A Creation Myth

(In honor of Venice-of-America’s 109th Birthday)

In a time that was,
(And in a time that was not)

Abbot Kinney hid in a bin on a dock
To safeguard his life
From Turks bayoneting any infidel found
Oh, how the blood of Christians
Spilled onto the dock that day
A carmine blood delta flowing to the sea.

And Abbot Kinney knew his life was over
But it was not, it was not….
Destiny had other plans for Abbot Kinney
He escaped
And procured a small boat to sail toAfrica
With only his life
With only HIS life!
And Abbot Kinney now Knew
Oh, the preciousness of life!!
Not only his, but all life
The mighty as well as the weak….

That was the day Abbot Kinney’s soul
Made a stringent vow to never trivialize
The significance of his own life
With mundane endeavors of any kind
And his heart heard…and knew the truth of it
And his intellect heard and knew the truth of it
And thus sanity was born in Abbot Kinney
And Abbot Kinney returned from Africa
An integrated man, enveloped within his own intuition…


Young Abbot

Fast forward to another lifetime in OceanPark
A partner dies, a partner buys
The usual arguments of money and greed emerging
Abbot Kinney calls a meeting of the partners
To trade all of his holdings in their developments
For a mosquito swamp to the south
A sump already deemed
By experts as unsuitable for habitation

The investors gleed in their greed
Oh, the wily Kinney has finally gone mad, he’s mad!
Wind-fallen prosperity they nabbed with avarice
And signed the papers oh so quickly
Deeding the marshland to Kinney
Before the asylum came to claim
The insane Kinney and drag him away.

man hunting with dogs

But Abbot Kinney had walked those bogs
And marshlands to the south
He had felt an energy harbored there
Oh, yes, we still sing the song of those spirits
In Venice to this very day! Nothing to be done with marshes, but canals

And so it was on the first day of dredge

As steel blades of chuffing bulldozers
Pushed dank Cambrian ooze to formulate banks
Abbot Kinney saw faint illuminations of vapor
From the foaming primordial mud
An interred Goddess emerged


The workmen saw the apparition not
But it was The Goddess Venus
Come to ply Abbot Kinney with visions
Golden tresses bewitched by the
Breaths of her attendant deities and fairy folk

And then Venus began her songs of creation
In altered states of melodic harmonies
Goddess songs of cities ancient and mythical
She sang of past golden cities of magic and light
To enchant Abbot Kinney with the land in his keeping
And ply his mind with visions of a creation
And its significance to the Earth and to the World

Abbot Kinney, smitten, changed the name of the city
To Venice to honor the Goddess VenusAnd her Aura…..
Venice — a place of learning and enlightenment
Venice — a haven of harmony and inspiration for artists
Venice – a perfumed sensory experience
Venice – where transformation is guided by Muses

And Abbot Kinney continued in his creation of a city that
Venus sang as revelation to him

A city that he fiercely loved with all of his heart
A city he gave to the world for all time

The Original Lagoon

That city is called Venice

Published in the Free Venice Beachhead JULY, 2014

A Creation Myth





(As published in The Beachhead, December 2013 issue)

abbott kinney xmas starry sky_obscured print captionedweb


If you can spare a moment to contemplate Abbot Kinney’s Venice when he hosted the annual and most splendid Christmas Parties at the Venice Dance Pavilion. The local papers described it this way: “nowhere else in this country could be witnessed such a sight as was presented in the Venice Dance Pavilion. Had a page been torn from a book of fairy tales, enlarged and filled with animation, a similar picture may have been obtained, but no other way.”

Venetians at that time, already knew that they were living in a very rare place as evidenced by the crowds who piled into Venice for each holiday and weekend to savor the resort and its offerings, but perhaps this was even more true, during the Christmas holidays.  Think of it…starting in 1906, Abbot Kinney began his tradition of throwing what was to become the legendary Venice Christmas Party….this he continued until his death in 1920.  And each year, the tree got bigger, the attending children more numerous, and all were welcomed.  To those in need, turkeys were given away for free, so that all Venetians could celebrate the holidays.

But of course, Abbot Kinney was no novice to generosity.  From the start, his creation, Venice of America, a City of Canals, was built to not only enthrall the working man, but also the poet. And Abbot Kinney would have it no other way for though a rich man, he had once not been rich, and because of this, never viewed the poverty of a person as a crime.  As Abbot Kinney explained his personal philosophy, “why should a man want to die wealthy?  It is far better that he build something that will be a pleasure and a benefit to mankind.”  And so, simply, he did.

