The Mauling of the ‘Coolest Street in America’

Or is it malling? It’s both. And it’s bad.

Neon lights and mall glitz is what has now been inflicted on Venice residents’ most important commercial street. Neon.

When avariciousness runs amok, we get what we just got this month: two mall stores normally found at the likes of the Westside Pavilion or the Santa Monica Promenade just opened for business on the street. We’re talking about the huge Adidas and the ubiquitous shiny Smash Box make-up purveyor. It’s not just the newbie property owners bringing in these corporate mall stores. Those owners who used to see themselves as shepherds of the street have succumbed to the big bucks too. That is just a sweet memory now. The syndicators and the money guys have taken over. This is a takeover by the corporate dis-engaged who don’t know or care about the community they have just settled into. Their trash piles up uncontrolled in the alleys, graffiti remains on their newly painted building, and the sidewalks are mucked up with filth. This benign neglect is on every block where you have a dis-engaged corporate operator — donuts, coffee, makes no difference. They are pretty much all the same. We know corporations have no soul. Around here they are blind too.

It is ironic that the Adidas operation opened in the former space of the most local and community-committed restaurant, Hal’s. Smashbox encamped in the old classic Bountiful space. No Venice funky anything in these two operations. No committed anything in these corporate entities — just young beautiful sales people who are here today and will be gone tomorrow. These two, new shiny objects all replace long gone icons. It is stunner. Anyone who still believes there is a chance in this era of the Snapster to retain some, just some, of the authenticity that made Venice a truly unique local town, forget it.

That Venice is over.

Bulldog Realty Goes For It
Abbot Kinney Sinks Further into Parking Quicksand

In front of one of the original Craftsman homes on Abbot Kinney is Bulldog Realty’s Notice of Intent to obtain a Coastal Development Permit. The permit is to demolish and build new. This property represents one of the finer original Craftsman houses on Abbot Kinney built long ago when it was predominantly a residential street. Since it is not an historically designated property, it is likely that the city will permit its demolition. The Intent notices a new 3800 sq. foot office/retail/live/work building with only 2 parking spaces. All of the other required parking spaces are proposed to be supplied ‘virtually’ using ‘In-Lieu’ fees. What the City knows, as does the applicant, the California Coastal Commission will not approve ‘in lieu’ parking as a parking solution in Venice. Period.

Why do applicants go for a CDP when they know it is unlikely to be awarded? And why does the city take the applicant’s fees and push it on through the system when they know the CCC will deny the project? Like practically all applicants attempting to avoid the rules and build to the max, and who figure if they fight, they just might get at least some of what they want. Bulldog is no exception. And the City? We figure it must be the fees paid and the work these projects create for the Planners and the Department of Building and Safety that drives them to process this application for permit.

The real question here is why Bulldog Realty, a long-term upstanding business on the street, is going for a project completely under parked when it could construct a project including all the required parking? There is no other answer to this question other than the simple fact that there is no money in parking. All the value is in habitable spaces and money is what development is about in Venice. While Bulldog is an Abbot Kinney business living daily living with the street’s parking mess, we guess it is nothing personal – it is just another development that has no regard for our critical need for parking nor feels any obligation to try and mitigate it. They just want what they want and the neighborhood and the on-going parking chaos is of little or no concern.

So here we go again, another battle on the horizon. Again, residents will find themselves pushing another rock up the hill to stop the City from approving another project which does not comply with the parking requirements — including the rules at the CCC. Residents are forced to ‘man the barricades’ there too to make sure projects don’t slip through the system. The CCC is the last chance residents get to stop City approved projects which hurt neighborhoods by circumventing rules. The city knows the rules and they know the Coastal Commission will not agree with its ‘virtual’ in lieu parking ‘solution.’ Nevertheless, they approve in lieu parking anyway. Why?

The city uses its ‘discretion’ to approve all kinds of things not really allowed. Why don’t they use that discretionary power to stop bad projects when they know they are bad for a community? City Planning knows how bad the parking situation is in Venice. They know how insufficient the town’s infrastructure is for 21st century demands.

