This is Venice in California, a beach area of Los Angeles. The only similarity to the Italian version is the desire to extract money from tourists in many and varied ways.  Although sitting on a bench with a placard that reads ‘Need Weed, Please Donate’ is something I’ve never come across in Venezia, although I might try it next time I’m there.

So why is it called ‘Venice’? It was founded as a seaside resort in 1905. However, it was the arse-end of a property deal that consisted mostly of marshy swamps with a healthy population of mosquitoes.

Abbot Kinney, tobacco millionaire and owner of the land, had to drain the swamps using a system of canals. Being in the business of flogging ciggies as a cure for coughing, he then hit upon the idea of utilising the canals as a marketing gimmick. Hence, he built Italianate architecture, got hold of a few gondolas to ply the canals and called it ‘Venice’. With piers, dance-halls, miniature railway and even more gondolas, it soon became the ‘Disneyland’ of its day. So successful was it that the growing city of Los Angeles decided to take it under its protective wing.

As you’d expect, once a town council starts getting involved in anything, it all went tits-up pretty quickly. They paved over a lot of the canals to make way for cars, screwed up the politics and didn’t invest in the infrastructure, other than a new police station to keep the rising crime in check. By the 1950s it was a run-down slum that was controlled by gangs. So, a bit like Croydon* then.

Like Croydon, ‘Gentrification’ was seen as the Council’s longer-term strategy i.e. make the rents so high that the poorer people move out and the richer, presumably more well behaved, people move in. I suppose having palm trees, tourists and a nice beach helped in that process. So from around the year 2000 Venice moved up market. Let’s hope Croydon’s palm trees, tourists and nice beach will have the same effect.

muscle beach travel guideVenice still has an element of naughtiness to it though. The beach walk is lined with pop-up doctors that can prescribe you medicinal cannabis for a few dollars, there are plenty of homeless performing all sorts of tricks to get you to part with a few dollars and there are the show-offs at Muscle Beach that will let you photograph them, err for a few dollars. Handy Tip: If you are British, and thus travelling on an austerity budget, use the telephoto setting on your camera.

*Croydon – A suburb of London, famed for being a suburb of London.

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