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Landmark status recommended for Venice West Cafe

Venice The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously today to recommend landmark designation for a Venice Beach site that served as a gathering spot for Beat Generation poets and artists in the 1950s and '60s.

Venice West Cafe, a coffeehouse where poets read their works and jazz musicians performed, operated from 1958 to 1966 at 7 Dudley Ave. in a commercial building that also had storefronts on Ocean Front Walk.

Among others who hung out there were local poets and members of the '60s rock group the Doors. The former Venice West Cafe location is now occupied by Piccolo Restaurant.

“The commission agreed that the Venice West Cafe was a symbol of the Bohemian countercultural lifestyle in Southern California,” said Ken Bernstein, manager of the city Planning Department’s Office of Historic Resources.

Alan Leib, chairman emeritus of the Los Angeles Conservancy’s modern committee, and historic consultant Charles Fisher submitted the application. Leib said he hopes that a portion of Dudley Avenue eventually can be converted into a Bohemian district, with brick paving and period lampposts.

James Adelstein, representing the South Dakota-based owner of the building, said he had concerns about the possibility that the structure could become a historic-cultural monument. The nomination is subject to review by the Los Angeles City Council.

--Martha Groves  

Photo: The Venice West Cafe from a scene in the film "Venice: Lost and Found." 

Comments () | Archives (4)

Sponto would love this. Too bad that couldn't have happened while he was alive. RIP

What an ironic turn of events, one I appreciate very much. In the Sixties, the authorities attacked the Venice West Cafe repeatedly, largely on the ground it represented a cultural threat, the police harassing its patrons and city functionaries trying to close it down. Now they want to preserve the building it occupied as an historical cultural monument. May it long stand as a memorial to many wonderful people, including John and Anna Haag, old friends of mine who ran it for a few years.

The Venice West was totally forgotten and long replaced by other businesses until the last previous tenant who ran an Art Gallery in that building heard about it and added a sign to the storefront space as another decoration.

Mark Kornfeld ("SPONTO") did love using that miniscule store front for everything, even if it was too small. His friends would stand in a crowd out into the middle of the street in the cold and damp while musicians inside blasted out of the store front into the night and throughout the neighborhood late into the evening, any night of the week.

The idea of blocking off the street fits right in to that same spirit of freedom, too. That means that all the taxis and vehicles that serve the Cadillac Hotel and the two restaurants and the store will have to move onto Speedway. Speedway is a single lane, one way road that provides access to all of the residential roads in the area, and emergency vehicles, and delivery trucks, etc.

The trouble is that the storefront is just twenty yards from a residential neighborhood and the late night, street events centered at that storefront made a lot of noise. Mark was a stout soul who would not give in and find another spot for the live performances, no matter how it affected the residents. Mr. Lieb is proudly carrying on Mark's tradition.

Of course the old Venice West Cafe was the same kind of establishment, it was the late night bongo drum sessions that attracted the police rather than the notion that all those uptight neighborhoods couldn't stand to see people so free. There have always been people in Venice who take their partying a lot more seriously than anything else in life.

I would like to draw attention to additional reasons for the 7 Dudley location meriting the historic landmark designation.

The seeds planted by John Haag and the Beats at Venice West, blossomed for eight years; by 1967 the cafe was gone. By its illustrious Beat poets and artists, Venice West transformed an old Venice building into the eternal sacred ground of the West Coast counterculture.

The early 1980s brought the community Sponto Gallery to the same 7 Dudley location; a bohemian cultural hotbed of free-spirited local artists, musicians, poets, and rare underground films. The continued steady shift of the mundane mindset to playful and thought provoking counterculture for over two decades was orchestrated by master perpetrator Mark Kornfeld, known as Sponto, along with cohorts such as Gerry Fialka. Fialka founded the Sponto Gallery underground cultural manifestations 7 Dudley Cinema, Pixel Film Festival, and his famous artist interview series; these underground cultural delights were all held free at Sponto Gallery for years. Sponto Gallery flourished until its founder Mark Kornfeld's sudden death on December 28, 2008.

I am glad that the 7 Dudley location has been prevented from becoming just another expen$ive westside restaurant by its well-deserved historic landmark status. Along with Venice West, however, the more recently culturally significant Sponto Gallery should also share recognition, for its "free to all, all are invited" artistic and counterculture happenings for over two decades in the same exact space. The location's qualifications for historic landmark designation should be due to the contributions of Sponto Gallery, as well.


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