How can we expect any applicant to apply for a permit that is fully compliant with the rules when there are no consistent and true ‘rules of the road’ for everyone? This conflict is the root cause of the endless battles fought against so many projects which caring residents are forced to oppose.

It does not have to be this way.

Where But Here?
Venice — a Grand Salon

Abbot Kinney is packed. It’s hard to pass on the sidewalk with all the baby strollers and the packs of people walking like packs of Golden Retrievers – gorgeous, self-assured, exquisitely coiffed with their very long hair.

Even the packs of tattooed guys in their muscle shirts stroll with the assurance of those at a red carpet event. It’s our Oscars, our Grammys.

You spot a couple of friends with their friend having a glass of wine up on the porch and they invite you up and pour you a glass. You join the conversation. Not twenty minutes pass when three more wave as they are walking by. We all wave and shout out “come up, have a glass of wine.” And they do. Now we are eight.

And, for two hours we watch the world walk by, the boom boxes in hot shot cars take over the street’s sound for a moment. The Harley’s drive by, rev-up announcing their place on the street. Everyone belongs. Those golden retrievers, the rappers with the loud boom box, the tattooed couple, the Harley guys – it’s their street too.

The action is non-stop, never dull as the the eight of us sit up on the front porch on a Sunday afternoon jumping from one subject to another with some grouchie grumbles but mostly endless endless laughing. Living life in a real neighborhood – it’s our Salon.

Being real Venetians is to know the rare camaraderie of belonging.

More Tales from Abbot Kinney
Venetian or Poseur?

The street fills daily with hordes of world tourists who read about it in a guide book in Tokyo or Paris. The street is now a must see attraction. You see them walking the street with their private tour guides. They are in love. Would you have believed that guides would be doing packed walking tours on our little raunchy dirty street? What are they seeing? The couple up on the porch barely raise their eyes as the long line of tourists, cameras in hand snap photos, loving and soaking in all the fabulous ambiance as they amble on by. Excitedly they chatter as they make notes about the excitement and buzz on the street so they can tell their friends back home. The street of the fabulous ones is living up to its guide book description.

Ah, but the real true underbelly of the street is unseen by the happy tourists. What goes on behind the curtain is the real action – only a few get to live that authentic life… the life of a real Venetian

This week a newbie shopkeeper flew out of her shop when she saw a nice big rat in the middle of the shop floor at 2 in the afternoon – a little later she shut the place down for the day. It was all more than she could take. She didn’t know that rats are our neighbors around this place – it could even have been a pet of the very private guy who works next door. Who knows? We locals don’t snoop. Or, it could have been one of the tough ones who know not to snack at the ‘rat box’ right at the front door of the Other Room. It would be his last supper.

The newcomer just didn’t know. No one told her. She’s never watched a rat commit suicide when it fell out of a palm tree 30 feet to the ground. That long-time owner didn’t run to the trendy shoe shop next door for help – but simply grabbed one of those near extinct plastic Ralph’s bags while she convinced her dog that it was not his new plush toy. In time, our newbie will keep right on writing that order for a $200 t-shirt – no matter what.

What the newbie does know is that the street is cool. Newbies know it costs nearly $15 bucks a foot to dwell among the true Venetians and they are really grateful to pay it. They know their trendy clients won’t be able to find a parking place They know that’s the price of just being here. Others are so anxious to find their perfect place on the street that they stalk the shops of tenants whose leases are expiring!

Adapting to the extremes of the street will take a little time. But once it dawns on the recently arrived that the abnormal is the normal around here and embrace it, they will begin to become a real Venetian.

What Have We Become?
More Tales from Abbot Kinney

One guy recently defending an enormous proposed project on OFW proclaimed we were all going to be ‘left behind’ if it was not approved. Left behind? The question is “what is Venice left with right now? What is Abbot Kinney now?” It is not the authentic, funky and a little raunchy street it once was. Can Abbot Kinney ever reclaim some semblance of the distinct and real place it was? It was a street like no other in LA. Our Abbot Kinney was put on the world map when GQ named it ‘the coolest block in America.’ GQ would never anoint our little street the coolest anything if they saw it now. Cool is over. Authentic is done and gone.

