Celebrating the Creative Community of Venice.
(This is a re-print from the November 2002 issue)
By Suzy Williams
John Haag – whose long career of fighting for the rights of Venetians has earned him the title of People’s Doge of Venice.
He was the proprietor of the Venice West coffeehouse and led the fight for the right of poets to read their poetry at a time when it was illegal in Los Angeles without an entertainment license.
Haag was a founder, and a long-time leader, of the Venice Peace and Freedom Party and co-founder, along with Rick Davidson, of the Free Venice movement.
In addition, Haag “…served as founding president of the Venice Chapter of the ACLU, chairman of the Venice Forum, publicity chairman of the Venice/Santa Monica chapter of CORE, ‘action chairman’ of the Westside United Civil Rights Committee, rally chairman of the Congress of Unrepresented People (COUP), chairman of the International Days of Protest Committee, arrangements committee chairman of the Southern California Committee to End Police Malpractice…” (Venice West – The Beat Generation in Southern California, John Arthur Maynard, Rutgers University Press, 1991).
John Haag has been in the thick of every struggle to defend Venice for the past 40 years. He was instrumental in the successful opposition to a freeway through Venice, turning the canals into a yacht harbor, fighting police brutality in Oakwood and throughout Venice, upholding the rights of artists and poets to perform and sell their creations, and against commercial overdevelopment in Venice. He was interviewed by Beachhead Collectivist Suzy Williams in October.
Suzy Williams: Welcome Mr. John Haag! Say, how would you describe yourself?
John Haag: Boy, I don’t know whether I would try. I’ve been in retirement, in seclusion for so many years, but prior to that I would have described myself as a self-taught organizer. I started out not having the vaguest idea of where I was going. But, I found myself organizing a picket line down on the boardwalk protesting police harassment of the Venice West Coffeehouse.
SW: Right, I was just reading in Venice West, the book, and it said that you posted a sign on the door that said “NO MORE POETRY! The anti-intellectual yahoos at the LAPD want it to stop. Poets ARISE!”
JH: Well, I’m not very graceful…
SW: Au contraire! So that was your first organizing?
JH: Well, yes, except when I was working for CBS in New York City, I organized my work group to call for strike. I got a unanimous strike vote from that group of television news film technicians. The strike didn’t have to take place-
SW: You mean you got the raise before you had to…
JH: Yes, right.
SW: But that was heartening for you and encouraging.
JH: It was startling, because when I started out working, I was relatively anti-union.
SW: You were! Why?
JH: I think it was the background I came from. My father was a machinist, which is really a craft, I don’t know if that had anything to do with his bias, but he was virulently anti-union and I just picked it up.
SW: Was he a Republican?
JH: Oh, yes he was.
SW: Like James Brown is a Republican. Certain specialists are just conservative.
JH: Yes. So I had to join the union when I got this job, and I became friends with the shop steward.
SW: Do you think the roots of your political journey began with that friend?
JH: I don’t know about that, because it wasn’t out of an ideology, there was an unfairness on the part of the company. I think it happened just before I came to California. I spent a year in Italy and I spent quite a bit of time with a Communist official. It just so happened that he liked to take midnight walks. And I’m pretty much of a night person. So somehow, he lived in the same neighborhood where I was living with an Italian family. I think these midnight conversations with Marco gave me some theory, you know, economics and politics.
SW: I see; now, according to this book, Venice West, you became a Communist.
JH: That book is full of expletive deleted!
SW: So it’s not true!
JH: Not only was I never a Communist, but I had many battles with the Communists. I worked with them in the anti-war movement, because my attitude was to work with anybody who agrees with me! I don’t know why that guy printed that or where he got that. I worked as long as I could with them but then I broke, and I suffered the usual consequences, of being called a turncoat, and a Trotskyite. It was over the opposition to the war. For a time I was the Los Angeles Chairman of the W.E.B. Dubois Club, oh yes and The Evening Outlook did call that organization “Communist inspired”.
SW: Who was W.E.B. Dubois? I forgot.
JH: He was a founder of the NAACP, born in the 1860’s, from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a scholar, Black historian, a great orator who called for change, and a Socialist most of his life and towards the end finally he became a Communist and moved to Africa.
SW: He was a leader and a gatherer of people.
JH: Yes, definitely.
SW: You were involved in civil rights, I see you were involved with C.O.R.E. What did that stand for?
JH: Congress of Racial Equality.
SW: Ah, but let’s get back to Venice West, the coffeehouse. (At 7 Dudley, where Sponto’s is now) When did you take ownership of it?
JH: Well, it was 1962 to 1966. I have to say that the coffeehouse was an enormous education to me, I learned so much from so many, you know 20 different varieties of Socialist!
SW: Even more than at Harvard!
JH: At Harvard I did get an education I wouldn’t normally have had. I majored in English, and took several languages, and courses in Art: sculpture, drawing…
SW: And Poetry? Because you are such a sublime poet.
