It was a nice day for a stroll down the boulevard. Along the way we stopped to admire the beautiful clothes in the window at IRO, then over to Claudalie to sample some spa product and at Le Labo we checked out perfume fragrances that can be personalized for him or for her. After that, we dropped by the market to pick up some Fallot Mustard and Savora. By then it was time to go over to Ecole Claire Fontaine to pick up our nièce et neveu.
Paris’ 21st Arrondissement in Venice Beach
Wait, were you thinking we were talking about Paris? I meant we did all of this in Los Angeles! On Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice Beach. So of course, we had to come here to shoot an episode of Finding France!
Venice Beach is one of Los Angeles’ most famous attractions, and just a few blocks from the sand you will find the hip and vibrant street called Abbot Kinney. A few years back GQ Magazine called Abbot Kinney Boulevard “the coolest street in America.” But they didn’t realize that it is also oh-so French!
History of Venice Beach
First let me digress and tell you a bit of Venice’s colorful history. Wealthy tobacco mogul, Abbott Kinney was the visionary developer who turned an investment in a tract of California swamp into great wealth and one of the must-see tourist attractions of the early 1900s. Visitors from everywhere were dazzled by what Kinney built–amazing Venetian-styled structures, a giant amusement pier, with gambling boats offshore, resort hotels featuring heated hot saltwater baths to soothe weary travelers, gourmet restaurants for every taste, ballrooms to dance the night away and shops featuring latest and greatest merchandise in the country.
It was all tied together with a system of canals complete with gondolas, arching bridges and a miniature railroad to shuttle guests from one attraction to the other. He also sold lots to build small vacation bungalows along the canals that were sold out within a matter of months. Kinney said the inspiration for his little paradise came from his European travels as a young man. Of course, for a while he studied and lived in Paris!
However, in 1929 when oil was discovered in Venice, paradise was lost. In the mania to make money during the depression years, the beach and canals ran black with spilled crude. Noxious fumes replaced the smell of the sea while rickety oil wells caught on fire and contaminated smoke blackened the once sunny skies. Venice was annexed by the City of Los Angeles, and the canals were filled in to make roads for automobiles. Old-fashioned homes and infrastructure fell into ruin and the beautiful Venice of America was now nicknamed “The Sewer by the Sea.”
Slowly, over the next 50 years, Venice began to bloom again. The wells were capped, a few canals were saved and more and more people began to discover the charms of the seaside community that Abbot Kinney had imagined so long ago. Interestingly, many French ex-pats from southern France found the small town atmosphere and climate Venice much like home and began to make it home.
During the filming of our episode Finding France: Abbot Kinney the 21st Arrondissement, Leah Walker was struck by the light along the street as we filmed. “Some of the things I love about it here are the colors and the light. It reminds me of Provence.”
Introducing Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Abbot Kinney Boulevard has not always been the name of this street. In fact it came about after a battle royal between various Venice residents and the LA Public Works Committee. Since it was carved out of the marshland the street had always been called Washington Boulevard. In 1990 a group of property owners were tired of all of the confusion with the name because in the nearby area there were too many streets with the name Washington! There was Washington Boulevard, Washington Way, Washington Street and Washington Place. LA City Councilwoman, Ruth Galanter, whose district included Venice, became a key supporter saying it would help emergency services keep the names straight.
But some business owners along the street launched very vocal opposition. They didn’t want to have their businesses disrupted by having to change their stationary, advertising, business forms, etc. Still others joined the opposition claiming the name Abbot Kinney was too ‘upscale’ and would further gentrify the street. The campaign completely stalled when the validity of the signatures gathered by the pro-Kinney forces was called into question. Galanter withdrew her endorsement of the change while the city ‘restudied’ the matter.
Finally the Public Works Committee called for a public hearing. Pro-Kinney activists had ‘pride of history’ on their side while the anti-Kinney side argued inconvenience. Finally the Committee ruled that the zip code in the area would be changed in two years anyway, so business would have to re-do their forms in any case. In their wisdom the Committee ruled both names could be used. The Department of Transportation agreed to post street signs for both names. And they made arrangements with the post office to honor Washington and Abbott Kinney until 1992.
Today, no one even remembers the squabble. Abbott Kinney Boulevard is a mile and a half of popular shops, restaurants and galleries. Great work is being done to keep as many of the eclectic century-old bungalows you can still see that are now squeezed between modern architectural buildings. But what surprised us is just how many of the stores have a French connection!
Watch the Episode
Perhaps it is just that France always seems to find its way into places that draw the curious, the avant-garde, the students, the professionals, the entrepreneurs, the artists and the top-chefs.
So come with us to explore Abbott Kinney Boulevard and find a bit of France along the way. And please check out the other episodes of Finding France. Allez!
Find France for Yourself
Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Venice, CA 90291
1319 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291
1416 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291
1138 Abbott Kinney Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291