Abbot Kinney spent his millions of dollars to transform a swampland into an enchanted city, where the aroma of the sea blended with the earthy perfume of exotic flowerings.  Parrot tribes had begun to thrive in his desert landscape of eucalyptus and palms, their raucous calls a syncopation to the tinkling of piano tunes and strums of gondoliers’ mandolins.  Venice was to be a Renaissance city that nurtured mankind’s souls as well as their intellects.

Not one to stop there in his gifting, the Doge automatically gave $50 to any child born in Venice, no matter what race, creed, color or religion.  Abbot Kinney thought that just by being born in Venice justified a reward.  Assuredly, there were fusses to be had, when an African-American child received the same amount as those seemingly more entitled.

And it was in Venice, a city where there was ‘an air of constant excitement and the collection of gorgeous excesses’, that annually thousands of kids and their parents would stand outside the door of the Venice Dance Pavilion, all dressed in gala holiday attire.

Each year, the festivities had become more and more fanciful until 1918, the wintering Barnes Circus brought elephants to the pier to entertain those waiting for the doors to the Pavilion to open.  Just the sight of an elephant in those days was magical, but this year, the elephants handed bags of candy to each child brave enough to receive it.   The very chic Ship Café served free turkey dinners, never slighting those in need, and guaranteeing that all patrons would be finished in time for the main event  of the day — Abbot Kinney’s Christmas Party. When the doors of the Venice Dance Pavilion finally opened at two o’clock, thousands of kids crushed to be the first to get inside….

No matter what the year, the vast hall was converted to a veritable fairy land.  To those entering, Arthur Reese, fanciful decorator of Venice, transformed the Pacific daylight to the darkness of night in snowy mountains. There, a small town gleamed warm light from each one of its windows.  Icicles hung from the eaves, and snow blanketed the ground.

An impossibly tall tree stood in the middle of the town’s square, decorated with colored lights and ornaments, candy canes, ribbons and pine cones.  Garlands of popcorn circled the green boughs.  Underneath, thousands of presents were piled, all wrapped in colored paper with satin bows.  There were bags of penny candy, and stockings lumpy with goodies, topped by oranges.  The cheer of red poinsettias was everywhere.  From the stage, Lew Lewis’ orchestra played holiday music.

The Barnes Circus brought ponies for pony rides to entertain the ‘kiddies’ until it was time for the annual Christmas Play. To make room for the performance, the orchestra left the stage; the lights dimmed.  Winged Angels in glitter costumes flew above; a bright star appeared, and moved across the night sky to guide bejeweled Magi kings into the snowy village on real camels.  It was an enactment of the birth of Jesus, the stable filled with live sheep and cows, which mooed and baaed throughout the production’s entirety.  All too soon, the play was over. As soon as the lights were turned back on, it was time for the annual Venice Christmas Parade.

While the presents were being gathered, children marched around the 20 foot Christmas tree, clad in paper hats, blowing horns as loudly as possible.  Abbot Kinney always helped ‘Santa Claus’ distribute bags of candy, gifts and stockings to every single child there until all the wrapped gifts were gone.  Every child had equal rights; no favorites were made of anyone. And for those Venetian children, who were ill and could not attend the festivities, presents were put into reserve for them.  No one was forgotten at Abbot Kinney’s Christmas Party.

When the celebrants reluctantly emerged from the Dance Pavilion, it was night, the stars dancing twinkles in the black sky overhead.  Three thunderous booms echoed, and fireworks began lighting up the sky. Flowers of light blasted into existence, blossomed, and then faded, only to be replaced by another flower.  The spectacle ended with three booms of thunder.  For the adults, this signified the beginning of the Yuletide Ball.

Christmas of 1919 was no different…except the tree was 40 feet tall, the largest tree yet.  After all the gifts: Russian dolls, kewpie dolls, fairies, snowbirds, jack-in-the boxes, and poinsettias were distributed, Abbot Kinney rose to give his traditional Christmas greeting to Venice.  It has been reported that there was a special gentleness in his eyes that year.

I have the hope that each of you will be granted all the wishes that lay
               deep within your hearts.  As for me,  my wish this Christmas is that we
              discover the formula for eternal peace and the entire absence of
              discord in all matters.  God bless each and every one of us.

No listener was aware that while he was making this poignant speech, Abbot Kinney knew he was dying.  In fact, he did not make it to the next Christmas, dying on November 4th, 1920.