JH: No! I never took a literature course, because I didn’t want to be told how to write.
SW: You rebel!
JH: One of my instructors made this assertion that you could never write a political sonnet in the English language. Two of the poems I sent to The Beachhead recently were political sonnets.
SW: So tell me, were you hassled a lot at Venice West?
JH: The LAPD tried a couple times to employ an ordinance having to do with entertainment, but the judge ruled that what was happening there was not entertainment in terms of the ordinance. Nobody was getting paid! The kind of harassment that happened was not usually violent, but certain people were asked day after day for their I.D; trying to wear you down. Sometimes the cops took you to the county line and told you “ Don’t come back ”. Of course, this wasn’t a legal procedure. I learned the law very quickly.
SW: It’s so funny, we romanticize the sixties, especially in Venice, thinking of it as a freer time, but in fact life was harder to live then.
JH: I haven’t been hassled about my long hair in twenty years!
SW: So what all went on in Venice West, besides poetry?
JH: I think that the coffeehouse was one of the only places on earth where you were encouraged to talk about anything, and talk turned political in 1964, especially. I’m pretty sure someone brought in a leaflet about a protest of the Vietnam War, so there we were at the Veteran’s Cemetery on Sawtelle, about thirty of us. I don’t think there was any hostility, I don’t think anybody knew what we were talking about, no one knew about the war. I was living—I should say working at the coffeehouse where people were talking politics right and left – pardon the expression – and eventually there was a lot of talk that we ought to have a radical political party. I had a little stint where I ran for Assembly and I got a taste of the Democratic Party and not the worst part of it, either. I mean, the Santa Monica club was fairly liberal, you would think, until you get to talking to them! I mean the idea that you had a candidate that ran a coffeehouse! Scandal!
So then there came a time to get real about starting a party. I checked into the election code and found a way that seemed possible by registering sixty-seven thousand people, that would qualify you for the ballot – as opposed to the impossible petition that required six HUNDRED seventy thousand signatures! Then, what should we call the party? There were meetings of radicals of north and south California, and after much noisy discussion, we came up with the name, “Peace and Freedom Party.”And so, with a dozen colleagues, we started registering people on June 23, 1967.
SW: John, can you tell me – how did the Beachhead begin?
JH: There you have one of my favorite stories. The first election that the Peace and Freedom Party was involved in was 1968. We had these three candidates running in Venice. And I had the fixation that we were not going to have this campaign disappear in November. We knew we were not going to get our candidates elected. So what were we doing with all this time and effort? There wasn’t enough time to discuss it before the election, but when it was over, the campaign committee got together and started discussing it: “How about a community radio?” “How about this or that?” The decision was finally made to have a community newspaper. We went from campaign committee to Beachhead collective. And we had the first issue out in December of 1968.
SW: Was it well received right off the bat?
SW: Isn’t that funny? It is today, too. Some things are just so consistent, ya know?
JH: And month by month people looked for it. Over a period of time, we got a whole lot of people distributing it on their own block or maybe two or three blocks. And they did it happily. At its peak we had 5,000 papers delivered door to door. The other thing was the structure of the Beachhead. I don’t need to tell you, there’s no editor, there’s no publisher, there’s no boss. It’s truly a collective, each person having equal voice and vote and nobody getting paid for anything. And that went on for twenty-plus years. And I think that’s some kind of a miracle.
SW: I know, it is astounding.
JH: I will say this: I feel I’m mostly responsible for that structure. Because by then, I had really thought about how to set things up and how to keep them going.
SW: Say, what does “Beachhead” mean, anyway?
JH: It’s a military term describing the initial phase of an invasion. But of course, I had in mind that we were all beach heads. I mean, this paper is a poem and you get all sorts of ambiguity.
SW: Tell us about some of the characters who used to write for the Beachhead.
JH: There were people who got on the Beachhead who became writers. Jane Gordon comes to mind. She was part of the original collective and bit by bit she started writing about things and later she helped organize the feminist caucus in the Peace & Freedom Party. But I think the dynamic was that people joined the Beachhead and developed this talent, not that they necessarily had the talent and came to the Beachhead! Some did, like Arnie Springer, who’s no amateur. He was a professor at Long Beach, but he was a mainstay of the Beachhead for years. Now, I didn’t stay with the Beachhead very long.
SW: You didn’t?
JH: No, and it wasn’t that I didn’t like the Beachhead, I love the Beachhead, but I had to go on to other things. I had the State Peace and Freedom Party to worry about, I had elections to worry about, I had getting on the ballot in other states to worry about. I had to do tours.
SW: But didn’t you send back articles? Didn’t you write that great article on John Muir? Oh, that might have been Rick Davidson.
JH: Oh, most likely.
SW: Was he like your brother?
JH: (Chuckles) Rick was as close to being a brother as anybody. We had a long history, we started out together in the coffeehouse, doing subversive things. We didn’t always agree, but then brothers don’t. We were always on the same side, but we had different ideas of strategies and tactics.
