By Michael Aushenker
Two weeks ago, a young, sloppily dressed guy who goes by the name Valentine sat drunk off his keister and clutching a can of malt liquor in the middle of a sunny afternoon in front of Café Gratitude on Rose Avenue, lamenting his rapidly gentrifying surroundings.
One by one he called out Gratitude, Flake, Take Craft Beer & Wine and Superba as upstart culture vultures that’ve swooped in ahead of a hipster contingent changing the identity of his beloved home.
Artist Tony Venagas, who lives nearby, may have a different vantage point than Valentine, but he’s openly conflicted about the evolution of once rough-and-tumble Rose Avenue.
“If Rose becomes Abbott Kinney, I might seek refuge in Mexico … though I still don’t think I would ever give up my place,” he said. “The neighborhood’s changed. It has gone from sleepy Rose Avenue to a busy and vibrant neighborhood. Not that it wasn’t vibrant before — there were plenty of people hanging out. Unfortunately, they were super unruly and didn’t care about [the block] much.”
Venagas is one of the artists whose work will appear Saturday at “Rose Reclaimed,” a benefit at the Rose Avenue landscape and design firm Big Red Sun that aims to beautify the front garden of the Venice Family Clinic.
Venice Family Clinic and Big Red Sun are practically neighbors, divided only by slender 6th Avenue, with the nonprofit clinic occupying the southeast corner of 6th and Rose and Big Red Sun on the southwest one.
So it only makes sense that Big Red Sun would throw a charity effort bent on cultivating a front garden in its own backyard.
Transforming the drab space into an artful patch of agaves and succulents would come as welcome help to a nonprofit clinic serving struggling locals such as Valentine. It also makes for a much more attractive retail environment.
“The Venice Family Clinic is known as a pillar in our community,” Big Red Sun owner Selena Souders said in a statement about the event. “With the changes the street is experiencing, we see this as an ideal time for this multi-phase landscape transformation project of their space and others to come. We are delighted to lead the efforts in this project, and look forward to the community joining us in supporting the important work of this terrific local non-profit organization.”
In 2002, Souders established the original Big Red Sun in a rough part of Austin, Texas, that later flourished. Five years later, after moving to Venice, she took over a “tear down” on Rose near 6th, overhauling the 102 year-old bungalow into her second Big Red Sun business.
“I lived around the corner,” Souders said in an interview. “This was not a place to walk at night. I wouldn’t have walked from Oscar’s to Venice Beach Wine [next door].” Oscar’s is one of Rose Reclaimed’s sponsors, along with nearby Take Craft Beer & Wine, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Gardein, MyEventLA and Big Red Sun neighbor Chad Hagerman Design.
Now, “It’s definitely for the better. I feel that I know my neighbors. I’ve been living in the Rose vicinity for 10 years and have seen it rapidly grow from bums and beggars to what it is now: bums and beggars amongst awesome restaurants, yoga studios, coffee shops and markets,” Souders said.
“A lot of effort is going into making Rose [Avenue] the next Abbot Kinney — minus the posh existence and commercial shops — and I couldn’t be happier to be involved,” Chad Hagerman said. “I think the direction it is headed is only positive. It’s creating a higher-class Venice with the same rootsy feel.”
The change does, however, come at some expense to local color, said Venagas.
“Artists, as we know, like some grime. With grime comes flavor. A lot of flavor has been stripped from Venice in the last 10 years and the last two have been dramatic.”
When it comes to the transformation of Rose Avenue, Souders wants to keep the momentum going. She even wants to form a local merchants’ association.
Venagas sees Rose Reclaimed as an opportunity to have a little bit of both ways.
“I love that Selena is providing us with a venue to get people together. If Rose Reclaimed brings old and new residents together, then we are moving in the right direction,” Venagas.
Change, after all, is a mixed bag.
“If it means less violence, I’m all in favor of change,” he said. “I’ll embrace what’s going on in the hope that art may rise above [designer] jeans or more accessories or stuff that we don’t need.”
Rose Reclaimed takes place from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday at Big Red Sun, 560 Rose Ave., Venice. To RSVP, visit rosereclaimed.splashthat.com