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Six Revealing Sidewalk Talks on "the Coolest Block in America"

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In As the Block Turns, Curbed talks to folks in changing neighborhoods to see how they feel about what's happening around them. This first installment looks at "the coolest block in America," Venice's Abbot Kinney Boulevard, a street that has, perhaps, changed more than any other in Los Angeles over the past two decades.

Abbot Kinney Boulevard begins suddenly. West of Lincoln, Venice Boulevard is lined with houses and apartments and houses, then a public storage facility and an autobody shop, and then the Vice Media offices, Verve (an "immersive art experience"), and finally Lemonade, a branch of the casual dining chain that specializes in lemonades. Then comes Abbot Kinney, and unless you make a right (the street does extend south of Venice, to Washington, but when people speak of "Abbot Kinney," it is the strip north of Venice they refer to), you quickly find yourself back in a pedestrian residential zone, a tony one, with tastefully remodeled bungalows set back from the street behind hedges and dark-stained wooden fences.

The street itself is nothing remarkable. Sidewalks are of average width, with bike parking and chalkboard signs advertising ice cream or coffee or bikini waxes every so many feet. Cigarette butts and dogshit lay beneath your feet, forgotten, or purposely ignored. Three lanes of traffic, with ample parking on each side, move vehicles northwest and southeast. Cars pass by closely, and quickly. It can be hard to hear over the din of their engines.

Buildings from all over the architectural spectrum line the street, a quintessentially Los Angeles sight. Modern Dog sells pet supplies in a remodeled Craftsman a few doors down from The Stronghold, which hocks upscale denim in a classical turn-of-the-century brick building; Acutonix, a new-age wellness center, sits in between, comfortably ensconced in a glassy, angular, Modernist structure shared with an architecture firm. Whatever kind of building it is, odds are you can buy something in it. Commerce is the street's raison d'être.

It wasn't always. West Washington Boulevard, as the street was known up until a rebranding in the '90s, was the stomping ground of lowlifes, and the artists that buzz about them in search of cheap rent and big spaces. Martha Groves, writing for the Los Angeles Times in 2013, says that, in the '70s and '80s, "gunshots routinely rang out at night" in the adjoining neighborhoods. But it's near the beach, and charming, and housing prices were rising on the Westside, and so the LAPD cracked down on crime, and hip spots like Hal's Bar & Grill, which has occupied the space at 1349 Abbot Kinney since 1987, sprang up and gave people with money their in.

Ten years ago, the New York Times visited the street and wrote an article with the very New York Times-y title, "Venice, Calif., Is Turning Into Sunrise Boulevard." The author concluded that, "Abbot Kinney has, seemingly overnight, become the darling of Los Angeles's art and architecture set," citing the appearance of art spaces like the Jaxon House and the Red House Gallery, and the community bookshop Equator, at which "Ed Ruscha, Dennis Hopper, and other local celebrities gather." Abbot's Habit, another longtime haunt, was also namedropped, as a place where the coffee was strong and only $1.35.

Today the Jaxon House and the Red House Gallery and Equator Books are all closed. The coffee at Abbot's Habit goes for $2, and if it's no longer strong enough, the cafe inside the Toms store sells a pour-over for $4. Construction is going on up and down the street, and "For Lease - Commercial Property" signs are up in every window that doesn't already have a mannequin in it. As much change has occurred on Abbot Kinney, there is still much more to come.

Ian Grant · Abbot Kinney Named "Coolest Block in America" [Racked LA]
· Venetian: Abbot Kinney Chain Stores Are Destroying Venice [Curbed LA]