SW: You were a non-violent guy from the get-go, no?
JH: One of the things I am most proud and grateful for is that all the demonstrations I was responsible for, there was not a single arrest or injury. I don’t know how many I’m talking about…I’m talking 1966 to 1970. On the beach, at the Federal Building, on the boardwalk, on Main St. (when the U.S. invaded Cambodia). They all related to my commitment to non-violence. It involved a dedication to avoiding arrest. And communicating with police. Many of whom I worked with were dead-set against dealing directly with the police, but I didn’t look at it that way. The way to avoid trouble was to tell them what we were going to do and stick to it.
SW: You treated the cops like human beings.
JH: To the extent that I could bear it, yes. I remember we had a demonstration at the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, and I saw a Police Lieutenant striding towards me. I felt worried. But it turned out that he was just reminding me to take some flyers I had forgotten with me!
SW: So how do you feel about Venice Cityhood?
JH: No question that I’m in favor of that. On principal, if nothing else. Venice was basically blackmailed into joining Los Angeles.
SW: Blackmailed! What do you mean?
JH: Well, they said they would cut our water off.
SW: That’s mean!
JH: But you see, they gobbled up most of the county that way. No wonder the valley wants to secede!
SW: Well, John this has been a great start, a wonderful insight into you, and a pleasure talking with a man that so many of my friends speak of with hushed, respectful tones.
JH: Thank you.
Venice as Mecca
By John Haag
I sit here on the sand,
a holy place on sacred land,
remembering the tribes and clans
that gathered here, took counsel
and dispersed; foreseeing all
the ones that will arrive,
drink our blessed water and survive,
only to disperse in turn
to spread the word
amongst a disbelieving world.
Take heart, my heart,
for here is never lost
anything forever (but the soul
at times sent wandering
along some other plane).
It too returns home safely
found like a cache of nuts
the squirrel lays by against
a cold day in hell, forgets,
then comes upon in time
The promised land is here;
The time is near at hand.
By Laura Shepard Townsend
If you can spare a moment to contemplate Abbot Kinney’s Venice when he hosted the annual and most splendid Christmas Parties at the Venice Dance Pavilion….The local papers described it this way: “Nowhere else in this country could be witnessed such a sight as was presented in the Venice Dance Pavilion. Had a page been torn from a book of fairy tales, enlarged and filled with animation, a similar picture may have been obtained, but no other way.”
Venetians at that time, already knew that they were living in a very rare place as evidenced by the crowds who piled into Venice for each holiday and weekend to savor the resort and its offerings, but perhaps this was even more true during the Christmas holidays. Think of it … starting in 1906, Abbot Kinney began his tradition of throwing what was to become the legendary Venice Christmas Party….this he continued until his death in 1920. Each year the tree got bigger, the attending children more numerous, and all were welcomed. To those in need, turkeys were given away for free, so that all Venetians could celebrate the holidays.
But of course, Abbot Kinney was no novice to generosity. From the start, his creation, Venice of America, a City of Canals, was built to not only enthrall the working man, but also the poet. Abbot Kinney would have it no other way, for though a rich man, he had once not been rich, and because of this, never viewed the poverty of a person as a crime. As Abbot Kinney explained his personal philosophy, “Why should a man want to die wealthy? It is far better that he build something that will be a pleasure and a benefit to mankind.” So, simply, he did.
Abbot Kinney spent his millions of dollars to transform a swampland into an enchanted city, where the aroma of the sea blended with the earthy perfume of exotic flowerings. Parrot tribes had begun to thrive in his desert landscape of eucalyptus and palms, their raucous calls a syncopation to the tinkling of piano tunes and strums of gondoliers’ mandolins. Venice was to be a Renaissance city that nurtured mankind’s souls as well as their intellects.
Not one to stop there in his gifting, the Doge automatically gave $50 to any child born in Venice, no matter what race, creed, color or religion. Abbot Kinney thought that just by being born in Venice justified a reward. Assuredly, there were fusses to be had, when an African-American child received the same amount as those seemingly more entitled.
It was in Venice, a city where there was “an air of constant excitement and the collection of gorgeous excesses”, that annually thousands of kids and their parents would stand outside the door of the Venice Dance Pavilion, all dressed in gala holiday attire.
Each year, the festivities had become more and more fanciful until 1918, the wintering Barnes Circus brought elephants to the pier to entertain those waiting for the doors to the Pavilion to open. Just the sight of an elephant in those days was magical, but this year, the elephants handed bags of candy to each child brave enough to receive it. The very chic Ship Café served free turkey dinners, never slighting those in need, and guaranteeing that all patrons would be finished in time for the main event of the day – Abbot Kinney’s Christmas Party. When the doors of the Venice Dance Pavilion finally opened at two o’clock, thousands of kids crushed to be the first to get inside.
