Expressions from Venice, California

Sponto Gallery, 7 Dudley Avenue, Venice, CA — July 19th 2006, 6:30 p.m., Dumb Angel presents a Beatnik Beach Film Screening, featuring Dirty Feet (a 90-minute film shot in 1965 at Balboa’s Prison of Socrates coffeehouse), plus a slideshow of Southern California Beat Generation hangouts and live surf instrumental music by the Insect Surfers. For information call (310) 399-2078.

Venice West (also known as Venice Beach or Venice-of-America) was a tributary European conception by wealthy eccentric Abbot Kinney. Kinney’s vision was to transplant Venetian culture to the West Coast of America with Italian-designed architectural masterpieces created during the early 20th Century. By the late ’50s/early ’60s, Venice boasted two of the most subterranean of all Southern California “Beat Generation” hang-outs — the Venice West Café (7 Dudley Ave.) and its mad-hatter counterpart, the Gas House (1501 Ocean Front Walk).

Gondola rides on the Venice Canal created an American / Italian flavor. A neighborhood of these canals still exists, cool and funky along with the counterpart shopping groove on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Equator Books, outsider Surf wear shop Hydrolab, tiki store Cruz Vintage, cool coastal furniture shops Surfin’ Cowboys and French 50s-60s are a few of the highlights. The literary center, Beyond Baroque (open Fridays and Saturdays) is nearby on Venice Boulevard.

Windward Avenue served as an opulent entrance to the Venice Ocean Front Walk area. Abbot Kinney’s original concept for Venice West was to bring world-class art galleries and opera to his settlement. Pop culture and carnival atmosphere out-paced the highfalutin setting early on. As decay set in during the ’50s, an art scene unforseen by Abbot Kinney would call Venice West home.

NOT “The Girl in the Mini Skirt” whose praises were sung by The Era of Sound in 1966. And . . . she doen’t look too interested in the Arcade games. But, you can stand in this location on Windward Avenue today and still absorb a pretty interesting environment. In our time, retro clothing and book shop Animal House is across the street, where she’s facing, while to her left, Small World Books sits alongside our fave local eats place, the Sidewalk Cafe. These shops, along with a few of the places mentioned on Abbot Kinney, carry Dumb Angel #4: All Summer Long. Behold, some of the columnated ruins that didn’t domino.

Royal family of the Venice West Beat scene during the 1950s — Wallace Berman with his wife Shirley and son Tosh on the boardwalk of Venice, California. The backdrop here is leftover set decorations used to simulate Tijuana for Orson Welles’ 1958 noir masterpiece, Touch of Evil

The Bathing Pavillion was the defining edifice of early Venice. Like most of what you see here, it’s all long-gone.

Theatrical Asian mythology meets European gothic in this striking example of Venice Beach vernacular architecture. The mix of grandiose and carnival became commonplace in California during the first half of the 20th Century (a style now referred to as “California Crazy”)

Another Venice example of California Crazy . . . here a molten edifice dubbed “The Grand Canyon”

The Venice Ballroom was one of many out by the oceanside catering to Angelenos who wished to engage in ballroom dancing. Apparently, like the Sunset Strip in 1966, Los Angeles authorities weren’t too keen on dancing around the turn of century, so it was primarily done at this unincorporated beach area, away from provincial hassles. In 1967, the same thing would happen when the Venice Ballroom became the Cheetah.

Ballroom dancehalls provided the large venue space needed to accommodate the popularity of new dance crazes at the dawn of the Jazz Age and Swing Era

Café Nat Goodwin’s, an early movie biz hangout. The original film stars would imbibe at the Alexandria Hotel in downtown L.A., but soon enough, the loose atmosphere around Venice became the main draw.

Baron Long’s Ship Cafe was the other main hangout during the early days of cinema. MGM Studios would open in nearby Culver City, and that non-Los Angeles township became thee thespian watering hole during the Jazz Age. Frank Sebastian’s Cotton Club (gigs by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton), Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s Plantation Cafe and Danceland (all on Washington Boulevard) were the top venues there.