Venice mourned him by their exuberance of celebrations of the holiday season in 1920.  Various periodicals wrote of Arthur Reese’s remarkable strivings to ensure that Abbot Kinney would be proud of his Venice, and every light post, nook and cranny was ornamented.  The people of Venice joined in, seemingly decorating their homes to the max, but they also kept their curtains open so their neighbors and passerbys could enjoy them as well as tribute to their beloved Doge.

The Venice Christmas party was such a beloved tradition, that Thornton Kinney, Abbot’s son, announced that the Christmas holiday of 1920 would be much the same as it always had been, under his father’s care.  However, on December 21st a small stove caught fire, burning down not only the Venice Dance Pavilion, but the Venice pier and much of Windward Avenue close to the Pacific.

Reeling from the destruction, but determined to not let Abbot Kinney’s tradition die, a holiday tree was hurriedly erected and decorated in front of the St. Mark’s Hotel.  For you see, the stockings had already been prepared, crammed full of goodies; presents were already wrapped, embellished with satin bows.   Three thousand kids came and were not disappointed.

The presents were distributed, but it would never be the same without the presence of the kind and generous visionary human who had created Venice, the man who loved his city and its denizens so well.





Assault of a Neighborhood: Three Councilpersons’ Responses

 10 • November 2013 • Free VeniceBeach

-Assault of a Neighborhood

By Laura Shepard Townsend

I saw they took the roof off Elinore Crawford’s house today. Oh, it’s only a house, I tell myself, but I know how much love Elinore poured into that house for many years.

I am no practitioner of organized religion, but I do believe that houses possess spiritual essences of their owners. In any case, I do know that Elinore dearly loved her house….a love that permeated her hardwood floors and woodwork along with the the furniture polish. Her cottage garden of roses and hollyhocks, romantic pinks and scarlets were exquisitely balanced with the tangy blues of salvias, delphiniums and sages blooming love. Elinore is now gone, moved to a home for the aged and they are dismantling the three sweet cottages to make way for the future.

This is by no means the first assault on our neighborhood over the past 25 years. Our first invader was Costco which, I have been informed by two very proud store managers, is the largest grossing Costco in the whole Continental U.S., so I guess it’s true.  In their primary architectural renderings, their diesel spewing semis would have entered Costco from Zanja Street in the back of the shopping center.  Since Costco is located in Culver City, who really cared about the fumigating of the cute little neighborhood of families living in the back of the center. It was Venice, after all, it’s Los Angeles.

I guess no one came to measure ours streets, built for Model T’s, and so narrow, two cars can’t pass one another without shattering side mirrors. I think everyone who parks on the street has had damage done to the sides of their cars….never mind the number of cats that are killed.

Say what you will about Ruth Galanter, but she took the Costco assault seriously, assigned Mario, her first lieutenant, a humorous and generous white knight, to guide us through the labyrinth of L.A. as well as Culver City politics. Due to thousands of hours of collecting petitions, organization and meetings with the officials of two municipalities, we were awarded $300, 000 for traffic mitigation.  I assure you, it was not enough; our neighborhood, a narrow slice of houses, is now the official cut-thru for the savvy commuters of Playa Vista and Marina del Rey. However, our adamant protests ensured that the trucks now enter the Costco shopping center appropriately from Washington Blvd.

Our next invader, unfortunately still here, is Clearview, a drug and alcohol rehab to keep the rich addicts out of jail. Clearview is a bargain in the rehab world, a cut below Promises and Passages, the five-star rehabs in Malibu, but still pricey. These guys have so much dough, that whenever a new McMansion Craftsman bungalow in our neighborhood came on the market, they snatched it right up.

Once rehabs decide to entrap a neighborhood, their rate of profit is so immense, no one can outbid them if they want a house…or ten houses, or even twenty. The shills Clearview hired to buy the houses (employees or freelance associates) while the house was in escrow, would enthusiastically profess their excitement about being finally allowed to move in and pick out the curtains to the neighbors next to them.

These scammers and shameless liars have no guilt in their pursuit of riches. Greedily, they cluster the facilities in daisy chains to share services like therapy and transport to further decrease their overhead and maximize their already gargantuan profits. Each house facility by law is required to have its own kitchen, but the kitchen, in our neighborhood, is shared by all five of the hoses, which is absolutely illegal.  However our complaints to the State of California about violations fell on deaf ears since the state supports rehab houses as solutions to keeping DUI’s out of our scandalously overcrowded prisons.