No matter what the year, the vast hall was converted to a veritable fairy land. To those entering, Arthur Reese, fanciful decorator of Venice, transformed the Pacific daylight to the darkness of night in snowy mountains. There, a small town gleamed warm light from each one of its windows. Icicles hung from the eaves, and snow blanketed the ground.
An impossibly tall tree stood in the middle of the town’s square, decorated with colored lights and ornaments, candy canes, ribbons and pine cones. Garlands of popcorn circled the green boughs. Underneath, thousands of presents were piled, all wrapped in colored paper with satin bows. There were bags of penny candy, and stockings lumpy with goodies, topped by oranges. The cheer of red poinsettias was everywhere. From the stage, Lew Lewis’ orchestra played holiday music.
The Barnes Circus brought ponies for pony rides to entertain the “kiddies” until it was time for the annual Christmas Play. To make room for the performance, the orchestra left the stage; the lights dimmed. Winged Angels in glitter costumes flew above; a bright star appeared, and moved across the night sky to guide bejeweled Magi kings into the snowy village on real camels. It was a re-enactment of the birth of Jesus, the stable filled with live sheep and cows, which mooed and baaed throughout the production’s entirety. All too soon, the play was over. As soon as the lights were turned back on, it was time for the annual Venice Christmas Parade.
While the presents were being gathered, children marched around the 20 foot Christmas tree, clad in paper hats, blowing horns as loudly as possible. Abbot Kinney always helped “Santa Claus” distribute bags of candy, gifts and stockings to every single child there until all the wrapped gifts were gone. Every child had equal rights; no favorites were made of anyone. For those Venetian children who were ill and could not attend the festivities, presents were put into reserve for them. No one was forgotten at Abbot Kinney’s Christmas Party.
When the celebrants reluctantly emerged from the Dance Pavilion, it was night, the stars dancing twinkles in the black sky overhead. Three thunderous booms echoed, and fireworks began lighting up the sky. Flowers of light blasted into existence, blossomed, and then faded, only to be replaced by another flower. The spectacle ended with three booms of thunder. For the adults, this signified the beginning of the Yuletide Ball.
Christmas of 1919 was no different … except the tree was 40 feet tall, the largest tree yet. After all the gifts: Russian dolls, Kewpie dolls, fairies, snowbirds, jack-in-the boxes, and poinsettias were distributed, Abbot Kinney rose to give his traditional Christmas greeting to Venice. It has been reported that there was a special gentleness in his eyes that year:
“I have the hope that each of you will be granted all the wishes that lay deep within your hearts. As for me, my wish this Christmas is that we discover the formula for eternal peace and the entire absence of discord in all matters. God bless each and every one of us.”
No listener was aware that while he was making this poignant speech, Abbot Kinney knew he was dying. In fact, he did not make it to the next Christmas, dying on November 4th, 1920.
Venice mourned him by their exuberance of celebrations of the holiday season in 1920. Various periodicals wrote of Arthur Reese’s remarkable strivings to ensure that Abbot Kinney would be proud of his Venice, and every light post, nook and cranny was ornamented. The people of Venice joined in, seemingly decorating their homes to the max, but they also kept their curtains open so their neighbors and passerbys could enjoy them as well as tribute to their beloved Doge.
The Venice Christmas party was such a beloved tradition, that Thornton Kinney, Abbot’s son, announced that the Christmas holiday of 1920 would be much the same as it always had been, under his father’s care. However, on December 21st, a small stove caught fire, burning down not only the Venice Dance Pavilion, but the Venice pier and much of Windward Avenue close to the Pacific.
Reeling from the destruction, but determined to not let Abbot Kinney’s tradition die, a holiday tree was hurriedly erected and decorated in front of the St. Mark’s Hotel. For you see, the stockings had already been prepared, crammed full of goodies; presents were already wrapped, embellished with satin bows. Three thousand kids came and were not disappointed.
The presents were distributed, but it would never be the same without the presence of the kind and generous visionary human who had created Venice, the man who loved his city and its denizens so well.
By CJ Gronner
Animal House has been decking out Venetians for so long that owner, Ronny Kleyweg, can’t remember exactly when he opened. “The ’70s? The early 80s? I’m not that good at the math.” Me neither, but I DO know that I’ve loved every time I’ve ever stepped through the door at 66 Windward Avenue, and it has been many.
Kleyweg’s family came over on a boat from Holland in 1959, straight to Culver City (where his neighbor was Jeff Ho). A teenaged Kleyweg got a job working at Aardvark’s Venice location, which he managed for 10 years. This stint taught him all the ropes of managing a vintage clothing business, and he opened his first shop of his own called A-Zoo (“Because Venice is a zoo”) in the spot that is now Venice Originals. The current Animal House space used to be an ice cream manufacturing place, and when the owner tired of that, he sold it to Kleyweg, and Animal House has been there ever since … over 30 years now.
