BY DANIEL BARTEL
The Venice Pavilion will probably not be demolished until "well into the new year," says Kathleen Chan, Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department project director.
A permit to demolish the Pavilion, adjacent to Ocean Front Walk at the water end of Windward Avenue in Venice Beach, was approved by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks and a city zoning administrator, but has still not been submitted to the state coastal commission for the required coastal permit.
The demolition cannot proceed until the demolition project receives such a state coastal commission permit.
City officials say they are waiting for the appeal process to run its course before submitting the demolition project to the coastal commission, which will probably be in January.
"As of now, we can't vote on anything until we receive the application permit," said Charles Posner, an analyst for the coastal commission. "Obtaining permits is always slow-going," Chan said. "After that's done, we'll hire a contractor to perform the demolition," she said. City officials say the demolition contract will be part of the third phase of the Ocean Front Walk rehabilitation project. The contractor will determine which part of that third phase is the best time to demolish the Pavilion. It will "probably be some time between January and March," a spokesperson for Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter said this week. Chan says the Pavilion will be demolished because it is not serving the purpose for which it was originally built.
The Pavilion was built decades ago as an outdoor amphitheater for plays and musicals. The facility, however, proved dysfunctional as uncertain weather conditions at the beachfront and poor acoustics deterred theatergoers from attending events held at the Pavilion.
Today, the Pavilion retains public attention largely through its adjacent concrete picnic area, which has evolved into the Graffiti Pit serving Los Angeles' underground art culture.
Over the years, artists covered walls, picnic tables and picnic benches with splashes of graffiti, creating an area that has become a neighborhood "treasure."
If there is any area in Los Angeles that has been exhausted by itchy Krylon fingers, it is this concrete picnic area adjacent to the Venice Pavilion that is now known by all as "The Graffiti Pit."
Everything in the area, from concrete walls to the picnic tables, to the bases of palm tree trunks has been saturated with the balloon-characters of indecipherable graffiti.
Debra Padilla, assistant director of the Social Public Arts Resource Center (SPARC), lauds the Graffiti Pit as a bastion of creative spirit and expresses concern for its eventual demolition. "It's a shame that one of the last places the graffiti artists can express themselves is being taken away," she said.
Some defend the Graffiti Pit not only as a banner promoting freedom of expression, but as a symbol of the struggle for life within the ethnic pressure cooker of Los Angeles.
Bob Bryan, a documentary filmmaker and founder of Graffiti Verite', notes that the style and content of graffiti mirrors how the artists have been affected by their environment. "There are times that the Pit becomes a menudo soup of tags, random pieces and throw-ups - some good, some bad, always relevant," he says. "It becomes a visual metaphor for life in this city," he adds.
While the graffiti artist's chief concern has been to showcase his plight for cultural identity, negligence toward the Pit's ailing physical condition has left it to deteriorate. Trash and beach debris litter the graffitied concrete floor and the pungent smell of brine and urine creeps through the air.
"The current condition of the Pit speaks for itself," Bryan said. "The lack of care and treatment for the area assures that it will inevitably die. The only way the Pit can survive is through those who care for it, demanding a voice in its reconstruction and stabilization."
As decrepit as the squalid Graffiti Pit has become, there are many in the Venice community who want to protect it as public art. The Venice Pavilion would have to be brought up to code compliance in order for the building to be saved - a costly endeavor the harsh oceanfront marine climate would make even more costly to maintain.
"In actuality, it would be cheaper to build a new Pavilion than it would be to repair the old one," says Mark Ryavec, a former spokesman for the Venice Boardwalk Association. Lately, money has not been the problem along the Venice Ocean Front Walk. Rather, the issue has been how to spend it - and whether a current Ocean Front Walk refurbishing project is moving forward fast enough. A $6.2 million boardwalk facelift project, also being shepherded by Chan, has been sapped by continual delays and setbacks. Furthermore, there is a public concern that refurbishing the boardwalk means commercializing the area, tossing out the creative atmosphere and spontaneity that have run so rampant along the Venice Boardwalk for most of its existence.
"We're sensitive to the feelings the community will have about the Graffiti Pit's eventual demolition," Chan says. "There are those who think that the city wants the boardwalk gentrified, to erase all of the color and cultural identity. Of course, that's not our intent." Chan is assuring the local community that the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department will keep two of the graffitied walls standing, to preserve the freespirited legacy that the Venice Boardwalk's altemative-rninded denizens have installed.
Daniel Bartel is a local freelancewriter.