It was the summer of ‘74. Four young musicians, fresh graduates of High School, were touring the country as the members of a Top 40 cover band, when they finally landed in Southern California. There was some time to kill between gigs and the band members unanimously decided to seek out Venice Beach to spend a couple of hours in the sun. SoCal has hundreds of miles of legendary beaches, so “Why Venice Beach?” you may ask. It was because, at that time, Venice Beach was famous (or infamous) for four things: being the birthplace of the “Doors,” having an eclectic counter culture population, being the site where Arnold Schwarzenegger worked out at Muscle Beach, and most importantly, legalized nude sunbathing.
While it is wrong to condone the objectification of women, a nude beach in the pre-internet world was like some sort of nirvana for 18-year-old boys. Consequently, that afternoon the band excitedly immersed themselves in the bizarre circus that was Venice Beach. Sitting on a park bench, they observed massive body builders bench-pressing enormous weights while girls roller-skated by on the asphalt bike path dressed in only their skates. Captivated by their new surroundings, they watched topless bike riders, sword swallowers, pot-smoking hippies, jugglers, panhandlers, and au natural people enjoying the tossing of Frisbees on the beach. The presentation was a sensory cacophony with the laughter of free spirited people, the music of buskers, the throaty growl of revving motorcycles, and the squawking of seagulls; all set to the background of warm sun, cool breezes, blue ocean and brown sand. It only lasted for a few hours, but this powerful vision of Venice Beach would forever shape their impression of the SoCal lifestyle.
After a brief battle with the traffic, they finally arrive in Venice Beach and in the words of Jack Skellington, “What’s this?” Gone is the low cost, dilapidated housing that attracted the counter culture crowd. Expensive modern townhomes and high rent apartments have replaced it. Gone is the open weightlifting area and the funky old Gold’s Gym. A fenced exercise park with stadium seating and a modern two-story workout facility have replaced them. Gone is the paved bike path and the girls (sniffle, sniffle) wearing only skates. A concrete road populated by fully clothed tourists has replaced them. Gone is the alternative lifestyle vibe and the Dad’s 40-year-old vision of the way of life in SoCal. Commercial development and the tourism industry have replaced them.
I may, or may not, be the person in the above story, but I do know that the summer of 1974 only happened once. According to this article in the LA Daily News, that summer was the ONLY summer that Venice Beach was clothing-optional. The LA city council quickly put a stop to that shortly after I (or the person in the story) visited. I also know that change is constant and evolution is inevitable. Beginning in the 1980s, developers and city planners came on the scene and pushed out the “quirky” residents of Venice Beach in favor of tax revenue and tourism development. In a way, it is a shame. But while Venice Beach has gone mainstream, you are left with a wonderful, if touristy, family destination for a beautiful day at the beach.