Pret-a-Reporter

Venice Spotlight: Is the Coolest Neighborhood in L.A. Overheating?

Austin Hargrave
Kristin Jones, Jonathan King, Maha Dakhil, Bill Weinstein and Scott Z. Burns

From actors to agents and producers, Hollywood's top talent treasures the idiosyncratic, one-of-a-kind neighborhood, though the calm is threatened by increasing commercialism and rising prices.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Once a Westside wasteland of burned-out hippies and off-the-grid artists, Venice, Calif., is about to see just how much more change it can handle. As revealed Sept. 24, Anjelica Huston is in the process of selling her nearly 14,000-square-foot compound (listed at $13.9 million) to investors who plan to turn it into a Soho House-style social club by the sea that, in the words of its founders, will be dedicated to "gourmet bathing activities" like "hot-spring excursions and seltzer-water tastings."

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Median residential list prices in the neighborhood -- which, along with Santa Monica, is becoming known as Silicon Beach (especially since Google moved in last year) -- have jumped 16 percent compared with 2011. The restaurant scene, already on the map with nationally acclaimed Gjelina, has lured one of San Francisco's most revered chefs, Jeremy Fox, who's about to take local gastronomy to another level when his new Barnyard opens in November.

And chic retail stretch Abbot Kinney Boulevard -- where a Pinkberry once caused cries of over-commercialization -- is now the victim of spiking rents as global brands like Gant Rugger move in.

"We're experiencing the beginning of what we saw on Melrose Place," says Rose Apodaca, co-owner of local home accessories store A+R. "The reason why people come here is because there are stores you can't find anywhere else. I hope it keeps its charm and quirkiness."

It's a far cry from the late '70s, when pioneering resident Tony Bill moved in. "People thought I was crazy. As I glibly put it at the time, I prefer clean air and dirty streets to the other way around," says the director-producer-actor.

But for the many industry people who call it home, its laid-back, community-minded vibe hasn't been seriously damaged.

Says Maha Dakhil, a motion-picture agent at CAA: "Venice nights soften the edges of days spent in the thick of business. Some of my best ideas are hatched in Venice. I try to quickly commute those ideas over to Century City before they evaporate with the morning mist."

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WHO'S WHO IN VENICE

  • Fiona Apple: Rarely leaves the neighborhood; has admitted to anxiety about traveling to other parts of Los Angeles.
  • Trey Parker: Lives on the canals not far from Matt Stone and their fellow South Park exec producer Anne Garefino.
  • Robert Downey Jr.: He and wife Susan purchased a modernist three-story live/work building for $5.6 million in 2009.
  • Jon Favreau: The actor-director has moved his offices to Abbot Kinney; frequent diner at Gjelina.
  • Anna Paquin: New parents of twins, she and husband Stephen Moyer are said to have created a two-house compound.
  • Tim Robbins: Bought Julia Roberts' old double-lot property on the Walk Streets; frequently spotted on his bike.
  • Joel Silver: Recently purchased the historic Art Deco-style Venice Post Office, which he's renovating as new offices.

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THE NEW WAVE: Kristin Jones, Jonathan King, Maha Dakhil, Bill Weinstein and Scott Z. Burns

"The canals struck me as this beautiful little monument to useless beauty," says screenwriter Burns (Contagion, The Informant!) of his decision to move there from New York a decade ago. His circle of Venetians includes Jones, chief creative officer of multiplatform studio Vuguru; King, Participant Media's executive vp production; CAA motion-picture agent Dakhil; and Verve talent manager Weinstein. Says Jones of her love for the area: "You don't feel like a freak when you're on the street." For his part, King has noticed one thing that Venice's popularity has affected: "It's much easier to get people to come to my house for a dinner party. Before, I practically had to send a plane to get them to come all the way to the beach."

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THE BOHEMIAN

Maria Bello (Photographed Sept. 21 at Superba)

For many Venetians who are transplants from London or New York, Venice offers the walkability and neighborliness of, say, Notting Hill or downtown Manhattan. "I lived for years in the West Village," and, like that area, "there's such a sense of community -- you can meet your friends and bike places," says Bello, who also appreciates the ability to blend in. "What's so lovely about living here is it's such an eclectic group of people. I have no idea who is in entertainment or not." A resident for eight years, Bello first lived on the more urban Navy Street before moving to a 1922 Craftsman house on one of Venice's secluded, pedestrian-only Walk Streets, which has proved to be a better option for her now-11-year-old son, Jackson. "His friends just ride their bikes over and drop by our yard," she says. Bello's favorite spots include heritage-apparel shop The Stronghold; Bountiful for vintage home goods; Superba, where her dish of choice is the fried chicken with jalapeno and honey; and Lincoln Wines. "They carry Rhum Barbancourt, my favorite rum from Haiti," says the Golden Globe-nominated actress (A History of Violence, The Cooler) and co-founder of Haitian women's nonprofit We Advance. If there's one thing she'd like to address about Venice, it's its reputation as a pot-smokers' haven because of its high-profile medical marijuana dispensaries. "People come out from New York and assume it's this complete stoner culture," she says. "But there is probably more pot-smoking in the mansions of Beverly Hills than in Venice." -- Degen Pener

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THE EATS
The latest restaurants offer a microcosm of cutting-edge Cali cuisine and even take diners beyond Abbot Kinney.

