courts come in, you’re gonna see more people than grains of sand here,” he said.