‘A crowd of people stood and stared . . .’ — turn-of-the-century Venice Beach, Sgt. Pepper style.

“C’mon Baby, Let’s Do the Swim!” Bathing Pavllion, Venice.

Outside view of the Venice West Café, now the Sponto Gallery (7 Dudley Ave.). On July 19th, Dumb Angel will host a “Beatnik Beach” film screening at Sponto, featuring a slideshow of SoCal Beat Generation coffeehouses, including more on the Venice West Café, plus others

Inside the Venice West Café . . . behind these jazz cats, on the wall, is Wallace Berman’s bohemian benediction: “Art is Love is God.”

1959 — Lawrence Lipton’s discerning look at the Venice West Beat scene, featuring tales of the Venice West Café and the Gas House, as well as its many poets, artists, scenesters and entrepreneurs.

Lawrence Lipton (left) with Ed “Big Daddy” Nord, owner of the Gas House

The Gas House. A huge civic battle raged over the existence of this place in 1960. Early 20th Century comedic phenoms Groucho Marx and Stan Laurel pitched in some bread to help save the Beats. The Gas House was razed, but not before Venice poet and author Stuart Perkoff made a brilliant appearance on You Bet Your Life. The history of the Venice Beat scene has been well-documented more recently in John Arthur Maynard’s book Venice West: The Beat Generation in Southern California (Rutgers University Press, 1991).

Portrait of the Gas House gang in Venice, drawn by Shanna Baldwin, circa 1960 (Used by permission, courtesy of Shanna Baldwin and S.E. Griffin)

Overhead view of the Venice Pier area during Abbot Kinney’s day

The same pier, rennovated and re-opened in 1959 as Pacific Ocean Park

“And Disneyland and P.O.P. is worth a trip to L.A.” sang the Beach Boys in “Amusement Parks U.S.A.” from Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!!), 1965. The Modernist entrance, Raymond Lowery-inspired sky ride and cheese-cut Neptune fountain entrance added up to the perfect Nautical-Modern experience.

At the end of the pier, Pacific Ocean Park featured a Tiki ride, “South Sea Island,” sponsored by U.S. Rubber.

Surrounded by the sky ride orbs above and a waterfall below, South Sea Island provided a relaxing, last outpost from L.A., positioned
as it was out on the ocean

Bas relief of the South Sea Island entrance. “An unforgettable visit to the tropics via an exciting Banana Train ride through a volcanic crater, erupting geysers, an earthquake and a tropical storm.” — P.O.P. brochure

South Sea Island took you on a tour of a volcano interior, with Martin Denny-styled music filling out the sound

Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys pose with models at Pacific Ocean Park for a summer, 1966 photo spread in Teen magazine’s “Giant Surfari Issue”. A sunshiny photo of Cheryl Tiegs graced the cover. Bass harmonica and theremin were already thick in their music.

Clearly, the old Venice Ballroom served a good purpose when it was opened as the Cheetah in early 1967. Headliners were primarily groups that had flourished in the suddenly-banned teenage nightclubs of the Sunset Strip during 1965/1966; Love headlined a Cheetah bill featuring Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. The Standells and the Leaves held the place in rapture another night. The Doors and Iron Butterfly played as well. Tonight, it’s Sky Saxon’s birthday party with a performance by the Seeds. Photo courtesy Hillary Paine.

The Cheetah was the California offshoot of New York City’s incredibly successful Cheetah club, opened in 1966. The Cheetah Boutique was also opened inside of both clubs, with a line of clothing designed specifically for the Mod set. Opening for the Seeds at this engagement were the Boston Tea Party (who released a cool LP on the Flick-Disc label) and the West Coast Branch (regulars out at the Flying Jib in Redondo Beach . . . with 45s of “Spoonful” on Valiant in ’66 and “Colors of My Life” on A&M in ’67). Photo courtesy Hillary Paine.

