The Argonaut 5-14-09

Restored Pacific Electric Railway ‘Red Car’ would be centerpiece of proposed Venice Heritage Museum

by Vince Echavaria

When tobacco magnate Abbot Kinney’s vision for Venice of America was realized more than a century ago, it was the “Red Cars” of the Pacific Electric Railway that were a primary transportation mode for the visitors who came to tour the seaside resort influenced by the historic Italian city.

The Red Cars of the mass transit system were frequently visible in the early part of the 20th century as they crisscrossed cities in Southern California, traveling routes such as Venice Boulevard into the then newly developed community of Venice.

A heritage foundation in Venice is now hoping to bring back that connection to the beach-side community’s early days by restoring an old Pacific Electric trolley car to be used as a centerpiece of a new proposed Venice Heritage Museum.

Members of the Venice Heritage Foundation say the Orange Empire Railway Museum has offered to donate a 1904 Red Car to be incorporated into the museum project, which they plan to create at Centennial Park. The site along Venice Boulevard is a fitting location for such a museum, as the original Pacific Electric Railway system used to run nearby until service stopped in the 1950s, members said.

“It’s important for us to have an iconic building and the Red Car is a part of Venice history,” said Heritage Foundation member Stephen Pouliot, who lives in one of the oldest homes in Venice.

“This will not only be a museum to display a piece of history, but it will be an artifact in itself. What a magnificent goal; as people drive down Venice Boulevard, an iconic building will be at the gateway.”

The Red Car concept for the museum is modeled after the Seal Beach Historical Museum, which has a restored Pacific Electric Tower Car for its facility.

The foundation has initiated the effort to bring a heritage museum to Venice because, although the community has a unique history with a rich arts and cultural background, there is currently no official place to display historical artifacts, members say. Heritage Foundation president Todd von Hoffman noted that the closest type of place that pays homage to Venice history, with items such as an old gondola and vintage photographs, is Danny’s Venice Deli on Windward Avenue.

Some of the foundation members have been collecting various historical items over the years, such as old photographs, clothing pieces and other memorabilia, and they hope to put those on display to agive residents and museum visitors a link to the past.

“We’re fortunate to have this fascinating history in Venice,” von Hoffman said. “We need to have a place where all these wonderful things can be seen.”

Foundation vice president Paul Tanck said the new museum will be a significant resource because it will create a common space to share and display the “fabulous collections” from Venice.

“By restoring an old Pacific Electric car, which was part of the original lifeblood of Venice, the Heritage Foundation hopes to engage the entire community in becoming more aware of the splendor of Venice’s history. And by doing so, reclaim and extend the glory of Venice’s historical significance,” Tanck said.

While Venice may not have the long storied history of cities on the East Coast, the seaside community has its own distinct heritage as a place modeled after the Italian city of canals, with ties to the Beat poets and musical legends such as The Doors.

“It’s a world class destination,” Pouliot said. “We have a rich and complex past.”

Foundation historian Elayne Alexander added, “Venice itself will make this museum unique. No one has a history like ours.”

The foundation is currently in the process of seeking community support for the project and members say the proposal has been well received. The Venice Neighborhood Council voted last month to approve a letter of support for the museum at Centennial Park, permitting the foundation to display the council logo on promotional materials.

Neighborhood Council president Mike Newhouse called the concept of incorporating the history museum into a restored Red Car a “great idea” and said it will allow residents, particularly youths, to learn more about the place where they live.

“Venice definitely needs a museum like this,” Newhouse said. “I think it’s important because people can lose touch with a community if they don’t know the history of where they live.”

Von Hoffman noted that a primary factor in the development of the museum is to provide a facility to help educate the younger members of the Venice community about its distinct history.

“What makes the project most attractive to me is having a place where we can have local schools go through and get the Venice story,” the foundation president said. “I can’t diminish the importance of relaying this legacy to our youth.”

The museum project proposal involves two phases, with the first being the restoration of the Red Car donated by the Orange Empire Railway Museum. As part of the second stage, a pagoda style “Tokio” substation that at one time stood on Venice Boulevard will be recreated. The pagoda structure will have additional exhibits, research space and a gift shop.

With the addition of the restored Red Car and Tokio substation pagoda for the new heritage museum, foundation members hope to establish a new community gathering place at Centennial Park, the gateway to the community.

“This will be a vital new community space and it will become a new landmark for Venice,” Pouliot said.

