Gondola under restoration, set to return to Windward Circle.
By Keldine Hull
Windward Circle’s gondola display will so return to all its glory. Currently getting patched and painted, the restoration process is still underway, but if you get a long enough look, you can almost feel yourself gliding lazily throughout the canals in the most timeless way to travel on water.
Tobacco magnate and multi-millionaire Abbot Kinney furrowed the first canals in the untapped areas to the west of Los Angeles to create a new Venice; a “Venice of the West.” Kinney returned to Venice in Italy to hire over thirty gondoliers, importing their authentic gondolas to his new Venice and adding the finishing touches to his ambitious vision. On July 4, 1905, Venice, California opened and people from all over the country couldn’t resist visiting a piece of Italy on the heels of the Pacific Ocean. Painted in almost every color under the sun, the gondolas were a popular attraction for tourists and romantics alike.
Mother Nature was a force to be reckoned with as fires and rising tides eventually made the canals a health hazard. Arbitrarily bulldozed over by construction crews, many canals were lost and with them, a home for the beautiful gondolas that once transported visitors throughout those same canals. Venetian inspired canals sprinkled with colorful gondolas became roadways and streets filled with cars and bumper to bumper traffic.
Robin Murez, artist and sculptor of public art, explains the importance of the gondola to Venice history. “It’s an immediately recognizable icon of the magic that Abbot Kinney created when he built Venice of America,” Murez begins. “He dredged what was ‘the swamp,’ forming canals, and this eclectic mass-up of Italian architecture and Coney Island amusements. His vision was a unique seaside community of arts, culture, and fun.”
Popular Surfside bartender Jackson Rayfield has lived in Venice for ten years and still appreciates the vision Abbot Kinney had for Venice over a century ago. “There’s nothing like Venice in North America,” Rayflied explains. “We all win seeing the heart of what he started when he decided to dig out canals, bring gondoliers from the actual Venice, and do something special. When I moved here, I was never so excited to say I lived somewhere. I literally just got this kind of feeling that there’s something special down here. There’s a groove. It feels wonderful, and I’ve always had so much pride living in Venice.” Even though Abbot Kinney’s vision has received many facelifts throughout the decades, the heart of what makes Venice unique remains.
The gondola display is a physical reminder of Venice’s roots and the unique qualities that make Venice much for than a beachside city. “It’s not just a place with fancy boutiques, expensive restaurants, hip techies, nor homeless peddlers,” Murez continues. “We have an artistic history. We have writers, artists, musicians and performers. The gondola sparks our imaginations and inspires creativity in our community. Let’s display the gondola, proudly!”
The canals in Venice have become such a staple that it’s easy to forget about their historical significance. Next time you walk along the pathways, imagine the canals as they once were created to be; our own little piece of Italy right here in Southern California.
The gondola display, located in what was originally Grand Lagoon, is a Venice Historical Society project supported by Venice residents. A proper unveiling is scheduled for a later date. To learn more about Venice’s rich history, visit http://www.veniceofamerica.org/index.php.