By Helga Gendell
Given all of the discussions regarding Marina del Rey’s purpose as a small craft harbor for boating and recreation, The Argonaut has decided to look at an historical analysis of the Marina to inform the public how, when and for what purpose the Marina was created, as well as identify the individuals involved in the process.
This is Part I of the history of Marina del Rey.
All of the following historical information is cited from “The Urban Marina: Managing and Developing Marina del Rey,” by Marsha V. Rood and Robert Warren of the Center for Urban Affairs Sea Grant Program and published by USC.
In 1887 M.C. Wicks, a real estate speculator, invested $300,000 to develop the Playa del Rey estuary into a major commercial harbor, but he went bankrupt three years later.
At the turn of the century, Abbot Kinney, the cigarette millionaire who later developed Venice of America with an extensive system of canals immediately north of Playa del Rey, was the most active supporter of a harbor at the inlet.
Kinney modeled his development, which was founded in 1905, after Venice, Italy. The area was subject to periodic flooding which Kinney believed could be prevented by construction of a harbor in the low-lying marsh lands extending from Venice on the north to the Del Rey Hills on the south.
Kinney and his engineer were the only participants at a US Corps of Engineers hearing in 1916 on local improvements to present arguments for a commercial harbor at the site. (At that time, Corps authority was limited to commercial harbor improvements).
Kinney’s testimony emphasized that a harbor at Playa del Rey Inlet would provide greater protection for fishing and commercial small craft than Los Angeles Harbor and it was closer to downtown Los Angeles than the existing harbor. No federal action was taken.
The concept of a harbor at the inlet wasn’t revived until the 1930s, when in a 1932 amendment to the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1902, Congress expanded the term “commerce” to include “Öthe use of waterways by seasonal passenger craft, yachts, houseboats, fishing boats, motor boats and other similar water craft whether or not operated for hireÖ”
This expanded definition of commerce, combined with a natural disaster in 1933, the flooding of Ballona Creek, stirred local interest.
Members of the Venice Commercial Board and the Bay Cities Property Owners and Boaters Pledge League wrote to Congressman John Dockweiler advocating harbor improvements to the creek to prevent future flooding.
Subsequently, Dockweiler introduced a bill to establish a harbor at Playa del Rey Inlet.
Sen. Hiram Johnson later supported the bill and, as a result, the Senate Commerce Committee ordered a hearing to investigate whether improvements were warranted.
The hearing was held in Venice by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles district office in July 1936, with 123 people attending, largely representing realtors, commercial interests, chambers of commerce and boat owners.
The hearing officer reiterated the requirement that the proposed improvement should provide national as well as local benefits.
Accordingly, representatives from the Venice Commercial Board, Culver City, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, and other organizations all stressed the importance of the harbor for jobs, flood control, and recreation, as well as the future significance of the harbor to national defense.
Dockweiler addressed this latter point in his testimony at the hearing, where he cited recent naval reports of Japanese fishing vessels that had been spotted off the coasts of Hawaii and California.
In view of these circumstances, he suggested that the small private crafts be viewed as naval militia that could be dispersed at facilities up and down the coast, not just at Los Angeles Harbor.
Taggart Aston, engineering consultant to the Culver City Chamber of Commerce, Harbor and Defense Committee, made the only specific proposal concerning a recreational harbor at Playa del Rey Inlet.
He asked the Corps to consider constructing an outer breakwater harbor at Venice and two 40-acre yacht and small boat basins off Ballona Creek near Culver City at a total cost of $1,412,000.
Aston’s proposal also designated the south side of Ballona Creek for a park and residential area with industry to be developed on the north side.
Aston noted that it was an “ideal site” for the Pan-American Transoceanic Terminal, a proposed hydroplane terminal base for the United States.
From the comments made concerning the proposal, it appeared that the Los Angeles city, county and federal officials agreed with Aston’s basic idea for a recreational harbor and park at Playa del Rey Inlet.
Representative Leland Ford of the 16th Congressional District stated that it seemed to be a “natural spot” for a harbor and that the inclusion of a park could make it into a “Öminiature Golden Gate Park for the people of Los Angeles CountyÖ”.
J.A. Mellen of the Regional Planning Commission reported that the commission was “highly in favor” of all possible recreational and commercial facilities in the area.
Lindsay Dickey of the Los Angeles City Playground Commission stated that an outdoor swimming pool was needed in the project because the Venice area lacked adequate recreational facilities.
Only one person objected to a harbor development in the area. Mrs. Edwin S. Fuller, conservation director of the National Audubon Society in Inglewood, claimed that 40 or 50 acres were needed at Playa del Rey Inlet for the 73 species of birds in the area.
She objected to the harbor because the associated industrial uses would drive out birds inhabiting the north side of the inlet.
Environmental issues, however, were not among those the Corps was authorized to consider.
The hearing officer made this quite clear when he asked that no further testimony of this kind be submitted, noting, “We are concerned primarily with navigation and flood controlÖso I would like to ask you to confine your remarks in the hearing as to what bearing this proposed work has on navigation, flood control, commerce and allied subjects of that kindÖ.
“So in order to save time, I would like to ask that those subjects not be brought up, and certainly not at any length, merely because we are not permitted, by the law, to take them into account. We can simply make a recommendation on this project based on its effect on navigation and commerce and national defense and flood control and allied subjects.”