Venice Beach Essay
The smell of the ocean, the feel of sand on your feet and the burning of incense bring back the memories of a golden era in Venice Beach.
Many people are curious of what the 70's were like in Venice and Gold's Gym back in the day. It was an era that was stand alone and never to be repeated again. But, most things go full circle in life but the second time around is nothing more than a varied imitation and cannot capture what the real deal was.
In particular most of the questions asked of me are about Venice and what it was like hanging out in what they call the 'Hippie' era. To me it was another world and another time and a feeling that I never want to forget.
As a young kid I would go with my family from my small town up north to vacation on the beaches in Santa Monica, which was two miles north of Venice. This was the original 'Muscle Beach' and the time was the late 50's and early 60's. At that time this was the Mecca of weightlifting, gymnastics and bodybuilding. Huge crowds would come to the beach to participate and view events that were taking place off the boardwalk. At that time we never ventured to Venice as there wasn't much going on down there. We 'd go towards there about a mile to Ocean Park that had an amusement pier with a roller coaster, fun house, movies, skating and rides. It was a very active and fun place at the time.
Ocean Park Pier caught fire in the 70's and burnt all the way down to just a few pilings left in the water. It was a sad sight as it was a gathering place for a lot of people who came from all over the city.
Santa Monica Pier
Coming to the beach for me was a real treat since we didn't have anything similar near in the desert town I grew up in and the minute my feet hit the sand, and took a breath of the ocean air, I knew in my heart that this would be the place for me as I got older and on my own.
I returned to Venice in late 1969 just before we turned the clock into the 70's. I was drawn there for many reasons, one being that I wanted to expand my future horizons in entertainment and also get to Gold's Gym and advance my training.
I was used to going to gyms at home that were virtually empty during the day because people worked 8 to 5 and that was their structure. To my amazement when I entered Gold's one morning at 10 am, the gym was crowded and everyone was training hard. I said to myself, 'does anyone work?"
The gym attire was sweat pant, or short and even bathing suits; many had no shirts and no shoes. After all this was Venice and it was the 70's. They came off the beach to train and walked across the street to the beach when they were done. The attitude in the gym and on the beach was a friendly bunch of people from various parts of the world and everyone was accepted as one. I didn't see much of any bad attitudes or unfriendly people. From where I came most were bottled up and cynical about your hair, dress, working out, etc and here I was accepted like the others.
Everyday we'd train and hit the beach where others gathered to hang out and talk. Many people worked in the studios at night or as bouncers or bodyguards. This allowed them to train and hang out during the day.
The beach was not crowded and everyone knew each other. This was nothing like I was used to and I was in heaven everyday that I'd go down as I found a new life and friends from all over who had interesting stories to tell. Everyday for me was a new venture and I'd wake up early just to start the day.
Venice Weight Pen 70's and Today
The weight pen was just off the sand and the water and cost $3 a year to train. They had just about everything you needed to get a good work out and there were never more than 4 or 5 people training. At times we would just take our work out there because of the fresh sea air and sun at the same time. Just a few yards away was a breakfast coffee shop, which had an 8 egg omelet for about $2.95 with cottage cheese, toast and coffee. Most all of us would eat there because of the quantity and price. They catered to the Venice crowd and bodybuilders.
Our routine would be to train, take a run by the water, go have lunch and come back to lie in the sun. Then later in the day maybe take a second workout on calves, or abs. At times we'd get together for dinner somewhere but on the weekends we'd all go out to the Marina, which was a mile away and had some great clubs. This is where we'd meet girls of course and socialize. Our bodies were pretty much a conversation piece simply because back then no one else looked like us.
Our clothing varied from work out clothes which some wore all day and night and some of the more insecure guys would wear two sweatshirts to look bigger. But in the clubs we'd dress up more which meant paisley shirts and flared pants. Some wore leisure suits, which thankfully aren't around any longer, plus clumsy looking boots with big heels.
