Visible in early photographs and postcards of Venice are white columns stretching along Windward Avenue and adjacent streets near the beach, reminiscent of the architecture in the Italian city from which the community’s name derives.
The columns, with their facial sculptures at the top and mix of Byzantine and Renaissance influence, helped fulfill the vision of Abbot Kinney in founding his Venice of America.
“They are absolutely unique and brilliantly designed in the Venetian style through Abbot Kinney’s foresight,” said Jill Prestup, president of the Venice Historical Society.
More than 100 years after the founding of the beachside community, a number of the pillars of the colonnade along Windward and Pacific avenues are still standing, though the passing of years has taken its toll on most. Decades after restoration work was last done in the 1960s, some of the column capitals were missing and others were in need of repair, according to the Venice Historical Society.
Hoping to ensure that a longtime, recognizable feature of Venice was preserved, Prestup and the historical society initiated a restoration project for the colonnade, which was named a city historic cultural monument by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission in 1991.
“These columns are a historic symbol of Venice,” said Prestup, speaking on the need for the project. “We’re so proud of our 100-plus-year history and we want everyone to see and appreciate what Venice used to be.”
The project began with a $10,000 beautification grant from the city and received a big boost when renowned science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury, a former Venice resident, offered to assist with a funding contribution and by attaching his name to a donation campaign. The historical society has kicked off the project during its 25th anniversary with the restoration of 10 historic columns in the “most visible” stretch, the northeast and northwest side of Windward Avenue at Pacific, and organizers held a ribbon-cutting ceremony April 23 to mark the completion.
“It was wonderful, and the fact that so many people appreciated it and noticed it meant that what we were doing with the restoration in Venice was important to a lot of people,” Prestup said of the dedication ceremony.
Restoration work involved cleaning, repairing and repainting of the pillars. Spectra, a restoration company specializing in historic buildings, was hired to replace and remold the missing column capitals and repair the existing capitals. None of the original columns, which date to 1904, were removed or replaced, only restored, Prestup noted.
Prestup explained that Bradbury has fond feelings for Venice and he was eager to see that the unique columns were repaired. The author allowed for the use of his name with a fundraising effort, forming the Ray Bradbury Adopt-a-Colonnade Restoration Project, where donors could contribute $2,500 and receive a plaque on one of the columns.
Bradbury told the historical society about his love for Venice and the desire to preserve the colonnade.
“Somewhere along the line the wonderful arches were torn down. It killed my soul because along with everybody else, I’d seen the wonderful Orson Welles film ‘Touch of Evil,’ which used Venice as the background,” Bradbury told the society.
“I truly want to restore the look of Venice to the way it was when I was a young man.”
Many of the neighborhood businesses have also been supportive of maintaining the historic look of the colonnade, Prestup said. The project comes a few years after another historic community landmark that is recognizable in old photographs – the Venice sign – was restored and reinstalled above the columns on Windward.
The Windward corridor is the “gateway to Venice” and community members want to show that they are proud of their heritage, Prestup said.
“We’re showing the tourists our pride for Venice and that we are working to keep the uniqueness of Venice history,” she said.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl agreed that the section of Windward where the columns are located is an expression of the entrance to Venice, saying that people can reflect on the community’s history as they walk past the colonnade.
“It truly is the backdrop to the opening of Venice and it’s very historic,” Rosendahl said, adding that he is all for projects to preserve features of the past.
Mark-Antonio Grant, special assistant to Rosendahl and the councilman’s former Venice deputy, who was the guest speaker at the ribbon cutting, said it is a unique experience walking by the historic columns toward the beach. He said the project was not just about the restoration of the colonnade but the celebration of something unique to Venice and the city.
“Venice Beach is at least the second most visited place in all of Southern California and the gateway to Venice Beach is Windward,” Grant said. “Those columns are as synonymous with Venice as anything else is.”