In any case, Clearview’s real estate negotiations were so hush-hush, that I only got a whiff of the predators when there was no parking up and down our whole street in the middle of the day!!! Four or five frantic valets hustled to park mirror-polished $30K SUV’s (no one at the time on my street had such cars). I grabbed a poster board to picket solo ala Norma Rae, shouting “No more Rehabs”, until the owner, wine glass in hand, came out to inform me that he was going to have me arrested for disturbing his ‘aren’t we all going to make big money’ party. Unfortunately for him, I had paid attention during my Social Studies classes and knew my rights.  The neighborhood rallied; Councilman Rosendahl came for a meeting in Elinore’s house, and with negotiations, the Clearview invasion was curtailed. Cross your fingers — the economy is improving!

Rehabs love being in neighborhoods. Why? Because they want to tout the  neighborhood feeling to the well-heeled parents of their customers, while they simultaneously savage that feeling. Rehab houses go dark, meaning there is no one really there. The drapes are drawn; no one is raising kids or walking dogs, or tending the garden. Just delivery trucks for goods; vans shuttle the denizens around.

Don’t get me wrong–I believe in rehabilitation, but Clare conducts their business in the business section of Santa Monica, not it neighborhoods, and I might add, without charging a fortune.  For our neighborhood, I will always credit Councilman Rosendahl for curtailing the grabbing of more houses. He walked the block with us to see the location of the houses, muttering in his endearing Rosendahl style, “too many, there’s just too darned many.”  Unfortunately,Clearview still got 4 houses in a one block area of 42 houses, 12% of the area.

Cut to the next parasitic arrival with a proposal to build two (2) condominium buildings, two-stories high (over twenty-seven feet in height), containing 8,000 square feet of floor space (four 2,000 sq. ft. dwellings) with ten parking spaces, just eighteen feet and ten inches from the sidewalk at 2435, 2437,2439, 2441 Walnut Avenue.

These are Elinore’s two lots, the site where once a year we would meet in the  shade of her large avocado tree for the Walnut Avenue Poetry Festival, enjoying the talents of our neighbors’ music, poetry and their best recipes brought as delectable pot-luck dishes each summer. We would catch up with one another’s lives and share photos. This destruction makes me very sad.

Now Mike Bonin is our new Councilperson. I am unfamiliar with his position on development in keeping with the feeling of Venice. I understand the VNC Land Use Committee met with him recently to explore his views on the subject. Apparently the gist is that the Councilman will not interfere with development unless there is something illegal in the design.  I hope I am wrong. I hope that Councilperson Bonin with work with all of Venice to preserve the spirit of Venice. We shall see. Fortunately for us, in this case, it seems we do have a code violation since the developer seeks a variance to convert apartment buildings to condos on lots that are only 45-feet wide, a violation of the Municipal Code that requires a minimum width of 50 feet per lot. So we may have a chance.

However, this could be the first domino to fall, tempting other developers to continue the invasion and degradation. As a footnote, it has also been brought to my attention that east of Lincoln, though we are Venice, and share the zip code 90291, that we are not included in the VNC Land Use Committee’s overview. I do not know why this is, and will be pursuing this to further understand it.

Our neighborhoods in Venice are very special, they nurture our children, our lifestyles. It is precious indeed to be able to walk your kids and dogs around the block, greeting one another, assisting one another, and sharing home-grown delectables from one another’s garden.

Their fragility requires activism on everyone’s part. Darn it, I will always fight for such a way of life in my Venice.


Spring in Venice


Ahhh! Spring in Venice
The fragrance of jasmine perfumery
The Venice Art Walk
The return of tourists…..

But for me the spring atmosphere
Wrenches jagged with
The cries of desolation and despair
Only the hungry Baby Mockingbird can manifest

Sensitized I am to their calls
For I have raised two to flying
Amelia and Beauregard
Gobs of blue-veined plasm flesh
But when grounded, a sorry plight indeed

Baby Mockingbirds fall
Insistent to fly before they even have feathers
Impatient to get on with IT!
Disobedient, adament

Unfortunately prowling Enemies
Of teeth and of claw
Hunt, always alert for opportunity
Those crows, hawks, cats, raccoons

Whadda ya think?
Baby Mockingbirds should become
Venice’s official city bird:

Composed of the disobedient citizenry

Haunted by prowling Midases
With cash to gobble her up.