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