Longtime local Maryjane presents a seaside memoir slideshow of vintage Venice imagery at Canal Club
By Michael Aushenker
When tobacco tycoon turned pioneering developer Abbot Kinney opened his Venice of America in 1905, it was as much a tourist trap as an homage to its inspiration city in Italy — something akin to Rick Caruso’s The Grove, but stretching over three square miles where a population of 3,000 residents ballooned to crowds of 150,000 or more with the weekend influx of tourists.
Home to more than 50,000 today and still growing and changing for better or worse, Venice has seen plenty of water pass under the bridges of its famous (but once infamously derelict) canals, where a handful of rustic cottages mingle with conspicuously contemporary homes.
From Charlie Chaplin movie shoots 100 years ago to the Beat poets of the 1950s, the counterculture music and art scenes of the 1960s and ‘70s, the rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno at Muscle Beach and the latch-key skateboarder anti-paradise of the 1980s, the boardwalk retains a certain Hollywood Boulevard-by-the-sea carnie atmosphere, though now with the addition of high-quality nightspots and plenty of medical cannabis culture to go around.
Venice booster and local as-she-lived-it historian Maryjane, a fixture of the Pacific Resident Theatre, plans to illuminate some of that rich history with “Venice Photographs, 1955-2000,” a photographic slide show on Saturday at the Canal Club. She’ll present at 6 p.m. and then again at 8 p.m.
The presentation of historic images by photographers Charles Brittin, Roderick Bradley, Anthony Friedkin and Frank Talbott will cover — or perhaps uncover — 45 years of 20th-century ground, courtesy of program benefactors and in-it-before-the-boom restaurateurs Daniel Samakow (of Danny’s Venice, James’ Beach) and James Evans (James’ Beach).
“It’s important work, and these artists are fabulous,” says Maryjane, an ardent Venice artist, activist and poet who in the 1960s and ‘70s lived in a Venice canals cottage today occupied by actors Orson Bean and Alley Mills.
“Both Rod Bradley and Frank Talbott have massive, fine art photographic archives on Venice and are poets as well as documentary realizers,” says Maryjane, who adopted her mononymous moniker years ago.
Talbott’s memories of Venice in the 1960s and 1970s remain as vivid as the images he captured.
In 1963, Talbott rented a room for $7 per week in the Lucerne apartments on Pacific Avenue, next door to The Silver Dollar Bar — what the photographer describes as “a Hell’s Angel hangout.”
Back then, “Venice was old, gray, worn-out and poor,” Talbott writes on his website. “It was also deserted — empty buildings and houses were everywhere. Parking was never a problem like it is today.”
Talbott quickly became acclimated to the scene, walking over to the abandoned Pacific Ocean Park amusement park, stopping by the Laffett Café for fish and chips at 50 cents a portion, hanging out near the Venice West Café on Dudley Avenue.
“It was winter and a cold wind blew sand across the boardwalk,” Talbott recalled of his off-season boardwalk strolls. “I might see four or five people the whole way,”
In 1967, Talbott began documenting the area on film after he and wife Pat moved into an apartment above a garage on 23rd Avenue, where they lived for a decade. He captured his environs in stark, colorless, atmospheric fashion — freezing time to highlight a lone boat on a Venice Canals waterbed, long-defunct boardwalk storefronts such as Us in Heaven (adjacent to what is now Titanic clothing store), and the Cadillac Hotel. All these boardwalk scenes are only made more haunting and ghostly by Talbott’s use of luminous black-and-white film stock and an oversaturation of sunshine.
With his Nikon rangefinder cameras, his Rolleiflex and Tri-X film for most of his beach work and his Hasselblad for portraits, Talbott captured what he considered “a beautiful time that was definitely our time, and we had dreams of everlasting peace and love.”
Talbott later left California and enjoyed a long career in commercial and advertising photography. He now lives with Pat in northern Arizona, where he creates fine art digital prints.
As for Venice, Talbott did not know it at the time but it was changing right before his lens. Only decades later, after pulling out boxes of old prints, did he glean newfound appreciation for what he caught on film.
“There was a time when these images did not seem very compelling,” Talbott admitted. “But with the passage of time,
I see the treasure that they are. Sometimes I look at one of these pictures and I close my eyes and I can feel the way it was and the way we were.”
With her “Venice Photographs” presentation, Maryjane hopes attendees will open their eyes and do the same.
The “Venice Photographs, 1955-2000” slide show happens at 6 p.m. and at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Canal Club, 2025 Pacific Ave., Venice. Appetizers served; $3 to $5 cocktail specials. Call (310) 823-3878 or visit canalclubvenice.com.