Ever wonder what your community was like 100 years ago or more? Was it the same as it is today? An article from a 1906 publication called the Pacific Monthly “a magazine of education and progress” told a story of what is today, the city of Venice California (where I live). I’ve added present-day local photography as a way to revisit it.
Ocean Park, California
Along the shores of Santa Monica Bay, west of the City of Los Angeles, stretches the most beautiful beach in Southern California. The nearest point on this beach to Los Angeles is less than fourteen miles, and at this nearest point lies the rapidly growing city of Ocean Park. The cars of the Pacific Electric Railway carry the tourist and pleasure-seeker to this charming resort in the short space of thirty-five minutes. From the great city, down the sloping green plain, flanked by a great sweep of mountains to the north and low hills to the south, we rush onward on a bright February morning until suddenly we catch sight of gleaming waters and hear the ceaseless roar of the oncoming waves of old Pacific, and we are at Ocean Park.
Where Ocean Park now stretches, there was but a few short years ago a waste of sand, deemed unsuitable for the erection of buildings. Then, somehow, it was discovered that cottages built on this sand would command high rents, and three years ago a tract of this sand was thrown open to the market at prices for ocean frontage of $20 to $40 per front foot. This was the beginning of Ocean Park proper. Today within the corporate limits of this young city reside six thousand happy and prosperous people, and the city still grows with astonishing rapidity. So great has been the struggle for a bit of old ocean that lots along the strand have risen in these three years tenfold, and are now selling as high as $300 per front foot, and the end is not yet.
Ocean Park is a purveyor of amusements. Its chief industry is to entertain. And this is indeed a great and growing industry in Southern California, and a very legitimate one, commanding more and more expenditure of capital, brains and skill. A leading feature in every beach resort is a pleasure pier, around which other attractions are gathered. Ocean Park has two such piers. The largest one is known as the Great Horseshoe Pier, the construction of which was begun in October of last year. As its name indicates, it is in the shape of a horseshoe, having its two ends opening, one on Pier avenue, and the other on Marine avenue. It has a total length of two thousand feet, and is thirty feet wide. You can wander about on this wide highway over the ocean wave and loiter at the booths to examine the curios for sale. If so disposed you may rent fishing tackle at one of those same booths and try your fisherman’s luck by a cast over the sides of the pier. And if your luck is not quite satisfactory, there are real fish you can purchase at this same booth and afterward regale ‘your friends with such story as your conscience will permit. Along the front, between the ends of the pier, is being built at this time the great Horseshoe Pavilion, with a seating capacity of six thousand people. This building is to be substantially and elegantly constructed, and will have amusement features, including a high-grade theater. The cost of the pier and buildings connected will be more than $100,000.
South of the southern entrance to the pier is the handsome new hotel, Decatur, just opened to the public the first of this year. The traveler can sit in its elegant dining room and look out on the giant waves breaking on the shore only a few rods away. South of the hotel, and also facing the ocean, is the magnificent Ocean Park bathhouse, which was dedicated on the 4th of last July.
It is of Moorish architecture, having a handsome covered tower at each corner and a massive dome over the main entrance, surmounted by a gilded crescent. The main entrance and promenade decks are of Mosaic tiling. The parlors and office are constructed of polished hard wood. There is an elegant massage department for women, with eleven artistically equipped rooms. There. is a tub department, with twenty-eight private porcelain tubs and the latest modern appliances. There are two plunges, one surrounding the other in L shape, making together a tank 65×130 feet, and said to be the largest heated plunge in the world. The entire building is brilliantly illuminated. This structure cost $185,000.
Among the amusement attractions of Ocean Park must not be overlooked the Casino, located over the water to the north of the pier, the larger portion of which is devoted to restaurant purposes, though there are many other attractive features. Here is the place to get a fish dinner that will equal the requirements of a seaside appetite.
