Venice Beach: at the crossroads of cinema and rock and roll

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While Venice Beach is officially a neighborhood in Los Angeles, this enclave is actually like a city within a city. Named after Venice in Italy, also home to canals, Venice has long been the object of celebrity envy. Many directors who have made films and serials there
Reality/Fiction Venice

While Venice Beach is officially a neighborhood in Los Angeles, this enclave is actually like a city within a city. Named after Venice in Italy, also home to canals, Venice has long been the object of celebrity envy. Numerous directors have shot films and series there, while the neighborhood has seen the birth of authentic rock and roll and pop culture phenomena.

Venice Beach Canals
Venice Channels by Gilles Rolland.

Once upon a time Venice. It was while visiting Venice, Italy, that curator and naturalist Abbot Kinney fell under the spell of the famous canals. Back home, in Los Angeles, he decides to reproduce them, or at least a part of them, near Santa Monica. The year was 1906. The presence of the canals, located behind the waterfront, soon attracted tourists. The latter can also enjoy nice barge rides, between the houses that developers are building on the banks.

Venice Beach Boardwalk
Venice Beach Boardwalk by Marion Rolland.

A neighborhood of stars

Much like Greenwich Village in New York, Venice seems to be a place for creativity. Far from the noisy downtown Los Angeles, it attracts, like Laurel Canyon, on the heights, musicians, writers and other artists. Over the years, many people have taken up residence there, including Julie Roberts, Nicolas Cage, John Frusciante, the guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Robert Downey Jr. or of course Dennis Hopper. The legendary director of the classic Easy Rider died on May 29, 2010.

Venice and the Doors

Among the stars was Jim Morrison, whose words now adorn a sculpture on the edge of the beach. It is indeed here that the man who was nicknamed the Lizard King settled when he arrived in California, in order to attend film school at UCLA. Where he met Ray Manzarek, the future keyboardist of the Doors.

If Venice is popular with artists, it’s not just because of its privileged location. No, because in Venice in the 1950s and 1960s, you could get a place to live for almost nothing. Jim Morrison lived in an apartment at 14 Westminster Avenue. He also lived for a while with Ray Manzarek and his fiancée Dorothy. It was on Venice Beach, at the memorial erected in his name, that Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek founded the Doors, inspired by Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception. Many years later, Oliver Stone returned to the site to shoot the introductory scenes of the Doors biopic, starring Val Kilmer.

To understand the music of the Doors is to understand Venice Beach. Here where the group rehearsed for the first time. Not to mention room 205 of the Ellison Suites, one of the most famous hotels in the area, where Jim Morrison often met his girlfriend Pamela Courson. The Venice West Café, one of the nerve centers of the Beat Generation, where Jim Morrison liked to come and read, is now an Italian restaurant.

The Doors played together for the first time at Turkey Joint West. A place now known as The King’s Head. This is where the story of the combo really began, before moving on to the Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood, where the Doors became famous almost immediately.

Jim Morrison Mural

If Jim Morrison was born in Florida, it is in California that he became a pure rock star, galvanized by the heterogeneous atmosphere of Venice Beach at least as much as by the talent of his comrades in arms. On the beach, the municipality also wanted to pay tribute to the Doors by placing a kind of stele on which are written these few lines of Jim Morrison: “Now the soft parade has soon begun. Cool pools from a tired land sink now in the peace of evening.” Words leaning against the ocean, located not far from the magnificent mural representing the band’s leader in one of his most iconic poses, on Ocean Front Walk. Jim Morrison is the sixth rock star to join the ill-fated Club of 27, after Robert Johnson, Brian Jones, Alan Wilson, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

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Logically, Jim Morrison drew much of his inspiration from Venice Beach. The song Soul Kitchen, for example, was born at a table at Olivia’s, a restaurant the poet loved. Unfortunately, today, the gargote no longer exists. It has been replaced by the ZJ Boarding House, a surf store.

Any good pilgrimage to Venice Beach, concerning the Doors at least, must pass through the magnificent mural of Jim Morrison, on the wall of 1811 Ocean Front Walk. Signed by the artist Rip Cronk in 1991, it has since changed color from blue to orange, and matches perfectly with the one of Arnold Schwarzenegger, located right in front of it. What is the relationship between the two men? Venice Beach of course!

Venice Beach Memorial
Venice Beach Memorial by Marion Rolland.

Venice Hardcore

Marked by the influence of the Doors and in particular that of Jim Morrison, Venice Beach saw, years later, the emergence of bands from the hardcore scene. Combos like Suicidal Tendencies, of the furious Mike Muir, and of course Infectious Groove, a side-project of the same Mike Muir in which also officiated Robert Trujillo, bass player in both formations. A mural, admittedly less elaborate than Jim Morrison’s, now stands as a marker not far from the boardwalk.

Suicidal Tendencies
Suicidal Tendecies on stage by Selbymay. Wikimedia.