Your Venice, Vol. 2 Issue 2, 2009

New Museum Proposed for Venice History Museum Riding Into Town on the Rails of the Red Car Trolley?

by Nadine Parkos

The Venice Neighborhood Council Board of Officers voted unanimously this spring to support a new history museum to be located in Centennial Park, just east of the Venice Public Library. The Venice Heritage Museum, a project of the Venice Heritage Foundation (“VHF”), will be housed in a restored Pacific Electric Red Trolley Car and an adjoining facility replicating Venice’s original Tokio Red Car substation. The campus, once completed, will not only provide a home for the museum but also a new, family-friendly meeting place for the entire Venice community.

The project will be completed in several phases. The initial phase involves the renovation of a vintage Pacific Electric Red Car Trolley similar to those that traveled from downtown LA to the beach from 1905 to 1950. The trolley is a gift from the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, California. Restoration of the Red Car will be guided by craftsman and VHF board member, Grant Francis, who envisions a rich variety of volunteer opportunities from research to wood and metal work.

The museum’s second phase will recreate the pagoda style ‘Tokio’ substation that once-upon-a-time sheltered passengers on Venice Boulevard. The substation will provide climate-controlled exhibit, archival, and research space.

Lucille Cappas, head librarian at Venice-Abbot Kinney Memorial Branch Library and one of the early voices in favor of the museum, observed that today’s younger generation of Venetians are basically unaware of Venice’s fascinating one-hundred-year plus history. A museum with rotating exhibits about the community’s artistic heritage, cultural and political events, plus the many legends associated with Kinney’s city-by-the-sea, would renew interest.

The VHF was established by a team of local history enthusiasts under the presidency of Todd von Hoffmann for the specific purpose of creating a Venice history museum. Honorary Board members include architect Frank Gehry, author Ray Bradbury, the Kendrick Kinney family, Congress Member Jane Harman and State Assembly Member Ted Lieu, just to name a few.

Volunteers of all ages are encouraged to become VHF members and participate in the project. The goal is not only preservation of the venerable Red Car as a community history museum, but also adding an historic landmark to the gateway of Venice. For more information, please email your inquiries to

Santa Monica Daily Press April 23, 2009

A museum in Venice is born

by Ashley Archibald

VENICE — The Venice Neighborhood Council Board of Officers approved a recommendation from the Venice Heritage Foundation to support a proposed museum that would showcase Venice's unique cultural history.

The council approved the location of the museum, next to the Centennial Library, during its March meeting, said Marc Saltzberg, the council's outreach officer.

"It's been something that we've been considering as a Neighborhood Council since last summer. It's taken a while for the various groups who are backing the idea to agree to move forward," Saltzberg said.

The museum would be housed in a restored Pacific Electric Red Trolley Car, a piece of history in and of itself, and in an adjoining facility to be modeled after the old Tokio Station pagoda-style complex. It will display pieces of classic Venice memorabilia, borrowed from local collectors.

The idea, said Todd von Hoffman, president of the Venice Heritage Foundation, is to create rotating displays that tell the story of Abbot Kinney's efforts in developing the "Coney Island of the Pacific," emphasizing film developments, social history and the vibrant arts community.

And, of course, the invention of paddle tennis.

The museum is still in its beginning stages, said von Hoffmann. The project has not yet been approved by the Los Angeles City Council, he said, and the foundation is in the process of requesting letters of feasibility from the agencies affected such as the police and fire departments.

Although the foundation is seeking a beautification grant, as it did to restore the historic Venice sign, it has not yet been approved. The Pacific Electric car has been donated from the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Paris, Calif., but it requires expensive restoration that will take several years.

"We're in dream stage of something that Venice very much deserves and we're not worrying about how all the practical questions are going to be answered," von Hoffmann said.

There is also an excited team working for the completion of the project. Venice historian Elayne Alexander is a founding member of the project and Jon Smatlak of the Orange Empire Railway Museum will have a hand in the car's restoration. Members of the Venice Heritage Foundation will donate items for displays.

It is a project that, to be successful, will require the whole community's involvement, von Hoffmann said.

"You have to get a lot of great enthusiasm from the community involved," von Hoffmann said. "This is definitely a project where you want to get as many people as possible. The museum is for all collections in Venice to have a venue. So many of us have these [memorabilia] and the joy is bringing them back to Venice."

The Venice Heritage Foundation will use its lee time before approval to drum up support using its greatest resource: the historic collections of its members.

"It's part of the great joy of living in a community like Venice which is very much a village. It's going to take us some years to accomplish, so we'll take every opportunity to bring our collections out to help promote the museum idea."