In 1994, Venice landscape architect Jay Griffith, along with Venice residents Linda Lucks and Jan Brilliot, founded the Secret Gardens of Venice Tour to give financial support for the Neighborhood Youth Associationís Las Doradas Childrenís Center, a licensed care facility in Oakwood that provides full-time, education-based childcare to low-income working families.
In operation since 1991, the center offers ìat-riskî children an opportunity for the care and additional guidance that prepares them to be effective learners who are ready and eager to start kindergarten, and instills in them the values to become productive community members in the future.
By 2001, due to the gracious involvement of homeowners and participation of the community, the Venice gardens were no longer a secret and the eventís name was changed to Venice Garden Tour. In 2006, another dimension was added to highlight the new architecture that was transforming Venice streetscapes. This annual event became the Venice Garden and Home Tour.
This year the tour will be in three neighborhood areas ñ the Canals, Windward Circle and the beach area, including the ìwalk streetsî and Ocean Front Walk.
You wonít want to miss out this year. One of the featured homes is the frequently talked about and photographed ìlifeguard houseî on Ocean Front Walk. It has been published in many books and periodicals, and most recently made the front cover of the 2007 Venice CA: Art + Architecture in a Maverick Community, with text by Michael Webb and photos by Juergen Nogai.
The home is owned by Bill and Lyn Norton and a beach shack originally sat on the site. Bill, through connections with his artist friends, was able to hire renowned architect Frank Gehry to do a remodel and addition.
ìFrank was famous, but not ¸ber famous,î says Lyn. ìIt was the 80s recession, so he did not have a lot of work.î
At that time Bill was a writer, but years before, he had been a lifeguard. He told Gehry about writing in his lifeguard tower, and Gehry replied that was what he needed for his home to write in. Hence, the lifeguard tower-looking structure was created, measuring about 80 square feet and made of plywood. Illumination of the structure comes from a chandelier, which seems out of context.
ìItís the cheapest kind of chandelier you can buy,î says Bill. ìI thought it was kind of ironic and mocking what chandeliers are all about ñ to have a chandelier in a plywood box.î
Plywood is used throughout the house, along with tile, concrete block and stucco.
ìThe house was built during Frankís cheap material period, which fit our budget nicely,î says Bill.
You wonít see much of a garden here due to windy conditions at the beach, but you will view an interesting art collection, including a fascinating assortment of ìtrench art.î These are artillery shells carved by soldiers in the trenches, similar to scrimshaw, examples of which are from the World War II through Vietnam eras. The designs are extraordinary, and youíll even see one depicting a woman taking a sponge bath.
Bill and Lyn donít normally open their home to the public, except if a request comes from Gehryís office.
ìI feel really fortunate to have hooked up with Frank because heís a great artist obviously, and it was just wonderful to be part of his career,î says Bill.
The Nortons have been asked by the garden tour committee to open their home and they decided to participate because ìitís a neighborhood thing and a good cause.î
There will be approximately 25 to 30 gardens and homes on the tour, some with lush landscaping, others with spare, drought tolerant plantings, but all are reflective of creative talents ranging from green thumb enthusiast homeowners to landscape designers and architects.
Landscape architect Polly Furrís backyard is not only her garden and studio, it is also a testing ground for clients. Ground covers are tucked into every area where plants are allowed to rest undisturbed during establishment, and then they are examined for resistance to foot traffic as well as the effects of sun or shade.
Polly also starts seeds for hard to find plants and evaluates how well plants re-root after trauma.
ìKnowing a plant in this way really helps me understand and explain what to expect from its growth rate and seasonal behavior,î she says. ìIn addition, because a portion of the plants are in containers, I can move them around frequently to see how colors and textures play against each other.
Gardens arenít only for plants anymore. An important supportive element is a non-plant aspect, known as hardscapes.
ìDonít resist hardscape ñ consider it as part of your palette, part of what you use to make the garden well-proportioned, conceptually whole, sparkling with imagination and life, as well as making it elegantly useful for outdoor living and connected to indoor space,î says Polly. ìDonít try to hide it or soften it ñ let it sing.î
Polly likens the garden and home tour to a museum exhibit.
ìEven if one isnít planning a garden, Venice is filled with unique approaches to work, life and art. Itís great to peek into homes and offices and gardens, to be inspired by imaginative living,î she says.
ìI love to see small quirky gardens that have been loved by their owners for decades, with that great richness that comes from being lived in over time. And there are always a host of beautiful new materials and new ways to use the familiar. And gorgeous plants, plants, plants. Plus itís a great way to participate in the Venice community.î
The self-guided tour starts at the Las Doradas Childrenís Center, 804 Broadway, at the corner of Broadway and Pleasant View, at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 2nd, and continues until 5 p.m. Shuttle buses will be available and biking is suggested as an option.
Tickets are $60 if purchased in advance or $70 if purchased the day of the tour. Children under 12 years of age are admitted free. For tickets and information, please call (310) 821-1857 or firstname.lastname@example.org/. Information, www.venicegardentour.org/.