Though it has been many years since he resided in Venice, John Quincy Tabor, Jr. describes that time of his life as when he and his family truly “lived.”
The 89-year-old, who now resides in Las Vegas and is the eldest living member of the Tabor family, still holds a special place for the beachside community where he grew up and where his family is deeply linked with its history.
“That’s when we lived,” said Tabor, explaining that while he has a home in Las Vegas, Venice is a place where he thrived.
The Tabor family has had roots in Venice for more than a century, dating to around the time that tobacco magnate Abbot Kinney founded the community as Venice of America in 1905. John Quincy Tabor, Sr. and his siblings moved from Louisiana to Venice following their cousin, Arthur Reese, who was hired by Kinney as the town decorator, and they were among the first African-Americans in the new city.
Irving Tabor, one of John Quincy Sr.’s five brothers, became one of the more notable Tabor siblings due to his close relationship with Kinney. At the age of 16 in 1909, Irving Tabor was hired as the Venice founder’s chauffeur and personal assistant, and when Kinney died in 1920, he left his home on the canals to his friend Tabor.
But because African-Americans at the time were not accepted to live in the neighborhood and it was decreed that Tabor did not own the land, the family moved the home in sections to 1310 Sixth St. in what is now the Oakwood area. The Craftsman style home has since become a city historic-cultural monument.
Other Tabor family residences were later built in the neighborhood, which has been home to generations of Tabors, many of whom have graduated from Venice High School, and who have carried on the legacy of the family in the community. In honor of the family’s more than 100 years in Venice, a “Tabor Family Centennial Resolution” was presented March 2 by Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl to John Quincy Tabor, Jr. and other descendants.
The event was held at the Pacific Resident Theatre and was organized by Maryjane, a longtime resident and member of the theatre company. Maryjane said she wrote the resolution to honor the Tabors, whom she calls the “Legacy Family of Venice,” because she believes they are crucial to Venice history.
“I have such respect for these people – for how they handle themselves, their sense of graciousness, their sense of community and their support for all kinds of community needs,” said Maryjane.
Maryjane, who initially hoped to present the resolution prior to the death of John Quincy Jr.’s cousin, Novelette Tabor Bailey, in July 2010, said John Quincy was chosen as the featured speaker of the event. She called him a “fabulous historian and family archivist” who has much joy in sharing stories.
Tabor said he accepted the centennial resolution on behalf of his family because he is their elder spokesman. He noted that his father was also presented with a Los Angeles city resolution in 1980 in honor of his 90th birthday.
“From the standpoint of the accolades, it was great for the family, not just for me,” said John Quincy Jr., adding he was aware of the resolution prior to acceptance.
The elder Tabor was also the featured graduate at a March 1 event at the Pacific Resident Theatre, which helped kick off the celebration of the Venice High School centennial this year, with graduates from 1939 to 1960 sharing memories of their times as students. As a member of one of Venice’s historic families, John Quincy Jr. has a number of distinctions himself, including becoming the city and county’s first African-American lifeguard serving the ocean in 1942.
Referring to the 100th anniversary of his alma mater in June, Tabor said it will be an “epic celebration.” A 1939 graduate of Venice High, Tabor said his class of 197 graduates was the school’s largest up to that point. Tabor, who started the Venice High news column “Through the Venetian Blinds,” recalled fond memories of his high school years, including attending the Boy Scouts World Jamboree in Holland in 1937.
“I couldn’t have found a better situation than I had at Venice,” he said of his high school experience.
Tabor remembered how his family name was already known by some of his classmates by the time he entered the high school because of how his father had won the yacht Sultana as the grand prize in a popular raffling contest held at local grocery stores. Tabor brought the bell of the Sultana to the March 2 event, where he told the story of how his father had the winning raffle number among a stack of tickets.
Reflecting on his service as a lifeguard, Tabor said he began going to the beach near his home at an early age and learned to swim in the Pacific Ocean. In 1941 he began working as a lifeguard at city pools, and a year later, he moved to the city and county beaches. At the time he was serving, Tabor said he became the first black lifeguard to serve on every beach in the county from Cabrillo near San Pedro to Zuma in Malibu except in Santa Monica – a designation he takes pride in.
Despite being the first African-American to join the city and county crew, Tabor said he was never treated differently by fellow lifeguards.
“Never among my compatriots did I ever have that sense in anything that was said or done,” he said.
Expressing pride in his role as a lifeguard, Tabor said he earned the position based solely on his qualifications.
“You got there by virtue of the fact that you were qualified to be there,” said Tabor, who served until 1947.
After recounting some of his memories of his time in Venice at the Pacific Resident Theatre, Tabor, who has two daughters and one son, said he was pleased to have members of his family and the community in attendance. He viewed the reunion with family members as a prelude to his 90th birthday celebration in June, which will take place only weeks before his former school hits the century mark.
“I’ve thought all my life that my greatest pleasures have been among people because what else is there?” he said. “I’ve been blessed because of the people I’ve met and associated with. No amount of money could ever equal the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made.”