LA Neighborhoods: Venice Beach
Venice is a residential, commercial, and recreational beachfront neighborhood on the west end of Los Angeles. It’s known as an “artsy” community and it has gone from being a major tourist attraction to being considered the “slum by the sea” to a top tourist attraction once again. However, in recent years long term locals feel that skyrocketing rents and housing costs coupled with the ingress of unwanted corporate headquarters and interests have made it a less than desirable place to live. Here is what you need to know if you are thinking about moving to Venice.
Venice as an Artistic Community
Venice is known as a hangout for creative and artistic types, perhaps owing to its having been a center for the Beat generation in the 1950s and 1960s. There was an explosion of poetry and art. Major participants included Stuart Perkoff, John Thomas, Frank T. Rios, Tony Scibella, Lawrence Lipton, John Haag, Saul White, Robert Farrington, Philomene Long, and Tom Sewell.
In the 1970s, prominent performance artist Chris Burden created some of his early, groundbreaking work in Venice. Other notable artists who maintained studios in the area include Charles Arnoldi, Jean-Michel Basquiat, John Baldessari, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, James Georgopoulos, Dennis Hopper, and Ed Ruscha.
In the 1980s and 1990s Venice Beach became a mecca for street performing turning it into a tourist attraction that rivaled many of southern California’s other destinations. Chainsaw jugglers, acrobats and comics like Michael Colyar were seen on a daily basis. Many performers like the Jim Rose Circus got their start on the boardwalk.
Venice is also the birthplace of the legendary rock band The Doors. The Doors have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and are considered one of the greatest rock groups of all time, with Jim Morrison being considered one of the greatest rock frontmen. It was also the birthplace of another legendary rock band, Jane’s Addiction, in the 1980s.
Venice as a Tourist Attraction
Venice Beach and the Venice Beach Fishing Pier which receive millions of visitors a year, has been labeled as “a cultural hub known for its eccentricities” as well as a “global tourist destination.” It attracts an estimated 30,000 people to the boardwalk and adjacent area each day. The Boardwalk, also known as Ocean Front Walk, is the second most-visited destination in Southern California, with an average of over ten million visitors per year.
The Venice Beach Boardwalk extends over two miles and hosts hundreds of street vendors and performers along with numerous restaurants and food venues. The walk is a lively show of street performers, Muscle Beach, the handball courts, the paddle tennis courts, Skate Dancing plaza, the numerous beach volleyball courts, the bike trail and kitschy shops.
There is also the Venice Beach fishing pier, a world renowned skate plaza, bike path and two children’s play areas. Venice Beach has also been selected to host skateboarding and 3×3 basketball during the 2028 Summer Olympics.
Just off the beach is the beautiful Venice Canals District where luxury homes line canals that remain from Venice founder Abbot McKinney’s “Venice of America”. Tourists also flock to the canals to enjoy the peaceful scene and the beautiful homes reflecting in the waters.
So What is the Problem?
With all of the great tourist attractions in such an artistic community, why do we only give it a so so rating as a place to live and why do many long term locals feel it is time to move elsewhere?
One is traffic congestion. Venice has some of the narrowest streets in Los Angeles. It was never built to handle the high volume of traffic created by the heavy influx of tourists. Another is that the very efforts to keep Venice the charming artistic community that it once was backfired. In a premium area to live, construction of new homes and multi-unit dwellings has been limited. The result is some the highest rents to be found in Los Angeles.
In just the last few years, Venice has become one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Per Zillow, it is the seventh most expensive neighborhood for buying a home. The median home value of $1,578,200 comes in just behind the Hollywood Hills, though this is considerably cheaper than Manhattan Beach. The rental situation is much worse. ApartmentList.com states that the average rental price of a two-bedroom apartment in Venice is $4,900 a month, with other sources placing it at over $6,000 per month. More expensive than upscale neighborhoods such as Westwood, Santa Monica, Brentwood, Hollywood Hills and even Bel-Air.
Venice locals also look with disdain at the “corporatization” of Venice. Two main issues are said to have ruined the quality of life in the beach town.
