The Architecture of the Venice Beach Area of Los Angeles California

Tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney built the canals of the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles, California, as a sun-struck imitation of Venice, Italy. The canals were never meant to carry commerce or trade; they were intended as a symbol of holiday relaxation, and served as a way of draining swampland to make it suitable for building.

Along the water were canal houses, small simple homes oriented towards the waterways, away from the street. Paths lined one side of each canal, and pedestrian bridges linked the paths. Today, most canal houses are gone, often replaced by two or three-storey homes that overfill their lots.

Venice still has other beauties, however. The walk streets lead to the beach, some still lined with simple houses, residents’ cars relegated to alleys behind the small back yards. Windward Avenue, which does allow cars, holds buildings with arched arcades that end at the promenade.

Windward is one entry to Ocean Front Walk, a beachside promenade where cars are not allowed, self-expression rules, and guerrilla capitalism takes the form of fortune tellers, hair braiders, and artists with their goods laid out in the sunshine.

The walk extends north to Santa Monica, and south to Marina del Rey, lined with quaint cafes, public spaces, and with tall beach houses that make the most of their narrow lots and wide sea view. The most expensive homes are here, but in many parts of Venice small condos can cost a million dollars.

The Binoculars Building

The Chiat-Day-Mojo building appears in three sections in Venice, like the name of the ad agency that commissioned it. One is a classic “White” rectangle, an allusion to a recherché architectural style. One consists of gray binoculars, designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, precise in detail, four storeys tall and forming an entry to the parking garage.

The third section is topped by battered columns, evoking the fall of Rome perhaps, or deconstructing deconstruction. Frank Gehry built it in 1991, at 340 Main Street. The advertising agency has moved to Mar Vista, east of Venice, and the building is now leased by Google.

Venice Beach Lofts

Venice has plenty of lofts now, and is sometimes the better for them. These are stucco and corrugated steel, sitting on a concrete deck platform, with concrete floors, steel and grating stairways, and gardens on the flat roofs. Two underground parking slots are supplied per condo, and four guest spaces in the alley.  The principal of the prize-winning architecture firm, Steven Erlich, says, “Venice is a bohemian, eclectic community. It attracts an artistic, free-spirited kind of person. So we could explore ideas of space, volume, and livability without conforming to a certain style.”

The studio of Charles and Ray Eames

They are just warehouses to all appearances, with the address painted on the side of one. Here Charles and Ray Eames invented west coast design, and popularized the Eames chair.

Now, it has been repurposed. It was not enlarged or aggrandized, the spaces are still covered in their original brick, and the address is just as Charles Eames painted it, 901. Frank Israel has played with the space, updated it, perhaps, but without damaging or concealing its history.

Tourists once took the Pacific Electric Train to Venice. They toured the canals by gondola, and rode the miniature railroad. Venice is still a place where people can be free of their cars, even if they live in a mock-loft or modern condo.

Most of the canals are paved now, and much of the ocean front has a self-conscious carnival atmosphere. There are still small homes on the back streets of Venice though, within a walk of the sand.