Longtime Venice resident Werner G. Scharff died in his sleep Thursday night, August 17th, at the age of 90.
In the decades which followed the birth of Venice, it was Scharff who picked up Venice founder Abbot Kinney’s mantle, growing and restoring an extraordinary collection of Venice properties, says his son Christopher.
They included the historic St. Mark’s building on Windward, the Cadillac Hotel on the Boardwalk, the gallery LA Louver, the working studio of artist Robert Graham and the structure which launched the now-defunct West Beach CafÈ, a focal point of the 1970s California art scene.
West Beach CafÈ later became the site of James’ Beach.
To support the commercial ventures in a group of buildings he owned on a block of Venice Boulevard abutting the beach, Scharff had the foresight to build a multi-level parking lot, which could ensure easy access for visitors and patrons, his son notes.
Scharff also commissioned murals which added to the Venice urban landscape.
The Van Gogh tribute Starry Night at Wave Crest and Ocean Front Walk and R. Cronk’s self-portrait of an artist rappelling down The Beach House were both painted at Scharff’s behest.
Scharff built The Beach House, which now houses the architectural firm Jerde.
A mural Scharff commissioned on the St. Mark’s Hotel building on the Speedway elevation includes a depiction of Scharff’s wife Simone riding a scooter. The painting was not his only commemoration of his wife. He was not afraid to have the words “Werner loves Simone” painted on several of his buildings.
A majestic portrait of Venice founder Abbot Kinney highlights the five-story brick apartment building Scharff owned on Venice Boulevard. Gallery LA Louver commenced its life in that building.
Scharff went on to commission a structure for LA Louver from the designs of noted architect Fred Fisher. It is said to be the only ground-up gallery built that year and it makes LA Louver one of the few galleries in Los Angeles housed in its own structure rather than a converted space, according to his son.
As a philanthropist, Scharff provided business and financial support to many Los Angeles entrepreneurs and tenants, including art galleries, shops, and restaurants, Christopher Scharff observes, and during lean years in Venice, he kept more than one Venice-entrepreneur afloat. He launched Venice dreams by assisting first-time businesses.
Scharff began acquiring property in Venice after World War II during the downside of Venice’s commercial value.
Asked if Scharff had an affinity to any particular one of his Venice properties, Christopher Scharff noted his father’s connection to his properties on the Boardwalk such as The Beach House, as well the King Apartments on Venice Boulevard.
He was born on July 7th, 1916, in Lindau, Germany and immigrated to New York in 1935, after the rise of Nazism.
Former food merchants in Munich, the family brought little but dreams and ambitions to America, and a penchant for hard work, the son says.
When Scharff was a boy, his father died, and he quit school and worked in the family’s grocery business.
In New York, he and his brother Kurt met an Austrian named Sepp Lanz, who had come from his native Salzburg in 1937 and opened a women’s apparel store and a small factory.
When the brothers moved to California in 1938 — making the cross-country journey in a convertible Ford packed with all their possessions — they invited Lanz to join them.
Arriving in their new home, the three men launched a women’s apparel store named “Lanz.” Actresses such as Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford were customers.
During the World War II years, Scharff aided the war effort, working the night shift to build warships and serving in the Army.
After the war, the Lanz firm prospered and eventually grew to 33 stores in addition to a Lanz sleepwear and dress manufacturing division, which sold items to more than 3,000 stores from the 1950s to the present day, including such stores as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.
Christopher Scharff describes his father as a creative, passionate and hard-driving entrepreneur who touched countless Venice lives, impacting and changing not only the physical space, but through his decisions, the sense of community.
Twice divorced, Scharff is survived by his third wife of 40 years, Simone; son Christopher Scharff of Bel-Air; son Peter Scharff and daughter Alexis Scharff, both of Bend, Oregon; son Christopher Hormel and daughter Angela Hormel, both of Ojai; Gregory Hormel of Hoboken, New Jersey; and six grandchildren.
The family requests that donations be made in lieu of flowers to either of the following charities:
n National Parkinson Foundation, Inc.; 1501 N.W. 9th Avenue/Bob Hope Road; Miami, FL 33136-1494. (800) 327-4545,
n Foundation for End-Of-Life Care; 16830 Ventura Blvd., Suite 315; Encino, CA 91436. (877) 800-2951, www.vitascharity fund.org