The Lost Canals of Venice
by Marty Schatz, Board Member Emeritus
AFTER ABBOT KINNEY WON HIS FAMOUS COIN TOSS IN 1904, HE ASSUMED SOLE OWNERSHIP OF THE SALT MARSHES SOUTH OF OCEAN PARK…
In his mind, Kinney had already begun making plans for a seaside resort that would rival East Coast destinations such as Coney Island in New York and Atlantic City in New Jersey. He envisaged a planned community with housing, transportation and, of course, entertainment. In his youth, he had been smitten with the romance of Venice, Italy’s extensive canal system and renaissance architecture and wanted to create a replica in America. Finally, in the earliest years of the 20th century, Kinney had the resources and experience to make his long-ago dream come to fruition. Today we call this community “Venice”.
As Venice historian Jeffrey Stanton has pointed out, Kinney was well aware of the success of the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. The worldwide exposition had been situated on reclaimed wetlands with a man-made lagoon and a series of interlocking canals, plied by gondolas. Moreover, there was a replica of a ship tethered to a pier and a railroad to shuttle visitors around the site. All of these became elements of Kinney's “Venice- of- America”.
However, Kinney had a pressing concern. Henry Huntington, owner of the Pacific Electric Railway, planned to build a community called Naples in the Long Beach area. In 1904 he and his partner Arthur Parsons, decided to dredge marshland in Los Alamitos Bay, create a large island, and dig several miles of canals through the planned residential district. Kinney knew of these plans and wanted his canal-based community to be completed first.
With progress proceeding slowly in 1904, Kinney hired the Hall Construction Company to complete the digging of the entire canal network. Using human and animal power, as well as a newly installed steam dredging machine, the lagoon and the Grand Canal were ready to accept ocean water by the planned official opening on July 4, 1905.