Back in the 1970s, it was all about roller skating and skateboarding in Venice (see, SOME things never change!). Kleyweg and his friends, Daryl Hazen and Jeff Rosenberg, used to host big skate bashes, attended by all the celebrities of the day – Brooke Shields, Scott Baio, Patrick Swayze, etc… – and it was all about afros and spandex. Rosenberg had the idea to put the polyurethane wheels from skateboards on to roller skates, and then it all just blew up. Stores like Cheap Skates, and the United Skates of America kept everyone rolling, and Kleyweg even appeared in a movie called, Skatetown USA that showed off those disco times in Venice. (I’m urging him to screen it at the shop – stay tuned!)
Animal House has always been at the center of the action, a bedrock of the Windward neighborhood and must-stop year after year for loyal tourists that have found treasures there on their previous visits to Venice. Animal House is known world-wide for the remarkable selection of vintage pieces, rare and collectible, from concert tees to original Pucci dresses and Aloha shirts that sell for thousands of dollars. The biggest international customers are the Japanese, who will line up once a month, 40 deep sometimes, waiting for the doors to open, so eager are they to snap up the Americana items they love so much (especially vintage Levis). Kleyweg has already done a lot of the treasure hunting for you, so that when you go through the racks of things, they’ve already been edited to be just the very coolest pieces.
It’s not just clothing either. Animal House is a great place to find vintage skateboards, books, bags, jewelry, art, … all of it contributing to the laid back beach vibe felt inside the shop, and right outside the door just steps away from the sand, sun and show that is the Venice Boardwalk. The shop has expanded from vintage only to carrying new lines as well. Clark’s Shoes, Havianas, Splendid, Diesel, Goorin Hats, Hanky Panky, Vans … all compete in the contest of when was cooler, then or now? It’s ALL cool, if you ask me.
That’s pretty much Kleyweg’s attitude about Venice too. It’s ALL cool. When I asked him about how much things have been changing around town, he shrugged and said, “It’s change, it’s fine,” in the easy-going way that has made him such a valued member of the neighborhood for so long. His two sons grew up coming to the store with Dad, and would stand on step-stools to help ring customers up. The merchants on Windward are friends. Kleyweg and his dear friend, Louie Ryan (Townhouse, Menotti’s) and Danny Samakow and James Evans (James Beach, Danny’s Deli, The Canal Club) are leading the charge for a Windward Revival, coming together and organizing FUN for the community. I saw Ryan and Kleyweg out on ladders hanging up Christmas lights along the arches the other day, out of their own pockets, out of their own time, because it’s just more fun. Animal House has always thrown great parties, just for still more fun (the next one is December 13th, a holiday jam with live music from Tom Freund).
In talking about how much HAS changed, Kleyweg mentioned that often people are relieved when they visit Venice again, and find that Animal House is still here after all these years. “Money does talk, so it’s important for people to remember what they love about Venice when deals are being made. Some people don’t get it. WE care.” Yes, we do.
With the rich and famous (Johnny Depp, Brian Setzer, Gwen Stefani, etc etc…) frequenting Venice, the locals are still Kleyweg’s favorite customers, creating friends and relationships that have stood the test of time. Gone now are his old favorite restaurants, the Meatless Mess Hall – a vegetarian spot on the Boardwalk that Kleyweg would take all his first dates to, and the Pelican’s Catch – a seafood place where The Barnyard is now. He misses them, you can tell (especially the spinach nut burger at the Meatless Mess Hall). What remains is what made Kleyweg love it here in the first place, “The Beach vibe and the girls everywhere!” True enough, and as he added with a knowing smile, “I think it’s going to stay special here for a long time.”
It will if we can keep people like Kleyweg around. He still loves going to work every day. He loves the hunt for classic vintage finds. He loves how every day is different, and it’s all ever-changing. He loves “hanging out with Louie,” and seeing what’s new around town. Most of all, he loves “the EXPERIENCE of Venice.”
After showing me some excellent photos of himself in his own afro and spandex, and the various incarnations of the facade of the building, Kleyweg and I were standing in front of the shop in the sunshine, talking about the changes through the years. A friend of Kleyweg’s passed by and said, “Whatever version of Animal House it is, it’s always a landmark.” There in the shadow of the Venice sign, standing next to one of the historic Windward columns, with people waving as they rode by on their bikes, that fact was never more true. Thank you, Animal House, for being there for Venice all these years … and many more!
By Greta Cobar
It’s always nice to interview people that I like, and it’s an added bonus if it’s a band whose music makes me get up and dance pretty much every time I hear them play.
I would like to introduce you to the Venice Street Legends, comprised of Gregg Cruz and Petr Hromadko. Having been playing together for the past eight years, mainly in Venice, Cruz and Petr are “the core” of the band, often joined by other musicians also.
“This is the best place to play – you got the sun, the tourists, you can play at what time you want. I don’t have interest in going anywhere else,” Petr said.
