Friday, March 17, 2017

A Great Read from Tony Bill

From The New Yorker quoting a Venice activist:

 “Snapchat has been changing the face of Venice, pushing a vibrant beach community into a corporate tech campus to support their 1800 employees...when there is a viable corporate tech area in Playa Vista just a few miles away.”

“Market Street, once a jumble of restaurants and artists’ studios, has become a ghost town, vibrant and accessible only to those who can enter buildings with corporate I.D.s and eat for free.”
From Tony Bill, famed director and long-time Venice resident:
Dear Snap Protestors,

Welcome to Market Street! You certainly livened up our normally quiet little block 10 days or so ago. It was fun to see you; all several dozen disgruntled, distressed (to say nothing of disdainful) neighbors complaining about the end of the world as you know it…twice turning out in your clown outfits, shorts and silly hats, and toting your skateboards, surfboards and placards, performing for yourselves and Channel 4. (It’s no surprise these days that loud, colorful, outrageous and insulting claims get press attention, no matter how ill-informed they may be.)

But, really…Snapchat is “changing the face of Venice”? What “face”? Certainly not The Boardwalk’s. Surely not Abbot Kinney’s. And you can’t mean Market Street’s, which for the 40-plus years I’ve been there, has never had a face. In fact, with the exception of the solitary restaurant that operated, in all three of its iterations, almost without signage, there hasn’t been a visible or public space on the street since Aaardvark’s Used Clothing Store closed two years after the owner, Joe Stromei, died in 2008.

I could walk you down Market, both then and now, and point out that there are few windows open to that street; that the 18 spaces are occupied by people who work in private, in tolerant proximity. On Market, we’ve been doing our thing(s) behind closed doors and plain walls for decades. So what’s new? Do you know the history of our street? Doesn’t sound like it:

1) Nikki’s bar. 4 years ago, Nikki’s business was marginal, they were at the end of their lease and, frankly, were bad tenants and neighbors…unless you enjoy 2 AM street fights, drunks breaking bottles and arguing, guys peeing or puking in your doorway and defecating in your alley. It was the site of vice-squad busts, neighbor complaints, and numerous Health and Fire Department penalties. It was poorly maintained, and the kitchen was in shambles (food was hardly their forte.) The bar equipment barely functioned. On their closing night, their regular (and not atypical) customers expressed their affection by trashing the interior, breaking windows, and inscribing their initials in walls and bathroom mirrors. (I know, I know…some of you thought it was fun.) Nobody on Market misses it for a minute.

It’ll open again in the future as 72 Market Street, the Venice pioneer restaurant from which it sprang. That’s because Snap stepped up and invested more than their landlord could afford to restore it. It’ll again be a clean, classy, civilized joint you can enjoy. (If you still yearn to get wasted, dance on tables, pick fights, and puke on the sidewalk, I know a couple of places on The Boardwalk.) Until that day, Snappers get to eat there for free and you don’t. Get over it. (Or go to one of the shelters that enjoy the same food Snap donates every day via

2) The so-called “Private Crosswalk” on Pacific and Market. For decades, long before Snap, this previously unmarked intersection, one of the busiest between the beach and the rest of Venice, has been a treacherous contest between drag-racers from the Windward traffic light and unwitting pedestrians who correctly, but naively, assume that California pedestrians have the right of way. Snap pushed it through when no one else would or could. But it’s not private; it belongs to everyone. (Thanks, Snap.) Nevertheless, you demonstrators blocked it, and Pacific traffic in both directions. Well, you sure showed us! (Thanks, demonstrators.) If you still want to boycott it, try crossing Pacific one unmarked block north, at Horizon, where your chances of survival are about 90/10.

3) And, speaking of traffic: how about the parking and traffic calamities ascribed to Snap? Did you know that most of their Market St. employees don’t drive to work? Didn’t think so.

4) Security. And what’s the problem with Snap’s security men and, please note, women…except for those goofy Smoky the Bear hats? Until 4 years ago, we had to clean the sidewalks, gutters and alleys of Market ourselves. Daily. Trash, bottles, needles, vomit, (thanks, again, Nikki’s!) doorway piss and poop, vagabonds and their leftover junk…daily. Does anyone find that scene attractive enough to lament its passing? Snap keeps it clean now, and safe. Is that a problem? Not for us. Several years ago, one of our residents was – and this is not a misuse of the word – literally carved up, standing next to his studio, by a homeless guy he had befriended and helped. And is anyone naïve enough to expect tech companies, architects, filmmakers, et alia to open their doors to passers-by? The last time you tried to stroll into Google, didn’t they have security? Did you peek in their windows or hang around their front door? In fact, has anyone, uninvited, been inside our studios and workspaces on Market Street? No? Well, that’s why we moved there.

5) Displacement. Behind those locked doors on Market St., Madonna and Basquiat cohabited; Randy Newman and Dudley Moore and Andy Summers composed and recorded; Costa Gavras, James Brooks, Oliver Stone, Hal Ashby, Frank Pierson, Barry Levinson, and many others wrote, edited and screened their movies. (Google them, kids.) I ran into Bob Dylan coming out of 73 one night. Major artists have come and gone, but…contrary to such uninformed depictions (a “jumble…”) as in the recent New Yorker article quoted above…there hasn’t been a gallery there in well over 10 years. The last major artists on the street were Robert Graham, who died in 2005 and Larry Bell, who happily found a larger and cheaper space nearby around 2012. The L.A. Louver moved out over 20 years ago. Notice all the closed doors and blank facades? Our little street is not the Hollywood Bowl; you can’t buy a ticket to watch us. People have always been quietly and privately creating their own things there: things that have later become famous and appreciated.

Sort of like what Snap is doing right now.

Let’s check again in 2 or 3 years, when all Snap’s leases have expired (they’ve bought almost nothing…two small spaces that I know of; another myth.) By then, they’ll probably have moved their entire operation out of Venice to the Santa Monica Industrial Park at the airport. You remember the airport?…before the traffic gridlock created by that city’s slickers who retired on the payola they exacted from real developers…guys who knew how to build ‘em big and tall. It’ll soon be another Playa Vista…right in our own back yard. Full of tech companies and the jobs and customers and taxes they’ll be sending to another town. Just like you wanted.

Oh…and the “face” of Market Street? It’ll look almost exactly like it did thirty and twenty and ten years ago. And today.

Thanks for reading this,

From the oldest guy on the street.