Real, eccentric, unique, weird, grungy and annoying, Abbot Kinney has been hanging by its fingertips to that image for a couple of years now. It just finally dropped into the abyss of nothing special. No, it was not everyone’s ‘special.’ Those drawn to Venice because it was not like the rest of the Westside, now find themselves living exactly where they didn’t want to live: Aspen is what we have become. That is the new Venice. Just thinking Aspen kind of gives you shiver doesn’t it?… but we need to face it. We have indeed become Aspen.

Between losing 3000 housing units to the ‘sharing economy’ and its short-term rental industry, we are now writing epitaphs for our wonderful, a bit decrepit non-trendy gay bar, the Roosterfish — and the best restaurant the street has ever housed, Joe’s is soon to close. International companies are replacing local shop owners at a lightening pace.
Now the Googleites and Snapchatters who think The Grove has a sense of place, determine our new normal. Every vegan or vegetarian restaurant that opens make the unique street more homogeneous. We have become a mere shadow of our former self. People now walk down the street carrying $40 boxes of donuts to their offices and think they are living the real Venice life. Those $40 boxes of donuts are our new normal.

The Butcher’s Daughter, the NYC offspring, is packed to the gills. Just being there is what is important — not designed for lingering, coffee cups aren’t refilled at breakfast as patrons are lining up for avocado toast. Price is no object. Turnover fast. There is no ‘hanging’ on Abbot Kinney any longer. Remember when we used to linger over lunch or dinner?

There’s still not a french fry to be had on the street and hamburgers are now totally extinct.

We remain, searching for a BLT on Abbot Kinney.

An Embarrassment of Riches
… Searching for a BLT on Abbot Kinney (continued)

Donut Star opens with CBS news coverage… Salt & Straw the hippest of ice cream shops out of Portland, readies its arrival in Venice.

And now Granola Bitch which Google says is founded by a ‘holistic food coach’ has twittered its coming entree on to the street of the fabulous.

Fala Bar just opened. It’s another Vegan place. There is a little irony with this one: it replaces Pork Belly BBQ!

We are the new Aspen.

Who would have thought that this off-of-center street where owners actually ran their stores, would morph into the new must-be place for the retail world’s corporate rich.
The new shops are staffed with very young gorgeous blonds – who won’t be there in six months.

But, the truly amazing fact of all this excitement of our ‘new new’ is that these shops are opening with a secret weapon… they don’t care if they make a profit. Rents are running around $12+ a foot now and you’ll need to sell lots of ice cream cones and donuts to turn that bottom line black. Maybe they will.

$6 donuts, $5 artisanal coffee, $10 smoothies, $12 juices, faux bacon, casual cashmere and one organic shop after the other pops up and still not a damn BLT offered on the street!

Corporations are not people.

ImagineVenice

In a blink of an eye

…the historical character of a building is obliterated.

That’s what just happened on Abbot Kinney.

A new brand, marketing ‘casual cashmere’ clothing to our new eliterati punched the street in the nose the other day with each stroke of its paint brush. A paint brush loaded with the whitest, glossiest white paint coated one of the streets oldest original brick buildings — three coats thick.

The new wonder brand and its vision is a progeny of Lululemon money. Its website is so slick and young and so fresh it takes your breath away. They are here to soak up the street’s coolness — and rake in the dough.

What this brand doesn’t have, in all its fabulousness, is a respect for its good fortune.
How was it possible they did not want to just lovingly enhance Sunya Currie’s amazing historic building and feel practically blessed they got the lease.

These visionaries are the ones you hear extolling the fabulous ‘sense of place’ they feel here — just like they experience at The Grove! They see Abbot Kinney as a cool image-builder while they destroy its cultural and historic persona. That unique persona is what made the street so special but they don’t see anything but dollar signs.

Welcome to the neighborhood Kit and Ace.

Now please put your paint brush away.

 

Our Own Abbot Kinney Tsunami

So many construction projects are underway right now on Abbot Kinney that the only way to give you a picture of what we are becoming is to list them.

