The Mar Vista community of Los Angeles was born out of Ocean Park Heights, a community named for its geographic location in relation to the beach area then known as Ocean Park.
By 1905 Ocean Park included both developer Abbot Kinney’s Venice of America, now Venice, and what became the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica.
Ocean Park Heights was developed at the start of the 20th Century on land traversed by the Los Angeles Pacific Railway, which ran from downtown Los Angeles to the beach.
For 20 years the community to the east of Kinney’s development was known as Ocean Park Heights, and then in 1924 the area, populated heavily by Mormons, took on the name Mar Vista, meaning “Sea View.”
The name Mar Vista had been associated with the area as a subdivision stop for the Los Angeles Pacific Railway line within the Del Rey tract, Mar Vista community historian Glen Howell said.
An advertisement at the time noted the specific site along the rail line, saying that New Mar Vista, the subdivision between Centinela and Walgrove Avenues, is “on the shortest boulevard from Los Angeles to the sea.”
The location was 30 minutes from Los Angeles and ten minutes from the beach, according to the advertisement.
In the mid 1920s, when Mar Vista’s population was about 5,000, communities in the Los Angeles area were struggling with water shortages.
As a way to have access to water supplies and other services made available to Los Angeles citizens, some surrounding communities voted to join with the larger city. First it was Venice in 1925, and two years later, on March 5th, 1927, Mar Vista became the 70th community to be annexed to Los Angeles.
This year, Mar Vista is celebrating the 80th anniversary of that annexation and residents say they are proud to see their community reach that milestone.
“I think it’s to the community’s benefit,” resident and Mar Vista Farmers Market president Lorraine Wells said of the anniversary celebration. “To celebrate 80 years of a community is fantastic.”
The community is marking the 80th anniversary in conjunction with the first anniversary of the Mar Vista Farmers Market with a celebration Sunday, August 5th.
The event, scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Grand View Boulevard, between Venice Boulevard and Mitchell Avenue, will include musicians, poets and dancers, as well as food from Mar Vista’s varied cultures.
An arts exhibition and children’s activities will also be featured at the event. Community organization booths will be set up and Mar Vista Historical Society representatives will be on hand to talk about the community’s history.
Resident Rob Kadota said it will be a fitting celebration to have the 80th anniversary on the same day as the anniversary for the Mar Vista Farmers Market, a weekly community happening.
“It’s a nice way to celebrate 80 years of being part of the city by also having a celebration for the farmers market,” said Kadota, chair of the Mar Vista Community Council, which appropriated $10,500 from its annual budget toward the anniversary celebration.
To some longtime Mar Vista residents, the anniversary of the annexation is significant as a way to commemorate being part of the community.
“I think it’s one more step in building an overall sense of community for Mar Vista,” said Mar Vista Community Council vice chair Tom Ponton, who has spent nearly his whole life in the community.
“It’s great to feel like we’re part of a real community.”
Former Mar Vista Community Council member Ken Marsh expressed hope that the celebration can become an annual community event.
“It would be good if it could develop as an annual community awareness,” Marsh said.
Mar Vista has seen its population grow to over 55,000 since it was annexed to Los Angeles as a community of nearly five square miles, but it remains primarily a residential community.
Among the buildings with origins in Mar Vista is Venice High School, which was started by Kinney in a Venice bathhouse but opened at its current location on Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista in 1914. The former Machado Elementary School was located at the current site of the Venice High swimming pool and the old school bell is still on the grounds of the high school.
The community has experienced periods of growth over the years, particularly during World War II, as workers at the Douglas Aircraft Company at the nearby Santa Monica Airport sought homes in Mar Vista, Howell said.
Howell, who has lived in his Mar Vista home since 1960, says many of the neighbors on his street are the original homeowners.
“Once people get here they never leave,” Howell said.
In all his years as a Mar Vista resident, the biggest change Howell said he has noticed in the area can be summed up in one word — “traffic.”
But despite the influx of traffic that has hit the community and the Los Angeles region as a whole, the thing that Howell said has kept him and many of his neighbors in the community can also be summed up in one word — “climate.”
“The thing that Mar Vista continues to be is a place to come home to with the best climate in the world,” he said.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, said to be the first elected official to live in Mar Vista and arguably its best known resident today, agrees that the climate is a real selling point for the community, located a mile and a half from the ocean.
“Mar Vista is a unique piece of geography,” said Rosendahl, who has lived there since 1991. “The community has a lot of pride in itself. People are really proud to live in Mar Vista.”
Although Mar Vista may not have the same claim to famous residents as its neighbor Santa Monica, the community has had its share of celebrities make a home within its boundaries.
Former Los Angeles Laker Jerry West and legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden, arguably two of the biggest names in Los Angeles basketball, as well as Lakers owner Jerry Buss have lived in Mar Vista, Howell said. Actor Lloyd Bridges and two of the original members of the Zephyr skateboard team, Nathan Pratt and Stacy Peralta, have also been residents, Howell said.
While remaining a mostly residential area through the years, Mar Vista’s commercial businesses have been concentrated primarily along a stretch of Venice Boulevard.
With fewer attractions than the neighboring communities of Santa Monica and Venice, Mar Vista residents say the community has struggled with developing an identity.
But community members say that is changing as efforts in recent years are helping to put Mar Vista on the map for non-residents.
“It feels like Mar Vista is creating a place on the map for ourselves,” Kadota said.
One effort, according to Rosendahl, was installing City of Los Angeles signs identifying Mar Vista boundaries at certain locations.
Others say the Mar Vista Recreation Center with its synthetic turf soccer field and the efforts of the Mar Vista Community Council have helped to make the community more known.
The Mar Vista Farmers Market, brought to the community for the first time last year, has also been a key factor for identity, residents say.
“The farmers market has given us a sense of community and brought the community together,” Wells said.
Having attained an identity as a community of its own, Mar Vista prides itself on being part of the City of Los Angeles, and residents say that is a reason to celebrate.
“We are part of Los Angeles,” Howell said. “But we’ve now got an identity as a very special part of Los Angeles that is a wonderful place to live.”