Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rowing in the "Other Venice"

photos by Greg Mohr unless marked otherwise.

COLLECTING (of a different sort)
People collect all sorts of things: baseball cards, autographs, spoons, stamps, even cars. I’ve seen folks collect scoops of sand from the various beaches they’ve visited, patches from the different states they’ve visited, and of course there are folks who make a habit of collecting another kind of stamps – passport stamps. I call these folks “travel junkies”, and I must admit to being one myself.
But my compulsion is not just with visiting places…it’s rowing them.

I’ve collected quite a few over the years, and while my list might impress some people, others would be more apt to looking at me and saying something like: “wow, you’re weird. You’ve got a real problem”.

Indeed I do have a problem, because to feed my need, I can’t just go somewhere and buy a stamp, or patch or a spoon. I’ve got to either find a venetian boat, or bring one there, so I can row it and say that I did.

I guess I really am weird.

But as compulsions go, it is a lot more fun than spoon collecting.

With stamp collectors there are the common ones, and then there are the rare finds. Car collectors drool over cars like “Eleanor” from the movie Gone in Sixty Seconds.
Different collectors have their different “holy grails”.
Yesterday, with the help of a friend, I got one of mine:
Venice, California.

If you saw yesterday’s post, you might have wondered what it was all about.
(although I know some of you already knew, and I thank you for keeping it under wraps).

The "who" was Tim Reinard and I.
The "where" was Venice, California.
And the "when" was yesterday, July 5th of 2011.

I admit that I went out of my way to make the image look a little older  - not only to throw people off, but because it was fun.

Yesterday, I was honored to add my name to the very short list of gondoliers who’ve had the privilege of rowing a venetian boat in the last fifty years, on the remaining canals of the city that Abbot Kinney built.

Greg Mohr and Tim Reinard rowing tandem.
photo by Andrew Clark

In November of 2010 my friend Tim Reinard of Sunset Gondola got the opportunity to bring his pupparin to Venice, California to shoot a segment of America’s Next Top Model. He brought her up from his servizio in Sunset Beach by trailer, and hand-launched her using a clever little cart.

After the segment was wrapped Tim was contacted by a few waterfront residents, and asked if he might be able to take them and their families out for cruises.
He did so for free, all the while enjoying the experience and soaking up its significance.

Tim began thinking of the neighborhood as his second home, and even put his name into the hat to volunteer for upcoming community events.

Venice, California’s first Venice-built boat in decades was a hit.
Everyone loved her. Well, almost everyone.

Tim chats with two ladies, out for a walk with their parasols.

In any group there are one or two people who have nothing better to do but concern themselves with other people’s business.
Yes, good folks will look out their window to find their neighbors outside measuring their rain gutters to make sure they don’t stick out too far,
or making sure their rose bushes aren’t too, well, “bushy”.

In this case it was boat length that became the issue.
It seems that, somewhere along the line in the community guidelines for boats on the canals a change took place, and now if you want to put a boat on the water, she must be under 18 feet in length.
This is quite a change from the original, which allowed boats as long as a gondola. Now, sadly, the city that was designed and built to accommodate gondolas has essentially outlawed them. The pupparin isn’t 36 feet long like a gondola; she’s a few feet shorter, but nowhere near being under the 18 foot limit.

So last week, after having looked at the situation from several angles,
Tim decided to pull the boat out of the water. Yesterday she took her last trip on that remaining grid of canals. We rowed her to the ramp, hauled her out using the cart, and placed her on her trailer.

This isn’t the end for that sleek boat; she’ll make lots of people happy further south, but we talked to several of the Venice residents who I know will miss her quite a lot.

The first Venice-built boat on the water in decades, glides one last time down a connecting canal in Venice, California.

Over a hundred years ago, a millionaire (and it meant something back then) named Abbot Kinney built this city. He built homes and other structures, had a large network of canals excavated, and brought in three dozen gondolas as the finishing touch.
The jewels in the crown.
After all, Venice wouldn’t be Venice without her gondolas.

As Tim and I rowed around the canals of Mr. Kinney’s “Venice of the West”, I couldn’t help but point out buildings that dated back to 1906,
and say things like “that one’s definitely an original”.
I’ve spent so much time looking at postcard images and old photographs of Venice, California.
The remaining waterways there are a small piece of her canal network.
A lot has changed there, to be sure, but the history is still there.

In the movie L.A. Story, there’s a great scene where Steve Martin’s character is showing a visitor around town and he says:
“Some of these buildings are over 20 years old!”
That quote is fitting for much of Southern California, but there are a few places where we do have history.
Many of the small bungalos have been replaced by larger, more modern homes, but if you look, you can still see some originals.
I spotted a number of palm trees that quite likely date back to the initial development of the area.
More significant to me than buildings and landscaping, was the history.

A hundred years ago gondoliers from La Serenissima rowed down these very same canals, on boats built in Venetian squeri, using remi and forcole carved by the predecessors of the men who carved ours.

The men are all gone,
their boats have all crumbled by now,
but the legacy lives on.

To learn more about the history of Venice, California from a gondola perspective, take a look at my post from June 3rd, 2008 entitled "History of Venice, California". I was asked to contribute to a book on "Venice Around the World" and her many immitations.  The June 3rd post includes a summary based on my submission.

Of course the Gondola Blog is brimming with postcard images of gondolas in Venice, California as well.  A simple search of the words "POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON" will produce many interesting images, giving an idea of what Abbot Kinney's Venice was once like.

The low-slung pupparin almost hides behind the bushes along this quiet but historic canal.
photo by Andrew Clark

For most folks this would just be some silly boat ride, but for guys like Tim and me, it’s as significant as playing catch with Babe Ruth’s mitt, or writing with the pen of John Hancock.

Out of the water and on the cart with her bow in the air,
the pupparin stands ready to be loaded onto her trailer.

At the end of the day, as we were driving down the 405 freeway,
Tim thanked me for helping him haul the boat and get her home.
I thanked him right back.
I know he thinks I was doing him a favor by helping him,
but I would have paid good money for the experience.


Tamás said...

I am no expert of common law, but isn't there a "grandfather principle" so that gondolas and other venetian boats should still be able to sail, because they were there before the 18ft regulation was enacted?

Otherwise, maybe it's time to ivestigate that old 1/2-sized gondola from eBay?

Gondola Greg said...

Yes, I thought about both of those.
the half-size boats are, by coincidence, exactly matching the 18 foot length limit.
And Tim and I have talked a lot about how canals that were BUILT for 36 foot gondolas, should always be ready to accommodate them.

DG Beat said...

Great post, Greg. Wish I could have been there. That 18ft rule has ruined something great.

cerealgirlwebmaster said...

It was a wonderful post, Greg. I know Bepi met some amazing people up there. I think Abbot Kinney was smiling again while our boat was cruising!