A reminder that if Venice Beach has long attracted artists and continues to make the eyes of tourists, the neighborhood also has its dark side. The history of Suicidal Tendencies and Mike Muir in particular, a regular at the beach’s skate parks, can attest to the fact that Venice saw the birth of a considerable number of gangs between the 1950s with Venice V13, and the early 2000s.

Since then, gentrification has taken its toll and most of them have moved to Inglewood. Gentrification has led to a significant rise in rents and an increase in the number of homeless people. Crime has not completely disappeared from the neighborhood and encourages, at night in any case, and in particular places, the utmost caution.

The neighborhood of Arnold the magnificent

When he decided to cross the Atlantic from his native Austria to join his mentor Joe Weider, Arnold Schwarzenegger took up residence in Venice at the legendary Gold’s Gym. This is where he earns his stripes, between the gym itself and the Muscle Beach Gym, a set of weight machines set up on the beach.

Muscle Beach Venice
Muscle Beach Venice by Gilles Rolland.

Gold’s Gym is then located at 1006 Pacific Avenue. The sign is still visible today. The club has since moved to nearby 360 Hampton Drive. Epicenter of bodybuilding, Gold’s Gym has seen the emergence of many champions, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but also Franco Columbu and Lou Ferrigno, the future Incredible Hulk of the TV series.

Former Gold's Gym Venice
Venice Beach former Gold’s Gym by Gilles Rolland.

The open-air room of the beach also had its parade of stars. It was here, for example, that Danny Trejo came to train when he was still defying the law, before becoming a professional actor and the interpreter of the taciturn Machete.

Gold’s Gym is still the former Terminator’s favorite place to train. Arnold Schwarzenegger has helped shape the identity of the neighborhood, with the strength of his arms, but not only. During a walk posted on his YouTube channel, the Governator recalled the places that marked his history, not far from the Gold’s Gym. It was in these streets, for example, that he started his masonry business with his friend and associate Franco Columbu, in order to make ends meet. Some of their achievements are still visible.

Venice Beach Gold's Gym
Gold’s Gym Venice Beach Los Angeles by Marion Rolland.
Fresco Arnold Schwarzenegger Venice Beach
Fresco Arnold Schwarzenegger by Gilles Rolland.

Venice Beach in movies and television

Particularly conducive to filming, with its beach very characteristic of California, the neighborhood of Venice Beach has been used as a setting for a large number of feature films and series. Even video games could not ignore it. This is how you can walk around in GTA 5.

Venice Beach Playground
Venice Beach Playground by Gilles Rolland.

One of the most famous films to exploit Venice Beach is Ron Shelton’s White Men Can’t Jump, starring Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes. Telling the story of how two street basketball players team up to run scams, the feature was filmed in part on the playgrounds of Venice Beach. Basketball courts, moreover, built for the needs of the film, still in place today, in a section of the seaside dedicated to outdoor activities. Discreet, the work of street art dedicated to the film allows it to be anchored a little more in the great history of the neighborhood.

White Men can't jump
White Men can’t jump. All rights reserved: 20th Century Fox.

The Venice channels have also shone on television in Californication for example. It is here that Hank Moody, the character played by David Duchovny walks with his daughter several times throughout the seasons.

The restaurant where Keanu Reeves has his coffee at the beginning of Speed, before witnessing the bus explosion in the street, is the Firehouse Restaurant, at 213 Rose Avenue. A location not far from the former home of Dennis Hopper, the villain in the film, at 330 Indiana Avenue.

Venice Beach is full of small restaurants. On The Waterfront Café, at 205 Ocean Front Walk remains one of the most popular because of its appearance in Million Dollar Baby, when Hilary Swank is working.

It was also in Venice that John Carpenter shot his film Assault on Precinct 13, at the police station at 685 North Venice Boulevard, Pisani Place. Not to mention the promenade, where many works take place, such as I love you Man, with Jason Segel and Paul Rudd and Falling Down, the Joel Schumacher classic, with Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall.

Home of surfers in search of the endless summer, a city marked by its discrepancies and contradictions, a land of psychedelic rock and roll and excess, Venice Beach is one of the most exciting summaries of Los Angeles as it has been portrayed in pop culture for years. And if the neighborhood has changed a lot since the emergence of the Doors or Arnold Schwarzenegger, like many other places marked by music, cinema or literature, the legends have nonetheless left their lasting mark. Like an invitation to follow them through time, along the magnificent canals or closer to the great Pacific.

Venice Beach Sunset
Venice Beach Sunset by Gilles Rolland.

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By Gilles Rolland

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Passionné de cinéma, de rock and roll, de séries TV et de littérature. Rédacteur de presse et auteur des livres Le Heavy Metal au cinéma, Paroles de fans Guns N' Roses, Paroles de fans Rammstein et Welcome to my Jungle : 100 albums rock et autres anecdotes dépareillées. Adore également voyager à la recherche des lieux les plus emblématiques de la pop culture.

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