Venice Design: More Than Big Binoculars and a Clown Headed Ballerina

Venice Eclectic: Modern Architecture from the 1970s and '80s, toured buildings connected to designers and artists like Frank Gehry, Dennis Hopper and Charles and Ray Eames.

Binocular Building in Venice, Calif

Image Source: Larry Underhill The first thing people usually think of when you mention architecture in Venice, Calif., is the Chiat-Day Building, aka the “Binocular Building,” built by Frank O. Gehry and Associates and artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen for the giant advertising firm. It’s now the L.A.-area home of Google.

California’s Venice has been known by many names, from “The Slum by the Sea” to “Bohemia-by-the-Beach” to the “Rollerskating Capital of the World,” but there are two unique aspects of the area that will always stand out: its canals, built by developer Abbott Kinney to resemble Italy’s, and the work of its boundary pushing designers and architects.

The latter were attracted by Venice’s airy, experimental atmosphere and abundance of vacant lots. Vacant lots by the beach? Well, once oil was discovered in the area, it became spoiled with oil equipment and shanties, and many of the original buildings were abandoned or fell into disrepair.

But in the ‘60s, city fathers demanded that all the blighted buildings be demolished — that left 550 empty lots close to the beach, and the architects and designers knew a good thing when they saw it.

Artistic types have been flocking to Venice ever since, and a recent tour, “Venice Eclectic: Modern Architecture from the 1970s and 80s,” featured some of the most prominent.

Dennis Hopper’s Former Home Interior in Venice, Calif.

Image Source: Larry Underhill The upper level of actor Dennis Hopper’s former residence, studio and gallery was intended for private use, with a bridge connecting the living room and kitchen with the bedroom suite. It was designed so natural light from the numerous skylights could illuminate both levels.

Everyone knows about the famous “Binocular Building,” that was built originally for advertising giants Chiat-Day by Frank O. Gehry, but now houses Google; and the Renaissance Building with the strange clown-headed ballerina sculpture on the corner. But the tour took viewers inside more discreet structures as well, like the Hopper House, designed for actor, filmmaker, art collector and artist Dennis Hopper, to be used as a studio, gallery and residence. Although it has a plain, corrugated metal façade, its unique design has made it a local landmark.

Arnoldi Studio Mural in Venice, Calif.

Image Source: Larry Underhill Most people know the Arnoldi Studio on Hampton Drive in Venice for its colorful shark mural, done by a local graffiti artist in honor of artist Charles Arnoldi’s daughter, who was a marine biologist.

Tour goers also got to see inside and learn about the former “Tasty Spuds” potato building, which artist Charles Arnoldi turned into a unique studio and gallery. Many recognize the unique shark mural on the building’s exterior, painted by a local graffiti artist as a tribute to Arnoldi’s daughter, who was a marine biologist.

Bay Cities Garage Interior in Venice, Calif

Image Source: Larry Underhill When Ray Eames died, she had her office at Venice's Bay Cities Garage dismantled and its contents packed up and bequeathed to the Library of Congress. The building is currently owned by design firm Keith Bright and Associates, which commissioned architect Frank Israel to re-envision the space.

The tour also passed through the “Bay Cities Garage,” on Abbott Kinney Boulevard. Few people know that the famous Eames chairs were born and built there by legendary designers Ray and Charles Eames. The brick warehouse building known as the “Bay Cities Garage,” was eventually bought and updated by Frank Israel for the design firm of Keith Bright and Associates.

Ed Moses Studio in Venice, Calif.

Image Source: Larry Underhill From the outside, artist Ed Moses’ Venice studio resembles a horse barn with its projecting cupola lined with clerestory windows. The surfboards are a nod to its beach adjacent location.

Those who have been wondering about what appears to be a massive barn on Palms Boulevard, got to peak inside the home and studio of famed LA minimalist artist Ed Moses, who had architect Steven Ehrlich build a place for him to work and live. The artist described it as “…something Hawaiian style…but which, of course, had some magic in it.”

Arnoldi Triplex Interior in Venice, Calif.

Image Source: Larry Underhill On the interior of the Arnoldi Triplex buildings – developed by artists Laddie Dill and Charles Arnoldi – structural elements were left exposed, following Frank Gehry’s belief that many buildings look their most interesting before they are finished. The interiors were left partially unfinished to allow the artists to personalize the space and to collaborate in the creation process.

Other interesting stops on the tour included the Caplin House, inspired by a boat and a wave; the Arnoldi Triplex, a group of studios built on a vacant lot by Frank Gehry; and the Windward Circle Building, that currently stands on the site of the lagoon of Abbott Kinney’s original “Venice of America,” and was filled during the ‘20’s to accommodate — get this — automobile traffic.

Couldn’t make the tour? Don’t worry – you can still see these fascinating works of Venice architecture in our gallery. Once you know the stories behind these buildings, your trips to the renowned Venice Beach Boardwalk, or to the fabulous eateries in the area, will never be the same.



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