Venice Beach began life as one man’s dream. In the 1890’s, Abbot Kinney, a wealthy tobacco tycoon imagined transforming a deteriorating marshland west of Los Angeles, California, into the “Coney Island of the Pacific”. The co-owner of the Ocean Park Casino and Resort, wanted to turn the land south of Ocean Park through the Del Rey peninsula into a “Venice of America.”
He and his partner Francis Ryan had bought two miles of oceanfront property south of Santa Moncia in 1891. They built a resort town on the north end of the property, called Ocean Park, which was soon annexed to Santa Monica. After Ryan died, Kinney and his new partners continued building south of Navy Street. After the partnership dissolved in 1904, Kinney, who had won the marshy land on the south end of the property in a coin flip with his former partners, began to build a seaside resort like it’s name sake in Italy.
When Venice of America opened on July 4, 1905, Kinney had dug several miles of canals to drain the marshes for his residential area, built a 1,200-foot (370 m)-long pleasure pier with an auditorium, ship restaurant, and dance hall, constructed a hot salt-water plunge, and built a block-long arcaded business street with Venetian architecture. Tourists, mostly arriving on the “Red Cars” of the Pacific Electric Railway from Los Angeles and Santa Monica, then rode Venice’s miniature railroad and gondolas to tour the town. But the biggest attraction was Venice’s mile-long gently sloping beach. By 1910, there was a population of over 10,000 people. At the weekends, the town drew anything from 50,000 to 150,000 tourists.