Six years after Abbot Kinney founded his Venice of America in 1905, a high school for the young coastal community held its first classes in an old lagoon bathhouse.
Under its first principal, Cree T. Work, the school was comprised of 52 students and eight faculty members and had just one graduate at the end of its first year.
Known as Venice Union Polytechnic High School, the school moved to its current 29-acre property at Venice Boulevard and Walgrove Avenue in 1924. A year later, the school joined the Los Angeles Unified School District and became known simply as Venice High School.
Though the Long Beach Earthquake in March 1933 left buildings with severe structural damage, classes continued on the campus in temporary tents. Nearly two years later, a revitalized Venice High School campus was opened with many buildings that continue to stand today and have provided a place of education for generations of Gondoliers.
The Venice High community will commemorate the school’s centennial anniversary with a weekend full of various celebrations Friday through Monday, June 24 through 27.
“We just felt it was important, and even though we feel that we are a community-based school, we want to make sure that the community is aware it’s 100 years old,” Laura Ferre, president of the Venice High Alumni Association and a 1976 graduate, said of the centennial plans.
“I’m sure that families and students, as well as the community will be excited to be able to celebrate it. There’s something here this weekend that everyone will be able to enjoy.”
Venice has had its brush with pop culture over the years, being the filming location for the classic “Grease” starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John, and other movies. The 100th anniversary festivities will kick off Friday, June 24 with an 8 p.m. screening of “Grease” on the football field.
On Saturday, June 25 a pancake breakfast will be served at 7 a.m., followed by a classic car show on the football field from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. At 8 p.m., Grammy Award-winning jazz musician John Clayton, Jr. will team up with fellow alumns in the Venice High Crescendos jazz band for a performance in the school auditorium. Admission for the concert, which is sponsored by the Alumni Association Centennial Committee, is $20 at the door, or $15 in advance.
“It’s way overdue,” second alto saxophone player George Campbell said of the event, which is the first Crescendos reunion.
The celebration will continue Sunday, June 26 with a parade from Venice Beach to the high school campus. Following the parade of cars with alumni and local dignitaries, including City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, will be an attempt by skateboarders to break the Guiness World Record for the largest skateboarding parade. An “all-Gondo” picnic and festival will then be held on the front lawn from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Rosendahl, who said he plans to present a Los Angeles city proclamation recognizing the anniversary, called the event “a significant milestone for the school and the community.”
Referring to the addition of the skateboarding parade to the centennial ceremonies, Grant Francis, co-chair of the centennial committee, spoke of Venice’s connection to skateboarding lore and how some Dogtown skaters attended the school.
“Skating, Venice and history — it all kind of goes together,” said Francis, who taught for more than 30 years at the school and noted some of the Dogtown skaters made skateboards in his wood shop class.
The weekend anniversary event will wrap up with the 17th Annual Gondo Golf Classic at Robinson Ranch Golf Club Monday, June 27.
Some notable alumni who are scheduled to take part in the festivities include former NASA astronaut Walter Cunningham, NBC/CBS news anchor Linda Alvarez and former NFL player Larry Atkins.
Principal Elsa Mendoza described the milestone anniversary as a moment of pride and said the school community has been looking forward to the event culminating the end of the school year. A number of student groups will set up booths for fundraising efforts, she said.
The alumni association will have displays set up in the cafeteria featuring posters, old yearbooks and other memorabilia pieces. The association also plans to bury a time capsule with select items to be opened in 50 years, Ferre said.
“I think it’s a very happy moment for the students, staff and community and it really speaks volumes of how important the role of the school has been in the community in order for it to exist for so long,” Mendoza said.
The 100th anniversary comes a little more than a year after the school paid tribute to another part of its history with the return of a replica of the old Myrna Loy statue. The former piece stood as a fixture in front of the main building for most of the 20th century before years of decay and vandalism led to its removal.
Sculptor Harry Winebrenner, who headed the art department, created the sculpture in 1923 after he asked student Myrna Williams to be a model for the central figure. Williams later changed her name to Myrna Loy when she began an acting career, eventually appearing in over 100 films.
“I think it’s significant that she’s back at about the same time the school turns 100 years old,” Francis said of the Myrna Loy statue’s return.
In addition to honoring the school’s long history, the weekend activities will allow for a gathering of classmates from many years ago and more recent years, with eight graduating classes holding reunions, Francis said.
“I think the best thing that’s going to happen is that it will be a reunion; not a mini reunion but a huge reunion,” he said. “People will be coming from all over the place back to Venice that weekend just to see their buddies after all those years.”
Among the oldest of the graduates who are joining the Gondolier reunion is John Quincy Tabor, Jr., 90, a 1939 graduate whose family has ties to the early days of Venice. Tabor’s uncle, Irving, was a friend and personal chauffeur for Kinney. Tabor, who became the first African-American lifeguard for the city of Los Angeles in the early 1940s, said he has fond memories of his time at Venice and recalled how his 1939 class was the largest to graduate up to that point.
“My entire foundation was based upon those years,” he said.
Tabor, who has had many family members attend Venice High, said he wanted to be a part of his school’s celebration because “it’s a part of where I grew up and it’s a part of me.”
Alumni association members pointed to the impact that the school has had on generations of families, as many students have followed in the footsteps of relatives to become graduates.
“You can talk to kids of any year of any age and they will talk about how their families have been there before them; and it’s still true today,” Ferre said.
Tom Anderson, the historian for the alumni association and a 1952 graduate, has had several family members attend the school. He believes the anniversary event should recognize the unique history and role the school has had in the community.
“It’s a community school and it has that kind of support,” he said.
Rosendahl also referred to the school’s influence on the community over the past century.
“It’s been the hallmark and the foundation for a lot of people’s lives,” the councilman said.
Francis says the centennial events will be a way for the community to not only commemorate the school’s milestone but to relive the joys of high school for one weekend.
“When you think of high school and think of those good times, you’d like to be reliving those times, so that’s what this is going to be about,” he said.