“I love playing guitar – I go into trances. And here we have the Venice Vortex – it channels the spirit of long-gone artists. Here in Venice, time slows down, ten years go by, and you don’t even know it. And we don’t age,” Cruz told me. And I had to agree.
After escaping the communist Czech Republic and getting political asylum, Petr came out to Venice in the 80s and started playing with different people on the beach – whoever was available. He played keyboards for Inner Secrets, which was a regular participant in the anti-apartheid rallies and jam sessions on Brooks and a regular at Miami Spice, the club that used to be on Lincoln and Washington.
Cruz himself started playing blues guitar in the 80s, also here in Venice, with a gentleman from New Orleans. His resume includes gigs at Angelica Huston’s wedding, the House of Blues, and touring in Tahiti.
It was on the fortunate day about eight years ago that Petr approached Cruz and said: “I’d like to play base for your kind of music.” And so the Venice Street Legends came to be.
This year they were invited to platy at Ferarra Buskers, the biggest street festival in the world, which took place in Italy. “They loved our music – people were dancing and screaming in the streets,” Cruz said.
Playing mostly Johnny Cash and other oldies blues/funk hits, the Venice Street Legends entertain the flowing crowd on Ocean Front Walk most sunny days, and play at the Venice Bistro every first friday of the month. I tend to find them throughout Venice at house parties, The Talking Stick, and festivals like the Venice Vintage Motorcycle Rally and the Venice Surf and Skate Festival.
“Music is very healing, and I like to play for Monae a lot,” Petr said referring to their most dedicated fan, who is present at each and every one of their shows – Monae Hromadko, Petr’s daughter, who suffers of cerebral palsy.
“Singing and playing the guitar is what makes me the happiest – it is my greatest joy,” Cruz said.
Cruz and Petr often also play with Kathy Leonardo in another band, the Country Legends, and Mitch Montrose joins them on drums at the Venice Bistro. But their fellow musicians have included many, spanning from a group of friends just popping into the bar to American Idol contestants.
The Beachhead is thrilled to have the Venice Street Legends play at our 45th Anniversary party, at Beyond Baroque on December 1.
“The Beachhead is the best newspaper on the planet. You can quote me on that,” Petr said. “I don’t read any other paper. I like the Beachhead because you don’t care what anyone things,” he continued.
In the month of December the Venice Street Legends will also be playing at the Two-Wheeled toy drive, taking place December 5, 8pm, at Beyond Baroque. Bring a toy or $20 for fun, food and drinks.
And I will see you all December 1!
By Richard Modiano
Wanda Coleman was born and raised in Watts and was a lifelong Angeleno. Encouraged by her parents, Coleman began to write poetry when she was only five years old. She was published for the first time in a local newspaper when she was 13, but she made her writing bones in Venice. She was a denizen of Beyond Baroque’s Wednesday Night Poetry Workshop from its beginnings in 1969, when the center was located on West Washington Blvd. (now known as Abbott Kinney Blvd.) Later, she gave readings at all of Beyond Baroque’s venues with her last being held in October 2012. In July of that year, Coleman was the recipient of the Beyond Baroque George Drury Smith Award. The award is named after the founder of Beyond Baroque.
Wanda’s poetry is characterized by its use of demotic speech and often drawn from her personal experiences. She wrote not just about the black experience in Los Angeles, but the whole configuration of Los Angeles, in terms of its politics and its social life. Wanda was a world-class poet. The range of her poetry and the voice she writes in is accessible to all sorts of people. Her work is both exuberantly performative and carefully crafted. Wanda also draws on the Blues and her work is marked by allusions to jazz and the lingo used by jazz performers re-imagined to highlight daily life. In fact, Wanda released a blues album, with both spoken word and music in 1990. She amassed an impressive collection of work over the course of her career, and she was nominated for the National Book Award in 2001 for Mercurochrome and was finalist for Poet Laureate of California for two years in 2005 and 2012, though she never won. Wanda was a writer for Days of Our Lives in the 1970s, and was the first African American to win an Emmy for writing in 1976. She was also a rigorous and adroit critic, writing a controversial review of Maya Angelou’s A Song Flung Up to Heaven. This resulted in losing work, and some censoring, an experience she wrote about in The Nation in 2001.
Wanda fell ill in August 2012, shortly after she was honored with Amelie Frank at Beyond Baroque’s awards dinner the previous July. She was suffering from a respiratory ailment that became progressively worse, causing her to cancel several readings. But she rallied for a previously scheduled reading in October 2012. This was her last reading at Beyond Baroque and her last visit to Venice. That same month in 2011, she chose Beyond Baroque for the launch of her collection The World Falls Away and was joined by her husband, poet Austin Straus, and old friends Bill Mohr, Cecelia Wooloch, Pam Ward, and David Zasloff.