Big Brother & the Holding Company came down to Venice from San Francisco to play the Cheetah; Janis Joplin had tried her first marijuana cigarette in a Venice coffeehouse in 1962. In from Arizona, a regular opening act at the Cheetah were the Nazz. They later signed with Frank Zappa’s Bizzare/Straight Label and became Alice Cooper (due to the Pennsylvania band who’d recorded “Open My Eyes” already bein’ around). The Strawberry Alarm Clock made their appearance in Psych-Out at the Cheetah — despite the film being based in San Francisco. On the first episode of The Mod Squad, the Other Half were shown performing “No Girl Gonna Cry” at the Cheetah. Just prior to opening, Herb Alpert filmed a dramatic segment in the old ballroom for one of his TV specials. Photo courtesy Hillary Paine.



On Thursday, June 2nd, Dumb Angel attended the debut of Kitty Diggin’s incredibly well-thought out theme club Dandy at Safari Sam’s on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The first night’s soiree was subtitled An Evening of Candy Stripes, Brocade, Ruffly Sleeves and Absinthe-Inspired Visions. The audience came decked out in ’20s gear, with DJs Prickle and Shauna spinning an intense mix of songs somewhere between Duke Ellington’s “The Mooch” and Peter & Gordon’s “Lady Godiva”. The correlation between ’20s and ’60s fashion and music was complete, with the Kinks’ “Dandy” somewhat defining the direction of ensuing affairs. “1960s Carnaby Street had this wealth of appreciation for the ’20s,” Diggins told Dumb Angel, “Lavender velvet pantsuits, paisley shirts with ascots and scarves, plus the flapper bob hairstyle were all a huge part of Carnaby’s flair and lasting appeal.” A group of appropriately-attired Go Go dancers were workin’ all night, with the evening’s musical highlight coming from New York City’s Armen Ra — Master of the Theremin. Classically-trained, and from a family of musicians in Tehran, his Middle Eastern melodic sense raised the bar in an already unique evening of fun, dancing and sound. The next Dandy (July 13th) promises to be every bit as enlightening, this time subtitled: Bastille Day Go For Barouque.


A wild tyme was had by all at Dandy. Photo courtesy of

Miss Primm. Photo by John Scott Perreira.

Sir D’Andy Luxe and Kitty Diggins. Photo by John Scott Perreira.

Creekbird. Photo by John Scott Perreira.

Miss Primm. Photo by John Scott Perreira.

Prince Poppycock. Photo by John Scott Perreira.

A few Absinthe-Inspired Visions. Photo by John Scott Perreira.

Mr.Uncertin and the Pobelle Twins aka “Uncertwin.” Photo by John Scott Perreira.

Armen Ra w/ Theremin. Photo by John Scott Perreira.

Armen Ra takes the mood beyond. Photo by John Scott Perreira.

Dandy attendee Melissa Jean on the veranda, Sunset Boulevard in the background. Photo by John Scott Perreira.

Master Showman Kitty Diggins. Photo by Dr. Mangor.

Dandy audience member Tiffany

Dandy ended with an incredible ’20s / ’60s DJ mix by Prickle (who took most of these photos) and Shauna. In this rockstar-free environment, the participants were the headline act.

In tribute to the cool vibe at Dandy, Dumb Angel here reprints a series of photos from a similar party covered in Surfing Illustrated during February, 1966:

Surfer girl goes Bonnie Parker

Mickey Munoz and Hidie Edwards dance it up in their flapper attire

On a Loony Tunes level . . . host Greg Noll receives a bomb for his new surfboard factory from shaper / competitor, Hobie Alter

Promotional program for Dirty Feet, from 1965, written by producer/director Ted Nikas about his experiences in making the film around his coffeehouse, the Prison of Socrates

To see all of this and more, please join Dumb Angel at Sponto Gallery (7 Dudley Ave., Venice, CA) on July 19th, 2006, at 6:30 p.m. The screening will include boss clips from various beatnik-related films, a slideshow of SoCal beat coffeehouses, the Dirty Feet feature film and live music by the Insect Surfers. Ted Nikas, the filmmaker who created Dirty Feet, will be on-hand for Q&A

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