Location of original Venice Pier – now a skateboard park, field of grass and sand
About three-quarters of a mile south of Horseshoe Pier, along the shore, and still within the corporate limits of Ocean Park, is located the Venice Pier, about which are clustered many unique attractions. The Venice of America which has loomed so large on the horizon for the past year is an integral part of Ocean Park. It would require the full limits of a special article to give an adequate account of even the leading attractions of this wonderful place. But its marvelous development contributed to the upbuilding of the one great resort of Ocean Park.
Venice is patterned after, though not exactly a reproduction of, the famous Italian city. A little back from the shore lay, a short year ago, a low region of sand dunes. The situation suggested to Abbott Kinney, the maker of this American Venice, the idea of canals, to be fed by the ocean like those of old Venice. Accordingly he constructed in this region a series of nine canals, forming a waterway over two miles long, and ranging from forty to seventy feet in width. The canals are lined with concrete, and their floors are covered with layers of clean, white sand. They are connected with the ocean by an immense conduit, so arranged that the water in them is changed twice daily with the tides; the water being admitted at high tide and passing out at low tide. Spanning the canals are numerous artistic bridges, bordered wth palm trees, lawns and flower beds. The land along the canals has been platted and the lots have been sold with the expectation that superb homes will be built there. Gondolas and power launches are to navigate these waters, and they are to be brilliantly lighted with clusters of incandescent lamps. It is expected that when completed Venice will surpass in artistic and novel features any residence district in the world.
The main canal opens out toward the ocean into a huge bathing pool, with a great amphitheater on the shore. Here it is planned to give many novel entertainments. Venice also has its “Trail,” where a number of Oriental shows now hold the stage, and which, with changing attractions, will be a permanent part of the scheme of amusements. From the bathing pool to the beach runs the leading street, Windward Avenue. The buildings along this street have in front, on either side, a row of painted columns, forming with the buildings themselves an arcade. The buildings are uniform in height, of similar architecture, and richly colored in red and gold, and the entire effect is most imposing. At the end of the street, toward the ocean, begins the pier which has been mentioned. On the right of the entrance to the pier is built over the ocean a great exposition hall, containing 45,000 square feet of floor space. Here is to be maintained an art collection from the leading countries of the Orient and Europe.
Further on, along the side of the pier, is perhaps the most unique feature of all this vast collection of novelties, the ship hotel, Cabrillo, resembling a three docked vessel quietly moored in port. It is fashioned to represent the old Spanish galleon Cabrillo, in which California was discovered in 1542. It is a ship, however, that will never sail, as it is built on piling. The main deck is given over to a dining room, kitchen and banquet halls, and the other decks are arranged for promenades, artistic saloons and sleeping rooms. At the opposite side and near to the end of the pier, also built over the water, is the great Auditorium, with a seating capacity of over four thousand, which is used for concerts and entertainments of many varieties. Here we find the largest pipe organ on the Pacific Coast.
Although Ocean Park’s chief business is to supply amusement, it is not simply a resort, but a permanent residential city; a city of homes, churches and schools. It has a well-organized city government which is grappling successfully with the many difficult problems connected with rapid growth. Some of the residence streets are not used for vehicles on account of the sand, but have their wide walks in the center, but many others are being paved, while all the leading business streets are already handsomely paved with asphalt. There is a new and complete system of sewage. The artistic construction of the public buildings seems to have had its influence on private architecture. Not only the more spacious homes of the wealthy, but the numerous and more modest cottages are distinguished by beauty of design. The interiors of the stores are also arranged for artistic effects.
Two daily newspapers, The Journal and The Review, exhibit the enterprise characteristic of the entire community, and are clean, wholesome journals.
On the first day of February of this year the writer found the weather at Ocean Park as warm as a June day in New England, but without any of the sultriness which so often renders summer heat unpleasant in the East. There is no more charming portion of the year in this favored land than the winter months, if indeed this season can properly be called winter. The stimulating breeze, the benignant sky, the great ocean, smiling in perennial summer time, all give the impression of a continuous joy.
While the city of Ocean Park, California no longer exists (today known as Venice), it is reportedly the second most visited tourist destination in Southern California. Disneyland is the first.