The first is the arrival of two high tech corporations. Google and Snap Inc., aka Snapchat. Both corporations, which profit to the tune of billions by harvesting and selling every scrap of personal and private information they can gather on individuals, corporations and governments (sometimes by illegal methods) are yet very protective of their own information and business methods. In a town that prides itself on its community spirit, and openness, Venetians feel the tech giants have alienated the community. Venetians see them as secretive, aloof, downright unfriendly and even evil.
Google leased 100,000 square feet in Venice in 2011. Snapchat followed in 2015. Snapchat, in particular is disliked by the locals. As reported in Bloomberg, it’s hard to find anyone in Venice that will say something nice about Snap. The article notes that residents feel their expansion methods are sneaky, they are antisocial and in general residents feel they are “bad people.”
Snap, Inc. started it’s Venice operation in a small house on the boardwalk with about 8 employees and then rapidly grew to over 1000 employees, taking over properties, parking and ruining quality of life in Venice. Venice is largely a community of footpaths, single-family homes, narrow streets and canals. There’s no room for a large corporate campus so Snap Inc. has been quietly leasing and buying little buildings all over town and the beach. Venetians find the clusters of tight lipped Snap employees with security badges clipped to their belt loops slipping into unmarked buildings with a security guard in front and the shades drawn all over town disturbing and unwelcome in the otherwise friendly community.
Venice has also been particularly hard hit by another “digital disruption” – the replacement of long term rental properties and rent controlled apartments by Airbnb short term rentals. A 2015 study by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy found that as many as 12.5 percent of all housing units in Venice have become Airbnb units, all without public approval.
The impact of removing thousands of housing units from a community where housing is already in short supply and regulations stifle construction of new multi-unit dwellings has been seen in soaring housing costs and another blow to the town’s sense of community. A resident who is now surrounded by properties that have become Airbnb rentals said she doesn’t know who is coming and going in the houses, who is parking illegally in her space, and what kind of people they are and she yearns for “real neighbors”.
The Bright Side
Venice is a beautiful, colorful and diverse seaside town that will spark your artistic spirit. Whether you’re looking for a dream tattoo, a fine dining experience or a work of art you will find it in Venice. Funky shops line the Venice Boardwalk, and Abbott Kinney Boulevard, features foodie hot spots, stylish boutiques and coffee bars. Whatever your favorite cuisine, you’ll find it reflects the flair and nonconformity that makes up Venice’s culture of adventure. From five-star Mexican and Asian-fusion fare to mind-blowing all-day breakfasts and gourmet ice cream, there’s something for every gourmet taste bud.
And when you are not around the “tight-lipped corporate types” that have descended on the town, the locals are some of the friendliest people to be found in the greater Los Angeles area.
The 2000 U.S. census counted 37,705 residents in the 3.17-square-mile Venice neighborhood, an average of 11,891 people per square mile, about the norm for Los Angeles. In 2008, Venice estimated that the population had increased to 40,885. The median age for residents was 35, considered the average for Los Angeles; the percentages of residents aged 19 through 49 were among the county’s highest.
The ethnic breakdown was 64.2 % Non-Hispanic White, 21.7% Latino 21.7%; 5.4 % African American; 4.1% Asian, 4.1%, and 4.6% of other origins. About 22.3% of residents had been born abroad, a relatively low figure for Los Angeles; Mexico (38.4%) and the United Kingdom (8.5%) were their most common places of birth.
The median yearly household income in 2008 dollars was $67,647, a high figure for Los Angeles, but extremely low in relationship to Venice housing costs. The percentage of households earning $125,000 was considered high for the city. The average household size of 1.9 people was low for both the city and the county. Renters occupy 68.8% of the housing units.
Venetians are well educated. Forty-nine percent of Venice residents aged 25 and older had earned a four-year degree by 2000, a high figure for both the city and the county. The percentages of residents of that age with a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree was considered high for the county.
Venice has 7 primary and secondary schools with test score ratings ranging from a 3 to an 8. One of the highest rated schools is Broadway Elementary School, which has a rating of 8.
