In the Old Days:
Arielle Haze views
Unpainting the Town:
Helen K. Garber photos
Art at the Rose Cafe'
New Venice Sign
In the Old Days:
Gondolas of Venice
Gondola enters lagoon around 1909, Midway on left
"Lady Gondolier" in 1923 or thereabouts, on the Lagoon, with Race Thru the Clouds coaster in background
Same angle as previous picture
Gondola passes Villa City
Werner's gondola at The Canal Club
- it's the real deal - beautiful varnished wood and upholstered seats
- very different from the spare and narrow little craft in front of the
bank. I know it was in the Cadillac Hotel for years.
A VENICE TREASURE HUNT!
by Todd von Hoffman
It all started when Gwen Howard from our Venice Centennial Promotion/Communications Committee suggested a press release photo of key community Centennial figures using the Washington Mutual gondola as a backdrop. Sounded like a great idea to me because this gondola has always been a curiosity and I hoped to include a little history of this artifact.
You've probably seen this little blue and yellow craft on Lincoln, just south of Pollo Loco (such is the state of our modern landmarks right? - hey, don't get me wrong, I think their chicken is great but I happen to be a Campo's man). It was rumored to be a genuine, and very probably the only, original Abbot Kinney gondola from the Great Old Days - one of those that Mr. Kinney brought over from Venice, Italy to cruise the Lagoon and canals with happy tourists and crooning gondolier during that magic time before the tide of asphalt paved over a promise and a dream.
Such is the thinking of the dilettante.
Enter Elayne Alexander of the Venice Historical Society
Now if you don't have one of Elayne's great books on Venice, I hope you have Jeff Stanton's (yea, that postcard guy on the boardwalk), or one by Sweet William or the very cool and increasingly rare "Fantasy By The Sea" by Tom Moran & Tom Sewell from 1979. Venetians live in a pretty damn special place and should have one home reference at least - think of all the curious out-of-town guests we have - you don't want to sound like an idiot right?
Ah, back to the dilettante (me) and Elayne.
Elayne, firmly, patiently, professionally, set me straight. That Washington Mutual gondola isn't a genuine Abbot Kinney gondola imported from Italy after all. In fact, Kinney didn't import gondolas from Italy - they came from the Venice exhibit at the St. Louis Exposition. One myth debunked.
So what is the little gondola in front of the bank if it isn't "real"? Well, something equally interesting. It seems to be a parade (possibly Mardi Gras) prop built by Arthur Reese. Mr. Reese was the town decorator - he designed floats, giant Mardi Gras papier mache heads, stage decorations, you name it. So that makes the Washington Mutual gondola, while not an "original", still extremely special and unique.
So no gondolas from the old Venice Of America exist then right? Well, Elayne had heard some years ago of a gondola that used to be in the Cadillac Hotel and was supposedly moved to an old closed establishment at the NW end of Windward where it may still be hanging over the bar - some folks call it St. Marks now though the St. Marks Hotel, once connected by a "Bridge of Sighs" over Speedway, is long gone. This was pretty amazing news! Stephen Pouliot, sub-chair of the Arts & Entertainment Committee working on the historical displays, offered to check this out asap. The result? Nothing but a chained door and a deepening mystery - who owns that building and is there really a gondola in there?
An email to producer/director Tony Bill provided the ownership piece of the puzzle - the building is owned by a guy who owns a lot of Venice real estate. No, not The Governator - but Werner Scharff of General Real Estate Management.
Elayne Steps Out
Meanwhile, after several emails and calls about Venice history, Elayne offered an Ocean Front Walk walking tour - something she hadn't done for 2 years. A wonderful and generous idea but, because of prior commitments on her schedule, I only had a few night hours to rally a group. Fortunately about 10 of those I called were able to come yesterday, Sunday, and meet at the western end of Rose Avenue.
It was a perfect morning and our tour group ambled down a southern route learning some fascinating things about people and buildings along the boardwalk. We reached Windward and passed the chained doors of the "Gondola Mystery Building". It was certainly big enough - heck, the whole gondola fleet could be hiding in that place.
Our tour ended at the Post Office and the group broke off toward lunch, drinks and cars home. A few of us, David Buchanan, Daryl Barnett, Theo and myself, headed back along Windward, passing That Building again. And here was an amazing sight - the chains were off and the door to the place was open! We peered into the dark space and saw a bar but no gondola. Our calls of "hello!" went unanswered. A low table fashioned from a surfboard was all that blocked our way - no problem for Daryl. Over she went and right in looking for someone in charge. She quickly found Mike, a tough looking contractor (and his tougher looking Pitbull) wondering who the hell was in the place.
Mike, sadly, knew just what we were inquiring about. Yes, he had known that a gondola was in the place but a previous contractor, he heard, had sold it and a bunch of other stuff from the building on Ebay several months back without the knowledge of the owner. The gondola went for about $400 bucks he recalled.
We couldn't believe our luck - clear confirmation of this incredible artifact at the same time we discover it's been sold into oblivion for chump change. How could something so precious be lost to us? And on the verge of our Centennial? Not to mention having to report this horrific tragedy to Elayne, the Historical Society, and Venice - pure madness!
Why We Should Have Just Questioned The Dog
Daryl gave me the number and name of Werner's partner Ann Everest and I called the next day. Absolutely, Ann knew all about the gondola. No, Mike, she said, knew absolutely nothing about the gondola. So where was it? Ann explained that the Windward building was being refitted for a Mexican restaurant and that the gondola, in perfect condition, had been carefully moved to another Werner Scharff property, to the back room of The Canal Club a few blocks south on Pacific.
Greatly relieved, I thanked her, flew out the door, fired up our trusty '66 Falcon and jammed straight down to the Canal Club. Anita showed me to some curtains behind the bar and I entered a private fabric-draped room for about 100 patrons. And there, hanging gloriously from the ceiling, was the great prize and the end of a mystery. Deep varnish, beautiful woodwork, cushioned elegant seats, the canoe-like upturned prow and stern, the upturned signature oar rest. This was a true gondola. Anita saw my expression and got a little excited about all this herself I believe.
Thanks to Werner Scharff and the good folks at General Real Estate for preserving this incredible artifact - The Mystery Gondola.
© 2004 - 2012 Pat Hartman