Thursday, November 4, 2010
Celebrity Grave: Abbot Kinney, Founder of Venice, California 1920
Abbot Kinney (1850, New Brunswick, New Jersey - 1920, Santa Monica, California) was a developer and conservationist. Kinney is best known for his "Venice of America" development in Los Angeles.
The Venice recreation area opened on July 4, 1905. Unfortunately for Kinney, the majority of the inhabitants of Venice of America did not share his interest in art and culture. Even though he hired the best lecturers and performers of the time, the Chautauqua-like Assembly lost $16,000 the first summer. By December 1905, Kinney knew his dream of creating a great cultural mecca had failed and, ever the astute businessman, he turned his attention to accommodating the wishes of the public. The character of Venice succumbed to the beach-goers and summer holiday guests who frequented the community's many amusement attractions. Venice came to be known as the "Coney Island of the Pacific." By mid-January 1906, an area was built along the edge of the Grand Lagoon that was patterned after the amusement thoroughfares of the great 19th and 20th century expositions. It featured foreign exhibits, amusements, and freak shows. Trolley service was available from Downtown Los Angeles and nearby Santa Monica. Visitors were dazzled by the system of canals complete with gondolas and gondoliers brought in from Venice, Italy. There were ornate Venetian-style businesses and a full sized amusement pier. Around the entire park was a miniature steam railroad along a 2+1⁄2-mile (4.0 km) track. Kinney and some of the nearby residents were aghast at some of the low-class shows that that Venice began to offer, but it was considered the best collection of amusement devices on the Pacific Coast, and it made a handsome profit.
Eventually Kinney gained control of city politics and had the name changed from "Ocean Park" to "Venice" in 1911. Kinney was also allowed to build a 60-foot (18 m) breakwater to protect his facilities from ocean storm surf.
In his travels to the California State Legislature in Sacramento, Kinney met Margaret Thornton, daughter of California Supreme Court Justice James Dabney Thornton. They were married in November 1884 and had seven children, three of whom died during childhood. Kinney's wife Margaret died in June 1911 and Kinney married his mistress Winifred Harwell in 1914 and adopted his two children by her.
Kinney died suddenly in November 1920. He is buried at Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery, Santa Monica.