The car of the era was the VW Bug. Almost everyone had one of those or a VW bus with flower's painted on it for 'Flower Power', which was a big 70s thing. I was raised around Chevys and muscle cars and in my town and people judged you by what you drove. No one would accept me driving a VW. So, I bought a used one anyway and loved it. I drove it for a few years until it died.
It was an easy lifestyle and jobs really weren't an issue. Many took odd jobs to pay rents that were anywhere from $80 to $150 on the beach. Food was inexpensive and gas was 35 cents a gallon. Many of us were able to get studio work as extras or actors or even working on sets as grips. The work was inconsistent but enough to make ends meet and allow us to train in the gym and lay in the sun. I was fortunate to wrestle professionally 5 nights a week to make a living and TV commercials and films during the day and in between collect unemployment.
Zucky's Deli on 5th and Wilshire was our hangout for breakfast and late night cheese omelettes.
The colognes and perfumes back then were basically oils of essence and Musk and Patchouli were the main scents. You could smell them a mile away and they had their own way of reaching your sole. We called it 'Hippie Oil.' People would also burn incense in their apartments and it would leak out into the streets, as you'd walk by. These were scents that if you smelled today would bring back the memories of that era, and especially if you lived it.
The Fifth Dimension and Bob Dillon were the main music groups of the 70's and Bob rehearsed right down the street from the gym.
Mullet hairstyles and mustaches were in along with long sideburns. We all had them and I couldn't imagine them now. Arnold grew a mustache back then and looked totally out of place. I think there may be one photo of him with it. I kept mine and still have it.
This was an era of it's own merit and when the clock turned to the 80's, it was gone like a door slammed shut. It was off to a new era, but all I can say is I lived it, loved it and will never forget it. I hold it dear to my heart like I would a family member and will treasure those moments forever.
Follow ric drasin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ricdrasin
Photo Essay: The Walls Are Alive in Venice Beach
Screenshot from the Universal Pictures movie Xanadu
It looked like some strange world of buxom babes serving hot dogs, shirtless rollerskaters...
Screenshot from the Universal Pictures movie Xanadu
...and seven sisters that lived inside a mural and could somehow come to life through dance.
I had to believe it was magic. But it was just movie magic. Not only does that mural not exist, but the wall it was painted on doesn't even exist.
Even so, Venice actually is a beach city of murals, some in tribute to its film history...
...and others in tribute to Venice's cultural history itself...
...like the Venice de Milo...
...painted on the exterior wall of Danny's Deli.
Danny's is historic in its own right, in a building that dates back to 1915.
From its ceiling hangs of the old gondolas used to navigate the canal waters of Venice of America.
Venice's current iteration couldn't exist if those canals near the boardwalk hadn't been filled in and paved over to allow for automobile traffic...
...or if the beach itself hadn't been buried in sand to cover up the old Venice Pavilion. Built in 1961 to hold concerts, the pavilion became a haven for the homeless in the 1980s, and later a popular skatepark. Long gone were the roller skaters. They'd been overtaken by skateboards and graffiti in "The Pit."
The Pavilion site was set for demolition in the late '90s / early 00s, but the city ran out of money and only partially demolished it, deciding to leave all of the intact elements and the rubble in place, and covering it in sand. You can still see the chimneys from the old pavilion fire pits sticking up, now painted black.
This section of the beach is an area devoted to legal graffiti art, where wannabe street artists can apply for a free permit, buy some paint, and make their mark.
They paint the cones. trashcans, some remaining walls and even the trees, but once those are full of tags, their handiwork is covered in black paint, creating new blank canvases for new artists to deface.
But even with all of those changes, there's something about that boardwalk that is so familiar to me, as though I knew my way around even before I'd ever been there in person.
It's a place you can go when you feel lost, and you won't be alone.
And maybe someday, someone will pop out of one of those painted walls to inspire you.
Much of what I learned about this part of Venice is thanks to Vintage Venice Reel to Real Tours. Thanks Jonathan!
Photo Essay: A Venice Without Canals
Photo Essay: Venice (Beach) Canals
An Alternate Route