By spring of this year, Wanda seemed on the road to recovery. I had the honor of being on a panel with her, Bill Mohr and Julia Stein at UCLA during National Poetry Month. She lost weight but was in good spirits. During my last face to face conversation with her she held both my hands as we talked about a Wanda Coleman Day at Beyond Baroque for National Poetry Month 2014, in what we thought would be a complete recovery and return to the reading circuit. But by summer of this year, she was ill again. The week before she died, her husband told me that Wanda was to be hospitalized for surgery to remove a blood clot, but she died before the surgery took place. My final memory of Wanda is of looking into her luminous eyes and holding her hands in the Young Research Library. I felt her strength, her passion and her generosity.
A memorial will be held for Wanda at the Church in Ocean Park on Sunday, January 19, 2014 at 2:00 PM.
About God & Things
By Wanda Coleman
i want to have your child
cuz upon losing you
i’ll have more than memory
more than ache
more than greatness
i’ll have laughter
i do not mean to be fatalistic
know the limits put on you black man
me, black woman
when you are killed or imprisoned
desert or separate from me
fill the void of your absence with
love between me and ours
you love me
in your eyes. don’t say it loud
america will never let you
you’re home. it’s a surprise
you’ve made it thru another day
one more night in your arms
merge our bodies merge
congress cannot legislate away
eyes wide as suns inquire
he’s gone away
i love my daddy
he’s a good man
eyes wide as suns
burn my hand with a kiss
go outside to play in the streets
what god is about
By Wanda Coleman
bed calls. i sit in the dark in the living room
trying to ignore them
in the morning, especially Sunday mornings
it will not let me up. you must sleep
longer, it says
the bed makes me lay heavenward on my back
while i prefer a westerly fetal position
facing the wall
the bed sucks me sideways into it when i
sit down on it to put on my shoes. this
persistence on its part forces me to dress in
the bathroom where things are less subversive
the bed lumps up in anger springs popping out to
scratch my dusky thighs
my little office sits in the alcove adjacent to
the bed. it makes strange little sighs
which distract me from my work
sadistically i pull back the covers
put my typewriter on the sheet and turn it on
the bed complains that i’m difficult duty
its slats are collapsing. it bitches when i
blanket it with books and papers. it tells me
it’s made for blood and bone
lately spiders ants and roaches
have invaded it searching for food
OBSERVATIONS ON THE
(Griffith’s Observatory July, 1994)
For Wanda Coleman
By Philomene Long
In the shining
Blind red eye
And the comet
Flower of what
Its long-drawn trail
Of frozen petals
Seed of ice
What immense Black Lover?
For Luna Archer, 3 Months Old – By Mary Getlein
Notes from Venice – By Michael McCoon
Beachhead’s 45th Birthday – By Roger Houston
Do You See? – By Emily Wood
Atomic Child – By Humberto Gomez Sequeira HuGoS
To live and die in capitalism – By Roxanna Gomez Sequeira
For Luna Archer, 3 Months Old
We are all mothers and fathers
even those who have never had a child -
you can pick up a baby
and all these strange wonderful hormones are released
turning us to butter
melting us down to a crouched creature
holding and protecting this little human
with incredibly tiny fingers and toes
your instinct is to care for her or him
our freshest visitor to this planet
living in a cave or a magnificent palace
the instinct is the same:
we are all mothers and fathers of this planet
it’s up to us if it survives
we’ve been here so long
but it’s just a drop in the ocean
of earth’s time -
we need to protect our earth
we are so busy killing each other off
we forget to notice how the earth is responding
to our inhabitation
we need to protect, cherish and be in awe of
all the new seedlings reaching out
the vines will grow and grow and cover us up
the earth go back to the earth
and cover all the ugly cement we left
all the styrofoam cartons and trash we left,
left to spin soundlessly in the ocean’s gyres -
we are all mothers and fathers
we need our children to clean up our mess,
before it’s too late
- Mary Getlein
Notes From Venice
Exaltations from the
Where the end
Meets a beginning
Where the stairway
Is sown with the
Where the sun
Circles the halo
Where the skull
Sprouts a candle
And the sand sparks
Where the mind
Is a well
Have a drink
Where the breath
And the air
Where the peaks
Point to the infinite
And the Ocean hums
An endless instrument
Where the Doors
Divide like oranges
In the center
Where the darkness
And the morning
Where the bells
Blooming the brain
Where the confused
Are mentally poetic
And the drunkards
Where the tides
Unfold like testaments
And the clouds
Where the moment
Is the message
And the insular
Where the waves
And the streams
By Michael McCoon
New Richmond, Ohio
13:47 Monday, November 25th, 2013, Adullam ….. If I am not mistaken,
forty-five Long years have passed since you were born alive. By my best
calculation, way back when, Spoke truth to reason with your printed Zen. And I
can but imagine such a stir That had been generated. Rising star, Aspiring; a
beacon in the night, To guide around the rocks with beam of light. A kindness to
poor sailors from afar. Your message, always ready to confer. Contributors, the
women and the men. Pray tell, where are they now? For it has been Some five
and forty years, and yet you thrive. If I am not mistaken, still alive …..