Left: Barnyard's merguez sausage and summer vegetables.

Just a few years ago, the sole Venice restaurant with a serious reputation as a drive-across-town destination was California cuisine stalwart Joe's (1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd.). These days, the neighborhood is at the forefront of L.A.'s culinary scene. Gjelina (1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd.) has developed such a cult following for its nouveau-peasant fare -- just try getting a table -- that it can afford to be militant about its no-substitutions policy. Even if you're Robert Downey Jr. or Gordon Ramsay (both have had run-ins with management over it). Kogi king Roy Choi is cooking up Caribbean cuisine at celebrated joint Sunny Spot (822 Washington Blvd.). And gastropub Larry's (24 Windward Ave.), where steak and eggs is elevated as filet mignon and quail, has done the near impossible: made it cool to step foot near the touristy Venice boardwalk again.

Of course, Venetians still have their standbys. "We love Wabi-Sabi (1637 Abbot Kinney Blvd.) for Japanese," says Bruna Papandrea, Reese Witherspoon's partner in production banner Pacific Standard. "I order their chicken in a light Japanese curry." Offers TV director Adam Davidson (Treme): "Gjelina Take Away" -- the to-go annex -- "is a godsend. The pizzas, the salads, the coffees: It's sustaining. One of my twins calls the coffee 'Da-da wa-wa.' " Jamie Byrne, YouTube's head of content strategy, is all about the communal tables at the The Tasting Kitchen (1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd.): "If you haven't been there for brunch, you're missing out."

On the horizon for Venice is a second rough-wood Italian outpost of Santa Monica's Hostaria del Piccolo and a permanent home, at the former address of Lilly's on Abbot Kinney, for last year's pop-up Wolf in Sheep's Clothing (which previously was at Capri).

Whereas most of the dining excitement so far has erupted along the Abbot Kinney corridor, the latest wave is blossoming mostly on and around Rose and Windward avenues. A quartet of buzzed-about hubs leads the way. Dry Tour (80 Windward Ave.) arrived first, in late May. Co-owned by Warner Bros. communications executive Jessica Zacholl, the restaurant offers wine-drenched, indeterminately Euro fare (with a Peruvian punch) that ranges from ricotta-stuffed zucchini flowers and fondue-filled gougeres to straight-outta-Lima potato preparations.

A few steps away, Barnyard (1715 Pacific Ave.) is set to bow the first week of November. Acclaimed chef Jeremy Fox, formerly of haute-vegetarian Napa nest Ubuntu -- which former New York Times dining critic Frank Bruni described approvingly as "the Angelina Jolie of restaurants" -- is making a radical departure. His first L.A. spot will live high on the hog with a Southern-influenced menu of pork fat-fueled gumbo and pig-skin-studded scrapple.

Meanwhile, over on Rose -- which began popping last year with the arrival of Veracruz-oriented Oscar's Cerveteca (523 Rose Ave.) -- Cafe Gratitude (512 Rose Ave.) comes near to being a Saturday Night Live-style spoof of a vegan/raw restaurant. The San Francisco-originated chain, whose initial L.A. branch in Larchmont Village regularly attracts the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal and Rashida Jones, has opened a larger spot. The most popular dish: a grain bowl listed on the menu as "I Am Grateful."

Down the block is the summer-sprung Superba (533 Rose Ave.), helmed by chef Jason Neroni, who amassed a Hollywood following at Paramount-adjacent Osteria La Buca before decamping to this SoCal interpretation of Italian cuisine, where the melon salad with smoked ham features Thai vinaigrette and the braised pheasant garganelli pasta is topped by kale pesto. It's already a regular dinner spot for Maria Bello and frequent tablemate Ray Azoulay, owner of eerie-chic antiques and art gallery Obsolete (think automatons and taxidermy) on nearby Main Street. Says Azoulay, "It took wild horses to drag us away from Gjelina." -- Gary Baum

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THE REAL ESTATE DEALS
Hollywood players are flocking to the boho beach burgh, leading to a jump in sales and prices.

Renny Harlin's residence is known as the Cannon House for two old-fashioned, film-used cannons the director placed at the property.

“It’s great for Venice and the community -- it validates what is happening right now,” says Sotheby’s International Realty agent Gregory Bega, who has the Huston listing and declined further comment because the deal is in escrow. Bega says that Venice is getting its Hollywood moment because the community, still rough around the edges and home to a bevy of artists, offers a sensibility that no other Westside area can match. At least for some industry players. “It’s people that don’t need the big Beverly Hills or Holmby Hills house. They like the atmosphere, neighborhood and demographics.”

