Following is the history with accompanying photos of the Venice Pavilion by Steve Grody, graffiti documentarian, and author of the book Graffiti LA: Street Styles and Art. This article was written as a preview for BEYOND THE STREETS, where there will be a historical recreation of the Venice Pavilion, which was considered the legendary graffiti and skate destination in Venice Beach.
Special Note: Stay tuned for updates to this article that will include Steve’s preview images of the Venice Pavilion re-creation from today’s previews, as well as a few quotes from the artists.
The re-creation of the Venice Pavilion at BEYOND THE STREETS was developed in partnership with adidas Skateboarding, and the fully skateable installation will feature graffiti from iconic writers that painted at the original Pavilion.
BEYOND THE STREETS opens with a VIP party on Saturday, June 5th and will be open to the public beginning on Sunday, May 6th through July 6th.
Across the modern “style writing” graffiti movement, the term “yard” was taken from the New York origins of the vocabulary.
The first graffiti yards were the subway train yards, and the term took hold to mean any place, through trespass or permission, where graffiti was done regularly.
Many graffiti yards have come and gone since the beginning of the modern graffiti movement in Los Angeles. Some ran a short time before they became a “burn,” and others were active for many years.
The three yards in Los Angeles that were not claimed and controlled by a particular graffiti crew, and that became essential sites for graffiti writers that wanted to show the graffiti community their skills, were Belmont Tunnel, Motor and National, and the Venice Pavilion, also known as “The Pit.”
Built in 1961 as an outdoor but ill-conceived open-air amphitheater, it went through several attempts to make it community friendly before the plug was pulled and it was shut down as an amphitheater in 1984 leaving it vacant, but not for long. The end of its official capacity gave rise to local fringe activity, initially gangs, and the homeless, and then skateboarders and a bit later, rollerbladers. The social politics between the groups were dense. Modern graffiti was just starting to take off in Los Angeles at that time and the smooth walls, nine feet high were a perfect surface for writers.
Baba, of UA, STN, KSN and MSK crews described the time:
“People searched all over for yards. Venice Pavilion was ‘locals only’; Venice Breakwaters, a Junior High [gang] of V13 Suicidals, had it down. The word didn’t get out until Venice got hip around ’84. That’s when people started going down there, and writers too and saying, ‘Hey, check this out!’ And at the same time Zephyr and Revolt [from New York] did a piece right on the breakwater. In ’87-8 it blew up and a lot of writers came.”
“The thing that was interesting about the Pavilion was that there was this image in all the movies of Venice Beach, of the boardwalk, girls in bikinis on roller-skates, muscle beach, dudes playing basketball, skateboarding, this Hollywood-esque idyllic beach scenario, but any graffiti kid that went to the Venice Pavilion knew, that shit did not exist there. It was a place you did not go without four or five friends. You got Shorline Crips and Venice [gangs] that would rob you in a heartbeat and jump you, just because. Other graffiti writers might rob you and jump you, and it was like this weird contradiction that is the embodiment of what Los Angeles is in a lot of ways: on the surface it’s supposed to be this one thing, but really it’s this kind of dangerous and gnarly place.
“There was crack on the ground, needles, all kinds of shit. It was a terrible place for a kid to hang out! It was definitely not a cool place. I saw so much violence there and learned violence there. But for some reason it was ‘that glamorous place to paint.’ This shithole was held on high pedestal. I hung out with all the dudes, the Venice Breakwater Locals [gang], and there was a real cross-breed going on because a lot of those dudes were starting to embrace the breakdancing, the hip-hop, the new culture, but some thought my stuff was ‘flowery bullshit,’ and said Get that off our walls! But the funniest thing is that some of them became graffiti writers.”
As for Risk’s recreation of the Venice Pavilion for Beyond The Streets,
“I wanted to make sure the same people did it, and it was in the same spirit. I don’t really consider it an art piece so to speak, it’s a reunion and an exercise. To paint like that [in his early style] was like “paint like a kid!” so I don’t really look at it as art, but something that was culturally important.”
Most major Los Angeles crews represented there, and it became a national and international destination for writers as well. Sometimes the graffiti crews were sweated by gangs, sometimes by police who actually had a substation built on the outside of the Pavilion (note the “Stopped by One Times, “ i.e. police). But often the graffiti was tolerated, some police recognizing that they had better things to do than roust kids painting, and even on occasion, the police would bust some kid caught dissing one of the better graffiti pieces.
Demolition of the Pavilion started in 2000, but through community efforts, and a decision by the California Coastal Commission, a small portion of the walls were slated to be saved along with a required management program. Stash Maleski of ICU Art was brought in by the Dept. of Parks and Recreation to manage the walls, and in 2012 the STP Foundation took over the task and has kept it running to the present day, keeping a respect to the memory and tradition of Venice Pavilion graffiti alive.
Partial roll call of crews that painted the Pavilion: WCA, FH, WAI, AWR/MSK, LOD, SH, CBS, UTI, TPS, STP, AM7, THC, ICR, LTS/KOG, BC, DTK, USC, USK, UTK, DP, DCV, DTE, P2I, COI, FX, Fly ID, I2W, TCS, NASA, HNR, TDK, KTD, WGS, KAC, PTL, K2S/STN, YR.
About BEYOND THE STREETS
Curated by author and historian Roger Gastman, graffiti’s foremost authority, BEYOND THE STREETS (BTS) will kick off its inaugural showcase of diverse paintings, sculpture, photography, performances, lectures, films, and custom installations throughout 40,000+ square feet of industrial indoor and outdoor space in Los Angeles, California. The exhibition celebrates the soaring heights to which the world’s most recognizable modern art movement has risen. Original featured works will come from SHEPARD FAIREY, JASON REVOK, RETNA, LADY PINK, DASH SNOW, GUERRILLA GIRLS, BARRY McGEE, CHAZ, LEE QUIÑONES, FAILE, SWOON, TAKI 183 plus DENNIS HOPPER, TAKASHI MURAKAMI, AND MANY MORE.
The one-of-a-kind, touring BTS exhibition debuts in Los Angeles on May 6, 2018, and will run through July 6, 2018. BTS will then head to New York City with more global locations to be announced.
The exhibition is open from May 6 – July 6, 2018.
Tuesday – Sunday 12-7pm. Closed Monday.
1667 N Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tickets: $25 https://www.showclix.com/event/BTSLA
MORE INFO: BEYONDTHESTREETS.COM
About adidas Skateboarding
Founded in 1998, adidas Skateboarding creates footwear and apparel for skateboarders distributed through a global network of skateboarding retailers. adidas skateboarding supports a group of iconic, elite, and trendsetting professional and amateur skateboarders from all over the world including Mark Gonzales, Dennis Busenitz, and Na-kel Smith. adidas Skateboarding is a segment of adidas Originals, a division of the adidas Group.
UTI, “Unity Threatens Ignorance,” 1997
Jigs (with a take on Rick Griffin) 1995
Krush and 2Tone 1995
USC (“Stopped by One Times inset) 1993
Self, with character by Krush 1993
Gatcha and Kofie 1995
Mek, with character by Circus 1993
Volt, Bash, and Precise