Long live the Free Venice Beachhead, love, Roger Houston
Do You See?
By Emily Wood
I got the groceries
No thank you
But I don’t need that
I just need you
To look up
And see me
And maybe smile
Do you see me?
You face away in the night
Your hot back against mine
And I know
That you see
The backs of your eyelids
Visions of truth
We call dreams
Am I with you?
When we wake
And I ask
“I don’t dream”
Do you see?
Rattle my bed
Rattle my head
This whole world
But no space
For me to be
Children hurried along
When they stop to See
Toward a window scene
Twisted, turned around
To See the man
Who lives for free
Do YOU see me?
Cold teeth chattering
In the hot air
Beaming light from my eyes
Hunting for a reflection
To lock eyes with
And maybe smile
Do YOU see?
How many times can I ask?
How many times can I plead?
Maybe I’ll stop asking you
And start asking me
By Humberto Gómez Sequeira-HuGóS
I dedicate this poem to my daughter, the poetess Roxanna Gómez Sequeira.
Fruit of the lotus child
descendant of the germs
disseminated by a luminous red nova.
with heart made of blood
and oxygenated desire.
with hands that grew searching
for her spatial magnitudes.
with head dilated by dreams
ignited by magic neurons.
with eyes of sparks
emitted by an electron cloud.
To live and die in capitalism…
By Roxanna Gómez Sequeira
For Winston Flores and his father Mr. Cirilo Flores, RIP
You work so hard
To sustain your family
Only to be crushed
By the weight of poverty
The frailty of your body
Gave way to deformity
Extinguishing your energy
It’s crippling effects
Took your last breath
A cost is attached
One to be burdened
By your nearest of kin
You left this society
One of debt and slavery
The cruelty of economic depravity
Of a capitalist reality
The hardship of a family
The monetary possibilities
For a funerary ceremony
Having no where
This is the capitalist life…
November 29, 2013
The Venice Neighborhood Council will hold a special public board meeting 7pm Monday, Dec 2 at Westminster Elementary School at 1010 Abbot Kinney Blvd to vote on a number of motions that pertain to public safety on the Venice Boardwalk.
This summer staff and representatives from The Mayor’s office, the City Attorney, Council District 11, Recreation & Parks, LAPD, LAFD, Bureau of Street Services, DOT, and Bureau of Engineering conducted a site visit at Venice Beach to determine ways to make the areas safer. A formal Needs Assessment for Venice Beach Public Safety was submitted by the Department of Rec and Parks to LA City Council’s Arts, Parks, Health, Aging and River Committee for approval. Councilmember Mike Bonin has asked that the Venice community and the Venice Neighborhood Council have a chance to take a position on the assessment before it is voted upon.
Since that time the VNC and its Ocean Front Walk Committee have hosted several public meetings and a town hall to discuss and weigh support for the assessment.
On Monday, November 25 the OFW Committee passed 12 motions that in large part reject many of the city’s recommendations within the assessment, including retractable bollards and security cameras. The committee added several motions, including one to support increased maintenance of the bike path, and one to support the voluntary winter storage program. The Board will vote on the 12 OFW motions on Monday before issuing its recommendation to Councilmember Mike Bonin and the city.
November 19, 2013
Discussion by VNC Joint Committee of the Los Angeles city’s Ocean Front Walk (OFW) public safety needs assessment as presented at the OFW Public Safety Town Hall on 10/29/13.
PT 1: A joint meeting of three (3) committees (Ocean Front Walk, Public Safety & Visitor Impact) was held on Thursday, November 7, 2013. Scheduled for 6:00 pm, committee members arrived late, delaying the start of the meeting for half an hour. It was a long meeting, lasting almost 3 hours. This video version has been edited and repetitious discussions have been removed, without losing the essential information of the meeting.
Item 1 - AUTOMATED RETRACTABLE BOLLARDS (estimated cost by the city: $1.2 million).
PT 2: Motions & votes made on: Item 1 – AUTOMATED RETRACTABLE BOLLARDS; Item 2 – GATE & BOLLARD SYSTEM; discussion on Item 3 – HARD STREET CLOSURES.
PT 3: Motions on: Item 3 – HARD STREET CLOSURES.
PT 4: Motion and vote on: Item 3 – HARD STREET CLOSURES. New motions introduced on REMOVAL OF TEMPORARY BOLLARDS & TYPES OF SIGNS AT OFW (on side streets). Item 4 – SECURITY CAMERAS and P.A. SYSTEM ON OFW. Motion was split into 1) SECURITY CAMERAS 2) P.A. SYSTEM. Discussion, motion and vote on Item 5: LIGHTING UPGRADE ON OFW.
Worth watching to keep up to date on the latest Ocean Front Walk (aka Venice Boardwalk) issues.
Stay tuned…Peace, SOV
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