And it’s not just the multimillion-dollar residences changing hands -- the median list price of a Venice residence was $1.275 million in August, up 16 percent from a year earlier. The sweet spot for Hollywood buyers and sellers appears to be in the $1 million to $2 million range. To wit, a modern, 3,154-square-foot residence on Venice Way recently rented by DJ Samantha Ronson sold Aug. 16 for $1.95 million; a Spanish duplex on Grand Boulevard that counted Glee actress Vanessa Lengies as an investor and resident sold to 7 for All Mankind co-founder Peter Koral on June 19 for $1.72 million; and director Renny Harlin’s three-bedroom Rialto Way house, listed for $1.999 million with Bulldog Realtors, went under contract Oct. 6 for an undisclosed sum.

Brokers say that streets near Abbot Kinney Boulevard, that cynosure of all things hip, are among the most desirable. “Windward Circle, two blocks from Abbot Kinney -- it’s such a destination, and it’s where people want to be,” says real estate agent Tami Pardee, who repped both parties in the Venice Way deal and the seller in the Grand transaction but declined to discuss the sales. “It’s like 2009 didn’t happen; it’s back to the height of the market.” The Venice Canals and so-called Walk Streets -- no car traffic is permitted on streets like Amoroso Place -- remain desirable locales, too. The historic canals long have been a favored Hollywood shooting locale -- Showtime’s Californication films there -- and are home to such names as Maura Tierney and South Park’s Trey Parker. The canals also are inhabited by cinephiles known to take in movies on hot summer nights from their artfully scuffed rowboats, projecting such films as Jaws and The Iron Giant onto a homemade screen.

Billy Rose, co-founder of real-estate firm The Agency and an owner of Venice’s Cafe Gratitude, says a recent canal street listing of his attracted multiple offers. Ultimately, the 2,500-square-foot Howland Canal property, which is owned by Smothers Brothers manager Ken Fritz and includes a three-bedroom Spanish residence and adjacent cottage, went under contract for more than the $3.4 million asking price. Says Rose: “We got into a bidding war. And frankly, you are seeing a lot of that in Venice right now.” -- Daniel Miller

VENICE BY THE NUMBERS: Asking prices are on the rise as more properties are selling on a year-over-year basis in Venice’s 90291 and 90294 ZiP codes.

  • August 2011 Median List Price: $1.099 Million
  • August 2012 Median List Price: $1.275 Million (+16%)
  • August 2011 Properties Sold: 77
  • August 2012 Properties Sold: 89 (+16%)

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HOW A DREAM VENICE HOUSE CAME TOGETHER

Located just east of Lincoln Boulevard, the house embraces classic California indoor-outdoor living with banks of oversize windows.

When TV director-producer Kenneth Fink first met with Venice-based architecture-design firm Marmol Radziner + Associates (acclaimed for redoing the iconic Richard Neutra Kaufmann House in Palm Springs), he wanted to build a modern house with an inviting feel. "They delivered more than I imagined by using warm materials including wood ceilings and floors," says Fink (CSI, Revenge). He lives in the four-bedroom, 3,700-square-foot house with his wife, journalist-documentarian Beth Osisek, and their three children. -- Degen Pener

THE PIONEER

Tony Bill and family, photographed Sept. 22 at their home in Venice.

At 72, Tony Bill is more than just a veteran actor, director and Oscar-winning producer (The Sting). "He's been called the unofficial mayor of Venice," says his wife, producer Helen Bartlett. Thirty-five years ago, Bill established Venice as a film outpost, with postproduction offices for John Landis and Oliver Stone at 73 Market St. From 1984 to 2000, he co-owned industry watering hole 72 Market with Dudley Moore. Since 1998, Bill, Bartlett and daughters Daphne, 11 (left), and Maddie, 14, have lived in an early 1900s bungalow. "There was reputedly a speakeasy in our bedroom," says Bill. "We bought it from Red Shoe Diaries creator Zalman King, who installed a Jacuzzi in the living room." These days, the house exudes more of a homestead vibe thanks to Bartlett, who decorates with folk art and antiques, cans preserves, raises chickens and operates a letterpress. Says Bill, "The only thing we need is a generator." -- David A. Keeps

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HIGH RENTS, LUXURY GOODS CHANGE THE STREET

 

 

What was a patchouli-laden street now offers $600 cuff bracelets at Alexis Bittar, $125 bottles of room spray at Le Labo and a slew of new retail spots that happen to be well-disguised chains (like 2-year-old Jack Spade ensconced in a quaint bungalow). "When we arrived in 2007, there were seedlings of a revival," says fashion writer Rose Apodaca of pop home store A+R, which helped usher in an era that includes high-end shoe boutique Mona Moore. (Designer Pamela Barish, who sells her line down the street, says she has been there since "it was still dangerous.") With the arrival of menswear brand Gant Rugger in August and a Lucky Brand soon to hit the 'hood, rents are skyrocketing, with haute bakery Jin Patisserie vacating its space. (Asking rents for high-end spots are up as much as 33 percent from last year to $10 to $12 a square foot a month.) But while longtime store owners worry, the eclectic vibe remains, with West 3rd Street indie fashion fave Satine adding a location in June and no sign yet of a Starbucks on every corner. -- Erin Weinger

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