Tim Rudnick grew up on Venice Beach. “I see myself as a child all the time. I look around and have memories,” he says. His memories of the beach are better than what he sees now. “We’ve done an enormous amount of damage to the beach in the last 50 years. It’s going to get worse unless there is some way to turn it around and get people thinking about the way it functions in its natural environment,” he adds.
About fifteen years ago, Tim took a trip to Mendocino. He hadn’t had a vacation in years and needed to get away and relax. His time spent swimming in the ocean opened his eyes to personal discoveries. In order to keep these discoveries alive on his return, he decided to continue his swims at home.
“I became convinced that the ocean is fundamental to what we are as living animals … it’s not just a pretty spot to watch the sunset but the pressure, the taste of the water, laying on the sand … all these things are fundamental to the kinds of beings we are,” Tim says. “Since then I have ascribed to the hypotheses that we are an aquatic or water marine primate. An ocean antecedent of some sort is suggested by the fact that we are the only primate with two ducts like sea gulls and fat under our skin to keep us warm like other mammals,” he adds. Tim also compares practically naked humans laying on the beach for hours and hours to sea lions. “My feeling is that this connection, besides being aesthetic, is primal. I think of the ocean as a place where real consciousness raising could occur … like a spiritual center,” he says.
It was a dead baby thornback on the beach that brought forth the idea of trying to bring back the flora and fauna that Tim remembered as a child. It was at this time that he started Venice Oceanarium. In a Marine Biology class at Santa Monica College, he wrote a term paper on how to convert the Pavilion to a marine museum. “I really got into that and thought it was a great idea,” he says. However, Tim realized he didn’t have the financing for the renovation so he decided to start activities that wouldn’t cost any money.
While doing research for the paper Tim met John Olguin, founder of the Cabrillo Marine Museum. Thirty years ago, as a lifeguard at Venice Beach, John set up card tables on the beach with specimens to show people. After being transferred to San Pedro, he became associated with the director of a forgotten museum in a small corner of a recreation center. He drummed up support, got grants and turned the dinky space into a world-class museum. John told Tim to do the same.
Tim started activities … set up card tables, had nature walks, read from Moby Dick and Cannery Row, had a grunion party and took people on research vessels … that continue to this day. “At least we had a program even if we didn’t have a facility. It became a creative outlet, but at the same time, wasn’t doggedly bureaucratic in the sense of having a lot of money and grants and meetings and all the things that go along with an established organization,” says Tim. “Clearly now I’m at a point where I have to establish this as a more permanent idea, lay it out and realize it.”
Tim has his own definition of museum in terms of Oceanarium. “The word museum means a place where the muse is celebrated. So, we are looking at this as a highly decentralized low impact place where the ocean is celebrated … free to the public,” he says. “It’s about the whole thing … sea shanties, songs, literature mixed up with biology and chemistry. We’ll have folk singers singing at the same time scientists are talking about the sand.”
The plan is laid out. It starts at the pier at Washington Blvd. and continues to the breakwater at Windward Ave. Tim envisions two aquariums at the end of the pier … one on the pier and the second below it. There would be exhibits, for instance on sand and weather … things that have to do with shoreline activities. The breakwater is a strategic location. “One of the things that is unique about this idea is that it puts the marine museum in the middle of a place where all the people are,” he says. “Most museums are not where people are … they have to go to them.”
There’s a plan for an extensive renovation of the breakwater area and the development of tide pools. This would involve introducing new thornback rays, grasses, kelp and rocks. “This is a good area for rocks because there’s an area of sand in a triangular section that’s created by the breakwater and it makes this a dangerous place to swim but a good place for rocks to be held securely,” Tim says. The area around it would be used for exhibits that would be set up during the day and taken down at night. “Low impact, no building … exhibits like information placards and microscopes,” he adds. Another focal point would be the former Damson Oil site. “Because of the protection of the rocks, it could be developed into a native plant garden and the area right in front of it could be used for exhibits,” says Tim.
Oceanarium has gone through several changes during the years. “Now it is quite organized and purposeful and deliberate,” says Tim. There is an Advisory Board that includes Ed Tarvyd, a noted marine biology instructor at Santa Monica College and Rim Fay, a marine chemist who discovered DDT in the Santa Monica Bay and who was the first president of the Coastal Commission.
The latest project is the International Beachcombers Society that debuted in January. “We had our first meeting in the rain,” says Tim. “It was fantastic. It was fun as hell.” There is a guest speaker and the participants collect plant and animal life that get washed up on the sand that will be recorded over the next year.
“People aren’t even aware that there are native plants that grow in the sand. Birds and insects depend on these. If there are no native plants, there are no butterflies. It’s not a matter of bringing the beach back to where it was. We need to re-landscape it with a consciousness of natural elements as opposed to sunglasses, boats, surfboards and roller-skating. You can do that anywhere. I use swimming as a ritual to remind me of my connection to the beach … to develop a consciousness that there is nature here besides the tourist attraction,” says Tim.
Tim has talked to “lots and lots of people” about his plan for the beach. He understands that this undertaking cannot be done by a private organization but needs to be carried out by local government. “Everyone loves the idea but in order to make a successful pitch, I need a substantial site. That’s why the pier has replaced the Pavilion. The Pavilion was a physical site that could be seen by investors and accountants. Whereas, an area in the sand is not very enticing … on the surface anyway.”
“I want to spend the rest of my life on the beach,” Tim says. “To work on the beach would be a great calling.”