At one time in Venice there were streets named West Washington Boulevard, Washington Way, Washington Boulevard and Washington Street — not too confusing!
In 1991, West Washington Boulevard was renamed Abbot Kinney Boulevard and later Washington Street, which was west of then W. Washington Boulevard, became an extension of Washington Boulevard.
The following year it was suggested that the new Venice library also be named after community founder Abbot Kinney. Former City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter remembers that it was then suggested to acknowledge Oakwood’s history as well.
“We were anxious to recognize that Venice had African American residents from the time of its founding,” she said.
As it turned out, there were two courts (alleys) without names. Two people who were recognized with the courts named after them were Arthur Reese and Irving Tabor.
Arthur Reese, born in 1885, was the first African American to live and work in Venice. He came to Los Angeles in about 1902 when he had a job as a railroad Pullman porter. There was a lot of work in Southern California so he stayed to earn money to send back to his widowed mother and three siblings in Louisiana. He heard that Abbot Kinney was in the process of building a unique town in 1904, so he rode a streetcar out to what would become Venice-of-America to see if he could get a business of his own started.
Reese first operated a shoeshine stand but the business did not appeal to him. Instead, he began a janitorial service which became successful. He had so much work that he sent for his cousins, the Tabors of Louisiana, to join his crew. He was asked by Kinney to take over the janitorial department of the Kinney Company, and it wasn’t long before he had a crew of 23 working for him.
A short time later, Reese learned that a special holiday affair would be held at the Dance Pavilion and the Auditorium. He asked Kinney if he could decorate the building fronts, launching his career as a decorator. His great aptitude and decorative ability were obvious. He knew colors and how to use decorations to their best advantage. His natural talent astonished his employer.
By 1918, Reese was the official town decorator for Venice. He was also a mason in high standing, held an important position in his church, was the first African American to serve on the election board of the City of Venice, was elected a member of the Republican County Central Committee of the 61st Assembly District, and was a member of the Chamber of Commerce. Reese died in 1963 at age 77.
Charles and Joseph Tabor, born 1888 and 1883 respectively, were Reese’s first cousins to move to Venice in 1910. Charles was the father of Navalette Tabor Bailey, who still resides in Venice.
Another Tabor brother was Irving, born in 1893. Irving Tabor worked for his cousin in 1911, sweeping the pier. The story goes that Kinney used to take walks every day, and one morning he stopped the young man and asked if he’d ever driven a car. Tabor said yes, even though he’d never even sat in one. Kinney had ordered a Ford from Detroit and wanted Tabor to be his chauffeur. So, Tabor had a friend who worked in a Ford dealership teach him how to drive before the car was delivered.
No one has ever been able to explain what attracted Kinney to Tabor, but the 17-year-old and the developer became nearly inseparable until Kinney’s death in 1920. Tabor’s official title was chauffeur and personal servant, but it was said that he and Kinney were more like friends.
Kinney’s home at Number One Grand Canal (where the post office annex is now) was originally built as a shelter for African American canal workers. At one time it was also a meeting place for a ladies’ group called the “Cosmos Club” (seen in a popular vintage postcard of Venice). Kinney eventually remodeled the structure into a two-story, eight-room clapboard hip roof house to suit himself and he moved in. After Kinney’s death and the subsequent move of his wife to a convalescent home, the house was given to Tabor through an oral agreement.
Tabor tried to move into the house in 1925, but some neighbors said they objected to having an African American man living among them. The heat of racism Tabor felt was strong enough that, although he went through great effort to live there, he never felt at home.
Eventually, Tabor decided to move and took the house with him. All six of the Tabor brothers pooled their talents, resources and knowledge to move the house. First, they built graduated ramps on each side of the bridge across Grand Canal. Then, they cut the house into three pieces and hauled it by truck to its current site at 1310 Sixth Ave.
Tabor lived there until his death on January 9th, 1987 at the age of 93. On that day, as an expression of esteem, members of the Los Angeles City Council stood in tribute and reverence as the council adjourned its meeting in his name. In 1980, at the age of 87, the one-time chauffeur was an honoree in a parade to celebrate Venice’s 75th birthday. He rode in an antique car with a banner that said “Irving Tabor ñ Abbot Kinney’s Trusted Friend.”
Arthur L. Reese Court is located west of Main Street, between Clubhouse Avenue and Brooks Avenue. The Irving Tabor Court signs have disappeared and Arturo Piný of City Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office and Mo Blorfroshan with the Department of Transportation have been working together to see that the signs are replaced east of the 1600 block of Abbot Kinney Boulevard between Venice Boulevard and California Avenue.