Wednesday, November 10, 1999
FEATURES - ACCENT & ARTS
Mike Harden and Photographer Doral Chenoweth III recently
traveled the western United States, intent on finding out
who we are as a nation before the dawn of a new century.
bohemian scene has lost its offbeat luster
BEACH, Calif. -- These are not halcyon days in southern California's
bohemia on the boardwalk.
daredevil who once entertained tourists by juggling chain
saws -- working chain saws -- has folded his tent.
dime-a-joke material of the comic who calls himself the "World's
Greatest Wino" has become as flat as day-old champagne.
psychic Luann "Luna" Hughes is convinced that a conspiracy
of developers is about to gentrify what always has been one
of the nation's best free floor shows: Venice Beach.
will no longer be a poor man's holiday," groused Hughes
of the stretch of Pacific beach that is part arcade, part
tourist trap and part municipal headache.
Mozena, an activist and the area's unofficial "mayor," believes
Hughes is overreacting about gentrification. Yet he is too
busy to worry about the accuracy of a beach psychic's powers
of divination. He has bigger fish to fry.
boardwalk looks like a minefield," Mozena grumbled. I
went before the Los Angeles city council a year-and-a-half
ago and said, 'This place looks like the city dump."
Because it was an election year, they appeased me by trimming
about 100 palm trees."
officials did nothing about the blacktop promenade.
have a fund, a trip-and-fall fund. It is actually cheaper
to let people trip, fall and then settle with them, than it
is to repave the boardwalk," Mozena said of the official stance
on the matter.
runs his own academic publishing house. He has taken to embarrassing
the city for treating Venice Beach like an unwanted stepchild.
Since 1994, Los Angeles has been sitting on the lion's share
of $10 million set aside for beachfront improvements.
became so infuriated with what he regarded as city government's
shucking and stalling that, in July 1998, he spent $5,000
on a beautification project.
bought the paint and supplies," he recalled. "I hired the
homeless to do the work at $6 an hour. I fed them breakfast
and lunch. They painted park benches, picnic tables, swing
sets. They painted out graffiti on fixtures all along the
year, Mozena has been waging "The Great Toilet Paper War"
with city fathers.
toilet paper supply the city provides for public restrooms
at the beach, he said, is woefully inadequate for an area
that hosts up to 250,000 visitors on summer weekends.
I had to become contentious for the right to get toilet paper
is ludicrous," he complained. "I'm seriously contemplating
running for mayor of Los Angeles, a mayor who listen to the
needs of the citizens rather than ignore them."
of Venice Beach's problem is that it is a maze of overlapping
vendor Bill Greenslade explained, "The blacktop is city of
Los Angeles. The concrete is Parks and Recreation. Beyond
that is the county, and somewhere between the bike path and
the beach it becomes the state's."
top of that, observers say, area and facility improvements
at the nearby city of Santa Monica and its Pier (which bracket
Venice and to the north) have sent Venice Beach's star falling.
simply isn't what it was when Arnold Schwarzenegger pumped
says though "Venice will be back!"
Venice had its heyday in the '80s," Mozena said. "It waned
at the end of the '80s, and limped along into the '90s through
earthquakes, riots and everything else."
claim Venice Beach is overrun by less desirable members of
society and that it has become a sprawling, unlocked psychiatric
ward whose patients supply their own medications. Some critics
believe that gentrification might be precisely what the area
want it to be Atlantic City," complained psychic Hughes of
the developers she sees lurking somewhere in the distant,
murky future. Mozena disagrees. "I don't think there is a
worry such as that the psychic has -- about Venice losing
its bohemian feel."
conceded jokingly, "If she is a psychic, she should know."
would be happy if the place simply could keep itself in toilet
(1) Doral Chenoweth III / Dispatch photos Above: Known as
the Kama Kosmic Krusader, Harry Parry plays for tips along
(2) Right: Long, natural nails are a trademark for Luann "Luna"
Hughes, who does psychic counseling and reads palms and tarot
(3) Astrologer Dennis Reid uses a computer to predict the
future at Venice Beach, Calif.
(4) Steve Mozena is leading a one-man crusade to revitalize
(5) Doral Chenoweth III / Dispatch Pricilla Aceves, 11, holds
her sister Joslyne, 6, as they blow bubbles on the Santa Monica
Pier. Editorial License used by Mozena. See dispatch for actual