Editor’s note: Venice is celebrating its Centennial this year. The following is from the project manager of the Venice Centennial Committee, which is leading the effort to acknowledge the first 100 years of Venice.
BY TODD VON HOFFMAN
It was 1905 and the camera of Edward S. Curtis was recording the fading, final figures of the Wild West.
The Wright Brothers’ Age of Flight had entered its second year.
The dust had yet to settle on the new sculpture by Rodin that he called The Thinker.
The year before, Giacomo Puccini completed his first version of Madame Butterfly and Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard saw its first production.
The great Panama Canal project was under way, thanks to the dynamic Teddy Roosevelt, who was beginning his second term as president, and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, true remnants of a passing era, had hightailed it out of the country to South America.
That summer, as America celebrated its birthday, California celebrated the birth of a sensational new resort community — Abbot Kinney’s Venice of America.
The Fourth of July grand opening celebration included band concerts, a 300-strong children’s choir, tennis, sailing and swimming competitions and, of course, the wonderful new pier and beach attractions.
Windward Avenue, the main thoroughfare leading from the Grand Lagoon to the pier entrance, was packed with a constant flow of variations on the same costume — suits, long skirts, blouses, and hats, hats, hats everywhere.
These visitors poured from the streetcars arriving on both sides of Trolley Way — now Pacific Avenue in Venice — until the crowd reached an estimated 40,000.
Thousands of flags waved from every possible vantage point.
The beautiful Windward colonnade designed by Italian artist Felix Peano, though incomplete, affirmed for the spectators and excited children that they were someplace special.
The point was made with spectacular effect that evening.
The buildings and overpass along Windward had been draped with thousands of electric lights. At the appointed darkening hour the entire area was suddenly ablaze with the novelty of artificial incandescence.
The newspapers described “a brilliant instantaneous electrical illumination in variegated colorsÖ.”
The centerpiece of this display hung by wires high overhead.
Large glowing canned letters spelled out the name of the place to be on July 4th, 1905 —”VENICE”.
The wonderful electric “VENICE” sign welcomed visitors for years.
The sign spent most of its life spanning Windward, connected to the Bank of Venice building to the south — now housing Global Gossip — and the Windward Apartments to the north — now the Venice Beach Hostel.
Ease of travel helped create the postcard craze and the sign appeared in countless photographs.
It was as iconic, in fact, as the now truncated “HollywoodLand” sign would later become.
Photographic evidence shows the sign still hanging across Windward in the early 1940s.
But by the early ’50s it was gone.
Its fate? Unknown — unless you know.
But it may have been salvaged in one of the scrap metal drives as part of the World War II effort.
A community effort by the Venice Centennial Committee has been under way to restore this signature icon as a permanent legacy of the 100 year celebration.
The plan was presented to the Windward District Business Association and conditional approval to attach a new sign was granted by current occupants of the two buildings.
Special heartfelt thanks go out to these early enthusiastic supporters — Jose Bunge, owner of the Global Gossip building, and Mark Wurm, owner of the Venice Beach Hostel.
The Centennial Committee is made up of local volunteers and co-chaired by Los Angeles Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski chief field deputy Sandy Kievman and David Buchanan of Marina Media.
We made a grant application to the City of Los Angeles Neighborhood Matching Fund (NMF) in our capacity as project manager, with a letter of support from Miscikowski, and word just recently came in that the grant was accepted for the requested maximum amount of $10,000.
Michael Espinosa, program director of the Neighborhood Matching Fund, says the grant review board is particularly excited by the project.
“Every once in a while a proposal comes across our desk and we just go ‘Wow’,” he said.
Pat Wojciechowski and Guy Anderson of the television and movie prop house DesignTown have contracted with Kip Smith of Heaven of Las Vegas, a specialty neon sign manufacturer, to handle the fabrication.
Wade Webb, electrical engineering manager of Solar Integrated Technologies, is designing the 12-volt solar system that will power the new sign.
The completed sign will be operated completely off the grid. It will turn itself off and on, sense the seasonal changes of dusk and dawn, and use the equivalent amperage of two household 60-watt bulbs, thanks to LED technology — “light-emitting display,” such as one sees on various electronic devices.
The LED bulbs are said to have a life span of at least 11 years.
The sign will return to its old location between the two buildings, The Global Gossip and The Venice Beach Hostel.
Interested historians can view the ring bolts that held the original sign, visible on these two buildings. They are located on the northwest and southwest corners of Windward and Pacific Avenues.
The restored sign will be a permanent legacy of the Venice Centennial celebration.
The matching grant requires that the Centennial Committee raise an additional $10,000 in funds and services.
The Centennial Committee is currently offering several commemorative items to raise money for the sign and the events planned this summer. These include signed, limited edition prints by Venice artists Stephen Douglas and Earl Newman, calendars, T-shirts, hats, and pennants.
Centennial items are available at several locations in Venice, including Stroh’s Gourmet, The Cow’s End and The Sidewalk CafÈ, or by contacting the Centennial Committee Web site,