Visitors to Venice Beach, California, today are more likely to think of early-’80s roller skaters from Xanadu than Venice, Italy. Three quarters of a century before, however, Abbot Kinney’s vision brought a piece of Italy to the Pacific coast in Los Angeles. Replete with gondoliers and Renaissance-style architecture, Kinney’s Venice, as American Tourism contributor J. Philip Gruen demonstrates, was a short-lived cultural experiment that nevertheless set the tone for one of L.A.’s quirkiest neighborhoods. Apart from the Venice Canal Historic District, little of the Venetian influence tempers the sun-drenched stretch of trinket shops and vendor stands. A close inspection turns up the occasional nod to the city on the Adriatic. Bits of the Colonnade have been salvaged, and St. Mark’s Hotel’s neighboring Italian Renaissance building stands today as a hostel, but the hotel in the first postcard image is now (as seen in the Google street view linked below) a strip occupied by a sunglasses stand, bracelet booth, BBQ shish kabob joint, and surfboard rental outlet. Venice Beach today is a place to see people, not to marvel at architecture.

Venice, California, ca. 1905. Detroit Publishing Co. DPC12834. Lake County Discovery Museum.

Venice, California, ca. 1905. Detroit Publishing Co. DPC12833. Lake County Discovery Museum.

Venice, California. Photo courtesy of J. Philip Gruen