Gentrification pushes away crime and poverty, replacing decay with bloom, and like new life, arrives without memory of the past it erases.
Up Lincoln, towards the nebulous border with Santa Monica, a cluster of restaurants and stores betray small signs of their predecessors. Fabric Planet, a store packed with all colors of lace and silk, was once the former home of Jungle Video—the decrepit neighborhood standby for half-rewinded Disney VHS tapes, complete with a curtain-drawn porn room. Across the street, is Baby Blues Barbecue with a line perpetually out the door. Once a seedy old barbecue restaurant, a new owner, a makeover, and an LA Times write-up delivered the corner hangout to city-wide fame. In the window, “no fat added” stands as a relic from a now distant past—the sign was updated from modest hand-made scrawl to a shiny blue placard. in the Not too long ago, the high-end juice bar was an inconceivable addition to the desolate traffic-jammed strip. Prostitutes lingered in the shadows of Lincoln Boulevard malls among Chinese restaurants advertising fried chicken. Gunshots echoed in the alleyways and parking lots of run-down nail salons and Mexican meat markets.
The gas station on the corner of Rose once illuminated a mural of a post-apocalyptic jungle, the sea of pines bursting with frenzied wildlife giving way to a clearing of stumps, curving towers of nuclear reactors quietly emanating plumes of smoke on the horizon. Today a glossy clean maze of black and white stripes hides an environmentalist’s outcry beneath thick paint.
The oasis of Whole Foods, its sushi bar and outdoor patio are built on decades of warehouse-sized savings stores—Big Lots, Pic ’N’ Save, once brimming with tchotchkes, frames of stock photo family, gigantic rubber plastic toys, Halloween decorations half a year early. The vagrants who once marauded through the parking lot there now teeter on the neighborhood’s margins, barely hanging on. Many established an unlikely settlement of tents on 3rd—a miniature skid row—within sight of Gjusta Café and Bakery where customers eat $18 banh mis on artfully placed milk-crates.
Once a layer is peeled back, the kaleidoscopic histories ooze out of the cracks here—Venice is a toothless dreadlocked pirate disguised as a socialite who runs an art gallery and presses her own almond milk.
A delicate balance exists between the gentrifiers who move to Venice hoping to experience bohemian charm, if only with reduced crime, and those demanding pristineness and luxury. When Daniel Klöhn received a job offer in 2009 to work in a visual effects studio in Venice, the neighborhood held the kind of chimeric romance of any foreign locale—a combination of parts that seemed too good to be true. In some ways, his illusions held. Venice is still the landscape of dreams portrayed in Lords of Dogtown and Pumping Iron, but few as readily associate it with the violent gangs of American History X or the drug-filled streets of Thirteen.
Klöhn left his former home in London with the same dream of a charming eclectic beach most carry with them to Venice. Now an art director at Apple, he has experienced for himself the reality of a neighborhood that is never quite as anyone imagines it. “I thought Venice is a beautiful and sunny beach town for skaters and artists. Now I know that it is more dangerous than I thought. On the one hand I want that the houses in Venice stay the way they are and not get replaced with giant mansions for millionaires. On the other hand I would like to live in safe neighborhood.” After being a victim of a mugging on Pacific, and fearing for his safety on the boardwalk at night Klöhn’s dreams for Venice turned more pragmatic: “a stronger police presence, privatized security like Lincoln Place…and more food service after 10 PM.”