In terms of housing, Venice has always been an odd mix. It’s a low-rise neighborhood of tiny parcels, canals and slender walk streets. Homes range from small, older bungalows to large luxury mansions on the Venice Canals. The median home value in Venice is $1,888,253. Venice home values have gone up 9.5% over the past year and Zillow predicts they will rise 4.2% within the next year. The median list price per square foot in Venice is $1,157, which is higher than the Los Angeles average of $486. The median price of homes currently listed in Venice is $2,124,000 while the median price of homes that sold is $1,580,300. The median rent price per Zillow in Venice is $6,272, which is higher than the Los Angeles median of $3,434. That said, it doesn’t mean you can’t find a good deal on rent or housing. It just won’t be easy.
As for crime, the overall crime rate in Venice is 55% lower than the national average and it is considered safer than 66% of cities in California. For every 100,000 people, there are 3.5 daily crimes that occur in Venice.
Early History of Venice
Venice was founded in 1905 as a seaside resort town by tobacco millionaire Abbot McKinney. His intent – to create a replica in America of the Italian city by the same name – is still seen in the city today. He and his partner Francis Ryan had bought two miles of oceanfront property south of Santa Monica in 1891. They first built a resort town on the north end of the property, called Ocean Park, which was soon annexed to Santa Monica. After Ryan died, Kinney began to build a seaside resort like the namesake Italian city on the southern end.
Kinney dug several miles of canals for his residential neighborhood and when Venice of America opened on July 4, 1905, it also had a 1,200-foot-long pleasure pier with an auditorium, ship restaurant, and dance hall, and built a block-long arcaded business street with Venetian architecture.
The town then had a population of 3,119 people and drew over 50,000 tourists on the weekends, arriving on the “Red Cars” of the Pacific Electric Railway. Attractions on the Kinney Pier became more amusement-oriented by 1910, when a Venice Miniature Railway, Aquarium, Virginia Reel, Whip, Racing Derby, and other rides and game booths were added. (Originally there were three piers in Venice and the Kinney Pier (currently the Venice Pier) was once grander than today’s Santa Monica Pier.)
Venice of America was annexed into Los Angeles in 1926, at which point it began to decay as a tourist attraction and seaside community. The city disliked the canals and many of them were filled in with concrete. Then oil was discovered in Venice in 1929 and the beachfront property was soon covered with hundreds of oil wells. While this provided much needed income to the community during the Great Depression, the canals and waters were soon clogged with drilling wastes.
The city of Los Angeles neglected Venice so badly that, it came to be known as the “Slum by the Sea” by the 1950s. Low rents for run-down bungalows attracted predominantly European immigrants and young counterculture artists, poets, and writers. The Beat Generation hung out at the Gas House on Ocean Front Walk and at Venice West Cafe on Dudley. Police raids were frequent during that era.
Gang activity also erupted in Venice between the fifties and seventies The Venice Shoreline Crips and the Latino Venice 13 (V-13) were the two main gangs. V13 dates back to the 1950s, while the Shoreline Crips were founded in the early 1970s, making them one of the first Crip sets in Los Angeles. In the 1990s V-13 and the Shoreline Crips were involved in a fierce battle over crack cocaine sales territories.
It was the artists and poets of the seventies and the street performers of the eighties that returned Venice to its former status as a popular tourist attraction, not so much an efforts on the part of the city. And by 2002 increased police pressure and gentrification helped to reduce the number gang members.
Should You Move to Venice?
If the home you are looking at is on one of the Venice Canals, then, yes, do it! Provided you can handle the stream of tourists on the walk in front of your home… though the tourist traffic is very light here compared to the boardwalk along the beachfront homes.
Otherwise, consider it carefully. With the influx of large tech companies, Venice is changing. It will start changing even more to handle the anticipated crowds for it’s portion of the 2028 Summer Olympics.
While the city is becoming more corporate and commercial, it still clings tightly to its heritage as a quaint artistic hangout and a seaside resort town.
Venice is a very different place to live and our recommendation is that if you are considering buying a home in Venice that you spend some time to get to know the community first. Get to really know it. Consider renting space in one of the Airbnbs (gasp) for a few days. Shop, get out in town and meet people, see how well you endure the traffic jams and the extreme influx of tourists into the area each day.
You will either love or hate the Venice lifestyle. There is no middle ground. Decide which then sign or shred that new home contract.