El Vino was replaced by Portland’s beloved and almost ready to open Blue Star Donuts.

Cuyana out of San Francisco has opened a pop-up shop in the old Juicy Leaf space.

Juicy Leaf moved down the street into a former woman’s clothing store.

The Butcher’s Daughter restaurant is under major construction in the former Local 1205.

Salt & Straw (again from Portland) will be opening in the old Casa Linda location.

Casa Linda and a Mini-Hal’s are moving into the Primitivo space.

Vince, the chain, opened their two stores this past weekend. One of the stores was to be occupied by Mini T’s.

Luxury cashmere clothing shop Kit and Ace is under construction in the Sunya Currie building.

Topo Ranch is gone. New tenant not yet known.

Current Elliott is opening in the Jack Spade space.

Industry of All Nations has opened in old A & R Space.

Jewelry store to open in LFrank location.

Sweaty Betty out of UK to open in Mona Moore Space.
 

We Try Again – A Parking Solution for Our Council Member’s Consideration

Everyone knows that Abbot Kinney is in desperate need of parking. Parking is not only for the patrons who shop and eat on the street but no one is focusing on all of the employees and general workers on the street who are forced to park all day in adjacent residential streets.

Some time back, ImagineVenice proposed a parking solution to former Council member Rosendahl. It was met with silence. Here we go, with another shot at it:

We propose a reversal of course with the ‘Centennial Park’ property. While the idea of a park in Venice was doubtless an immediate ‘yes,’ no one really gave enough consideration to who would actually use this park on the medium strip on Venice Boulevard. We have had years to observe that families do not take their kids to play in this park because it is too dangerous for the children. With traffic whizzing by on both sides of the park parents can’t let their children run free and explore. Because it is located in an unfriendly location, you rarely see any local resident relaxing, reading a book and enjoying a bit of green space with all the traffic noise. Transients find its emptiness attractive. Right at this moment, community members are getting approval to refurbish the tired landscaping in this park. We propose a U-turn before more money is spent on a mostly unused park. While a noble idea the park has not panned out to be a good one.

ImagineVenice proposes again that the median strip be re-graded, paved, gates installed and dedicated entirely to employee parking. Vendors could subsidize any monthly costs for their employees. And, best of all, this solution takes the parking space hunting pressure off the employee and returns the residential streets to the residents.

We hope our council member will give this simple parking solution serious consideration. It would solve many parking problems around here and it is not a mega-expensive project. It would make truly efficient use of pretty useless land.

Our next edition will re-visit the proposal for re-activation of the old Venice Historical Society’s shuttle to run on weekends in a loop between Venice Boulevard to Rose Avenue with the shuttle stop at the Westminster School parking lot.

Searching for a BLT on Abbot Kinney

Have you noticed? On our street of the cool and fabulous you now can buy a pair of Fluevogs (their website says they are ‘divine’) or pick up a fabulous Italian pair from Floretini & Baker out of Bologna. You can buy up a pair of Illesteva sunglasses (you’ll build them yourself to be your heart’s desire) and then walk on up the street to IVO where you can pull all this style together by slipping into that snappy sundress that sold real well at their Paris boutique. What you can’t do, is slip into a comfy booth, settle in, and order a BLT!

Vegetarian and Vegan is the new cuisine around here now. This must be what the cool people eat. It must be the new wave Millennial cuisine. They tweaked Feed a little to save it and brought in real food and dumped that $10 bowl of granola — but that did not stem the vegetarian tide. Kreation is serving seriously healthy and seriously expensive food and Axe is being replaced with a cool vegetarian spot. And opening soon, direct from NYC, is the offspring of The Butcher’s Daughter cafe; a vegetarian and vegan hip restaurant serving $9 glasses of carrot and orange juice in a super cool, highly styled environment by a famous designer. She, no doubt, will interpret our Venice vibe into the new new. At this moment, the old Local 1205 is being built into a grand emporium of healthy cool food. This place is big. They are planning on making a major impact in Venice to fill this building… and there is not a hamburger in sight.

What will the rest of us eat?