At Our Leisure on Venice Beach, 1910s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Well, we enjoyed some fine, moderate weather for the first month of summer, but now we’re baking at 100+ degree days for the weekend.

That’s when our local beaches will crowd with the hordes fleeing the inland heat to seek some relief from the heatwave.

With this in mind, here’s another exceptional image from the Homestead’s collection of folks on Venice Beach sometime in the 1910s.  Not only is this snapshot pretty crystal clear, but it takes a lot in.

Venice beach ca 1910s
This circa 1910s snapshot shows a crowded beach next to the Venice Bath House looking north towards Santa Monica with its pier and distinctive Moorish-style bath house.  From the Homestead Museum collection.

Note, for example, what was a commonplace of the era–most of the people enjoying the surf and sand were wearing their dresses, suits and ties, and hats.  Of course, there are some folks wearing their swimsuits–the one-piece wool variety that looked largely the same for both males and females.   Ladies, though, did wear their tight-fitting swim caps.

Also striking are the many umbrellas rented from the Venice Bath House, a massive building containing a salt water plunge of 600,000 gallons capacity opened in 1908 by Venice’s founder Abbot Kinney.

The facility was one of many salt water plunges along the coast, with others including one at Long Beach and one that is actually visible in the distance in this shot–with its distinctive Moorish domes and minarets–over at Santa Monica, near the pier.  The Venice Bath House survived thirty-five years, but in 1943 the facility closed down.

In any case, a small sign in the sand near the foreground lists the rental for umbrellas as two bits (that’s 25 cents for you young’uns) for 3 hours, 50 cents for a day, $1 for a week, and $2.50 per month.  Some people actually did rent rooms and houses at our beaches for long periods during the summers in those days.  Finally, surfboards, recently popularized by Hawaiian surfers like the famed Duke Kahanamoku, were available for 10 cents an hour.

Other rentals are represented, as well, including “Adams and Cline’s Joy Fish,” which appear to be some sort of inflatables for people to use when “sea bathing,” as it was once called.  The simple open-walled structure with the product name on the side has two mottos on either side.  One reads, “PUT A JOY IN LIFE / RIDE A JOY FISH” while the other states, “FOR THOSE THAT CAN’T SWIM / FOR THOSE THAT CAN.”

A hand-lettered sign on a wooden post near the sign offered bath robes at a quarter for 3 hours and, on the building at the right, another sign stated that “ROW BOATS CANOES / LAUNCHES GONDOLAS FOR HIRE” at the nearby Lagoon.

It’s amazing to see what a busy day at the beach was about a century ago.  This weekend, you’re unlikely to see anyone sporting a suit and tie or a full-length dress with a wide-brimmed hat.  There won’t be any salt water plunges.  And, whatever rentals are to be had won’t cost a dollar for a week, either.

But, the same basic motivations for hitting the sand are generally the same.  So, if you’re heading for the coast this weekend to beat the heat, don’t forget to “put a joy in life” whether or not there is a “joy fish” to ride.

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