You may remember that in the January 2001 issue of the “Venice Vanguard” I described examples of how a home’s structural heritage has been maintained when space was added. At that time, I mentioned a forthcoming newsletter to tell you about the latest Venice property to be named to the National Register of Historic Places. What an appropriate topic to coincide with Venice’s 96th birthday, which took place this month.
Have you ever walked or driven by the two-story domed house at 1223 Cabrillo Ave. and wondered how it came to be among the cottages that line the street? Or maybe wondered when it was built or who originally lived there? Owner Stephen Pouliot asked himself these questions and wanted to find out the answers. Its uniqueness has made it a popular landmark and conversation piece for many years.
Stephen used to come to Venice because it was “so bohemian” and park his car on Cabrillo Ave. to go to the beach. “I always admired the house. It looked like it had been transplanted from Key West Florida,” he says. One day he saw a “For Sale” sign and immediately put in his offer. He bought the property in 1982 when it was in “wretched shape.” “It needed rehab from top to bottom. Every room was painted a phosphorescent color,” Stephen says. “Everybody said ‘you are absolutely crazy for moving to Venice and buying this house’,” Stephen recalls. Remember that the same response was made to Abbot Kinney about his dream of creating a Venice of America!
“It was a two-year project,” Stephen says. He found two Victorian restorers in San Francisco. Dennis Wallace was the master craftsman and he actually moved to Venice and lived in the house for a year and a half. “He really loved the house and I have to credit him for being such a good historian and making sure that the house and the colors and the woodwork were restored,” Stephen says.
“Once I started restoring 1223 it started other neighbors taking better care of their homes and I knew that Venice was going to turn around,” Stephen says. Restoring the house drew a lot of attention. “People would stop by and they still do … from all over the world. They’ll knock on the door, ask about the house and take photographs. It’s been in several architectural guides to Los Angeles,” he adds.
Stephen was curious about the history of the house. He was told that it had been Abbot Kinney’s home which turn out not to be the case. There were quite a few photographs of the house on postcards that provided the best resource of what the house looked like at the turn of the century. Even more telling was a postcard of the canals being dredged and the house in the background. This put the house being built before 1905.
Even after all the research that was done for the historic designation there is a lot of mystery still surrounding the background of the house. Its first tax records appear in 1918, showing that the Abbot Kinney Company sold it for a $10 gold piece to John Fonnell. So, it is still not known why the Abbot Kinney Company built it, who first lived there and why this type of architecture was selected. Even the records of the architectural firm of Norman Marsh and Clarence Russell, who designed the principal buildings of Venice of America, are lost. “Nobody had a sense of history then,” says Stephen.
Stephen helped with the initial research and discovered that Mr. Fonnell’s daughter and grand-daughter live in Oakwood. He had an opportunity to talk to Suzanne, the granddaughter. One of her memories is a solar device on the roof for heating water. “It had been removed before I bought the house but she solved the mystery of the large metal plate found in its place,” Stephen says.
Specific criteria need to be met in order to evaluate the significance of a property for entry into the National Register. Stephen’s home, now officially known as the “Venice of America House”, is historically significant as one of the first, and now the oldest, residential buildings erected by the Abbot Kinney Company. The house is architecturally significant as it embodies the distinctive characteristics of the Late Victorian style, which is made all the more exotic by the Islamic-inspired dome over the front entrance and Colonial Revival influence. Eclectic just like Venice’s spirit!
“The process was a long one and I hired a professional person to do the research,” says Stephen. It took almost a year from start to finish. Now that his property has been declared a landmark one of the advantages is a rehabilitation tax relief. If approved, there is a 20% property tax credit for ten years.
The Venice of America House joins the Venice Canals (waterway only), the Warren Wilson House (now known as the Venice Beach House, a bed and breakfast at 15 Ave 30) and the Waldorf Hotel (located at 5 Westminster Ave.) as the only Venice sites on the National Register. This is not very impressive for a community with such an enormous amount of history. “There is satisfaction in restoring a piece of Venice’s heritage,” says Stephen. Thank you, Stephen, for doing it.