Venice Oceanarium founder Tim Rudnick has plans for a legacy project on the Venice Pier
By Gary Walker
Whether introducing kids to the frenzy of a midnight grunion run or leading annual public readings of “Moby Dick,” longtime local Tim Rudnick has spent the past 11 years utilizing Venice Beach as outdoor classroom and laboratory.
Each Sunday, Rudnick invites passersby to interact with a tabletop display of marine life specimens — shark jaws, dried crabs, fish skeletons and the like — on the sand near the Venice Pier. He and volunteers conduct ocean education workshops at such places as Westminster Avenue Elementary School, Ecole Claire Fontaine and the Oakwood Recreation Center.
Now Rudnick, 75, hopes to grow his collective efforts, dubbed the Venice Oceanarium, into a permanent museum at the end of the Venice Pier.
“We want this to be an educational venue for the public,” he said. “I consider this to be a worthy legacy for my children and grandchildren.”
Rudnick, a retired contractor, envisions the Venice Oceanarium Pavilion as a roughly 800-square-foot canopied octagon surrounded by moveable display panels that can open or close around the structure, in keeping with his “museum without walls” approach. Inside, a central fountain feeds an aquarium-style touch tank supported by interactive panel displays about local flora and fauna. Rooftop solar panels and a small windmill turbine would power the structure.
“We plan to have a very light footprint on the pier,” said Rudnick, whose written proposal points to a similarly oriented bait shop and café that existed on the pier in the 1960s.
Rudnick is currently awaiting results of a city Department of Recreation and Parks evaluation of the pier’s structural durability. Parks officials have conducted that assessment, but their conclusions about what maintenance or repair would be necessary are pending, said Venice-area parks superintendent Bob Davis.
Meanwhile, Rudnick is still pushing forward on the most difficult work of the project: raising the funds to build and maintain it. He estimates about $2 million in startup costs, but only about $40,000 per year to operate and maintain the pavilion.
“That’s one of the most attractive things about this: It’s somewhat inexpensive,” he said.
Not everyone’s a fan of the project. A handful of locals did not return calls about it, and an anonymous handwritten screed mailed to The Argonaut while reporting this story criticizes everything from the safety and feasibility of the wind turbine to concerns about nighttime lighting and security.
Last year Rudnick presented his idea before the Venice Neighborhood Council but has yet to bring it to L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin’s office for review. He and friends held a fundraiser in September, and the Oceanarium recently received a $5,000 grant from the office
of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, whose district includes Venice.
Rudnick says the ocean has always fascinated him, and “has become more of an interesting subject for people since the advent of sea level rise and climate change.”
Asked how the Venice Oceanarium Pavilion would differ from Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, Rudnick cited different missions and pier environments.
“There, it’s kind of like a carnival. Here it’s more of an intimate environmental experience,” he said. “Plus, the Santa Monica Aquarium is more about marine biology.”
Ecole Claire Fontaine parent Kristin Ess-Schur said students respond with enthusiasm to Rudnick’s hands-on approach to learning.
“It’s one of the most popular classes on the Abbot Kinney campus,” she said. “He brings an array of interesting samples, from seaweed to shells, and the children get a chance to talk about nature on a deeper level and about the importance of living in concert with our surroundings.”
Despite the challenge of raising $2 million, Rudnick remains optimistic about the possibility of creating a new public resource dedicated to the local marine environment.
“I’m more positive about this than anything that I’ve done in years. At my age, I have to be,” he concluded with a laugh.
The Venice Oceanarium holds its annual group reading of “Moby Dick” from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 18 and 19, near the Venice Breakwater. View plans for the Venice Oceanarium Pavilion at veniceoceanarium.org.