In 1975, President Gerald Ford proclaimed May 12th the first National Historic Preservation Week. Even back then, the loss of heritage in the name of progress was evident.
It is a heartwarming story when an individual recognizes and appreciates a diamond in the rough and wants to recapture its original beauty.
Stephen Pouliot is one such person.
Have you ever gone by the two-story domed house at 1223 Cabrillo Ave. in Venice and wondered how it came to be among the cottages on the street? Or maybe wondered when it was built or who originally lived there?
Its uniqueness has made it a popular landmark and conversation piece, and Pouliot, the owner, asked himself these questions and wanted to find out the answers.
Many years ago Pouliot would come to Venice because it was “so bohemian” and park his car on Cabrillo Avenue to go to the beach.
“I always admired the house,” he says. “It looked like it had been transplanted from Key West, Florida.”
One day he saw a “For Sale” sign and immediately put in his offer. He bought the property in 1982, when it was in “wretched shape.”
“It needed rehab from top to bottom,” he says “Every room was painted a phosphorescent color. Everybody said, ‘You are absolutely crazy for moving to Venice and buying this house.'”
Remember that the same response was made to Abbot Kinney about his dream of creating a Venice of America.
Rehabilitation was a two-year project. Pouliot found two Victorian restorers in San Francisco. Dennis Wallace was the master craftsman and he moved to Venice and lived in the house for a year and a half.
“He really loved the house and I have to credit him for being such a good historian and making sure that the house and the colors and the woodwork were restored,” Pouliot says.
Once Pouliot began restoring 1223, neighbors began taking better care of their homes and he knew that “Venice was going to turn around.” Restoring the house drew a lot of attention.
“People would stop by, and they still do, from all over the world,” he says. “They’ll knock on the door, ask about the house and take photographs. It has been in several architectural guides to Los Angeles.”
Pouliot was curious about the history of the house. He was told that it had been Abbot Kinney’s home, which turned out not to be true.
There were quite a few photographs on postcards that provided the best resource for learning what the house looked like at the turn-of-the-century. Even more telling was a postcard of the canals being dredged — with the house in the background. This meant it was built before 1905.
Since the house was built so early and because of its unique architecture, Pouliot decided to apply for a historic designation. However, after extensive preliminary research, its earliest history remained a mystery.
But recently, thanks to property title professional Patrick McGurk, several new clues to the house’s origin were revealed. Through turn-of-the-century (1900) handwritten grant deeds, McGurk traced the title back to 1904. On December 21st of that year, the newly-surveyed land was listed as owned by Abbot Kinney and his wife, Margaret Thornton Kinney — all part of 115,945 acres of the former La Ballona Ranch.
The records show that the Kinney Company sold lot ten, block 15 for a $10 gold piece on April 7th, 1905 to L. Oscar Larson and his wife, Laura J. Larson.
It still has not been determined who actually built the home (the Larsons?) or who first lived in it. The domed architecture reflects the European/Far Eastern sensibilities of Clarence Russell and Norman Marsh, principal architects of Venice, but, alas, their designs and assignments were lost in a company fire.
Pouliot discovered that the home’s longest-term residents were the John Fonnell family. Fonnell’s granddaughter, Suzanne, lives in the Oakwood area of Venice. One of her memories was a pioneering solar device on the roof of the house for heating water.
“It had been removed before I bought the house, but she solved the mystery of the large metal plate found in its place,” Pouliot recalls.
If you are curious about your home, the Los Angeles Conservancy (www.laconservancy.org) has a wealth of information on how to do your own research. It also tells you how to submit your property for a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument designation from the Department of Cultural Affairs.
In addition to 1223 Cabrillo Ave. (designated in 2003), other Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument locations in Venice include the Venice Canal System (1983); the former Venice Branch Library (1987), 610 California Ave., now the Vera Davis Center; the Venice Arcades (1991), 67 to 71 Windward Ave., now demolished; the Venice Division Police Station (1994), 685 Venice Blvd., now SPARC, Social and Public Art Resource Center; “Binoculars” (1998), 340 Main St.; and the Venice City Hall (2003) 681 Venice Blvd., now Beyond Baroque.
More rigorous criteria need to be met in order to evaluate the significance of a property for entry into the National Register of Historic Places.
“The process was a long one and I hired a professional person to do the research” for the National Register, says Pouliot. It took almost a year from start to finish.
Pouliot’s home, now officially known as the “Venice of America House,” is historically significant as one of the first residential buildings — and now the oldest — erected by the Abbot Kinney Company.
The house is architecturally significant, as it embodies the distinctive characteristics of the Late Victorian style, which is made all the more exotic by the Islamic-inspired dome over the front entrance and Colonial Revival influence — eclectic, just like Venice’s spirit!
The Venice of America House joins the Venice Canals Historic District (designated in 1982); the Warren Wilson House (1986), 15 Ave 30, now the Venice Beach House, a bed and breakfast; the Venice Branch Library (1987); and Lincoln Place Apartments (2003); as the only Venice sites on the National Register.
This is not very impressive for a community with such an enormous amount of history.
“There is great satisfaction in restoring and sharing a piece of Venice heritage,” says Pouliot.
Thank you, Stephen, for doing it.