Life in the Venice Bordello

El Bordello Alexandra, in Venice Beach has sculptures added since 2001 by owners Tony Wells and Brittany Stevenson. The 1906 building also features murals by Brian Mylius, who also lives there.
(Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles Times)

It’s not just a building, it’s a vibe.

So says eight-year tenant Antony Pereiaslavtsev of El Bordello Alexandra, a seven-unit, 1906 apartment house one block from the Venice Beach boardwalk.

The outré home, its roof staged with towering metal sculptures, belongs in a genre-bending sci-fi fantasy novel. The highlights: a 12-foot-tall charging centaur, Poseidon with diving dolphins, medieval guards, an archangel, gargoyles, a pirate and an owl.

Venice Beach, long salted with nonconformists, clearly merits such an endearingly mutant property, which its owners admit lacks a clear theme.


“It’s called ‘express yourself,’” said Tony Wells, who with partner Brittany Stevenson bought the 5,000-square foot house at 20 Westminster Ave. — which had been expanded in the 1940s to seven units, all with baths and kitchens — as an investment in 2001 for $680,000. Since then they’ve spent an additional $1 million on renovations, Wells said.

The couple, who live in Culver City, often augment the design, crowding the color-saturated residence with such finds as an 1880 pump organ, electric guitars, Roman and Prussian helmets, gothic chandeliers, torches, surfboards, a bathroom styled as a confessional and a Buddha.

At night, the property smolders in crimson and gold light. A dragon built from vintage Harley-Davidson parts, its eyes functional red taillights, claws onto the building’s west side below a winged, horned creature that steps into the air. Lighted star ornaments and filigree awnings shaped like tiaras line the west side.

Stevenson discovered ledgers in the attic that “indicated it was once a bordello,” she said. Hence, the name. The “Alexandra” honors a late friend.

The owners source the building’s décor from travels, local artists and sales.

While the building is in itself a character, the tight tribe of seven tenants is equal to the edifice, said the owners, who charge from $1,900 to $2,500 a month in rent. The residents often gather on the roof deck, travel to Burning Man and Coachella festivals and throw an invite-only Halloween bash. This year: a traditional masquerade.

“We wanted to do something classy,” Pereiaslavtsev said.

Past El Bordello bashes haven’t been as staid, prompting neighbor complaints. “To be fair, there had been some raging parties that lasted far into the night,” said Stevenson, adding that now tenants adhere to noise curfews and inform neighbors of upcoming parties.

Terry Allsup has lived behind El Bordello for 18 years. “What they’ve done to it — it’s now a perfect fit for the neighborhood,” said Allsup, adding that before Wells and Stevenson bought it, the building had long been a crack house amid a block of mostly rental properties. “Really good people there now, all young professionals,” Allsup said. “Kids love it, adults love it. It’s like Disneyland.”

El Bordello is one of Venice’s main front porches, where locals gather to listen to tenant Michael Jost’s intricate guitar compositions and discuss art, worldviews and the meaning of –– well, life along the improbable beach that is Venice.

On a recent day, Jost strummed his guitar on the front steps. “I call it flamenco fusion,” he said, his black nail polish and silver skull and Zuni rings a blur against the strings.

Jost and artist Brian Mylius often compose and paint together, sharing morning coffee on the rooftop deck as light breaks over the Pacific. Mylius created a mural adjacent to the house: Astronauts carry a surfboard and Frisbee, and a three-eyed alien cradles a beach ball. Scripted to the side: “Greetings from Venice Beach, California.”

Pereiaslavtsev and fellow renter and artist Chris Saunders have pooled their talents and recently launched a start-up and photo app.

The pair skateboard to their Venice boardwalk office (“our affordable company transportation,” said Pereiaslavtsev), skinny dip in the Pacific at night, surf and party on El Bordello’s roof –– with views of the one Jim Morrison reportedly lived and composed on in the summer of 1965 (at 14 Westminster Ave.).

“My life — it’s a hallucination materialized,” said a barefoot Pereiaslavtsev. “I could never have dreamt of this. Nothing is really suppressed here.”

Andy Kravitz, a music producer who occupies a front apartment crammed with a white baby grand piano and 9-foot 1973 mixing board, said El Bordello “has its own pulse, its own beat.”

“People walk by and say the place is crazy,” said Kravitz, gold curls falling from his brimmed hat. “But everyone else is crazy living in their stucco boxes, not talking to each other.”

Perched on El Bordello’s heavily draped balcony, Pereiaslavtsev watched the lysergic gloss that is Venice parade by. “This is our TV,” he said nodding to a passing bicyclist who balanced an eight-foot pirate flagpole on his head.

“L.A. can feel lonely, and it can be hard to find true family, community,” Pereiaslavtsev added. “I’ve lived in L.A. for 17 years, and this is the first community I’ve ever found. People want to connect. They want to belong.”