At Our Leisure: A Crowded Summer Day at Venice Beach, 1 August 1929

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

With hot, muggy weather like we’ve had for most of this summer, it’s to be expected that throngs of local residents and out-of-town visitors are flocking to the many miles of beaches that line the shores of greater Los Angeles.

Today’s entry in the “At Our Leisure” series of posts focuses on a press photograph, date stamped 1 August 1929 but taken before that date of hordes of beachgoers at Ocean Park, along the southern fringes of Santa Monica.  The beach isn’t just busy, it looks just about packed to the gills (an appropriate metaphor perhaps) with folks.  Look carefully and you can see a tow line extending into the water at just below the right center.

Note that, while there are quite a number of swimmers in their virtually unisex bathing suits, with relatively little variation in style between the outfits of males and females, a great many of those on the beach are wearing sports clothes and even business and more formal attire.  Gents in suits, ties and hats are fairly common and a few ladies wear knee-length dresses and cloche hats.

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This press photograph from the Homestead’s collection, distributed by a Los Angeles press service and held by a national one with its stamp dated 1 August 1929, shows hordes of folks at Ocean Park in Santa Monica.

Of course, the vast majority of those on the scene are tucked away from the warm California sun under the sea of umbrellas lining the beach.  Other than a bit of space at the lower left corner, you have to go south a fair distance to see any space not taken up by umbrellas and those in their shade underneath.

Also of interest are the building along the shoreline, including several hotels, such as the Butler and the Cadillac, apartment houses, like the Knickerbocker, and what looks like the occasional single-family residence.  Some commercial enterprises are also identified by signage, including “The Fashion Shop” with clothing for all; a drug store and soda shop that advertises lunches; a couple of cafes, one of which is in the Cadillac Hotel; and a little wooden shack for a lunch stand.

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The captions on the back of the image, however, incorrectly identify the image as being taken at Venice, on on hand, and Ocean Park on the other, but the scene was photographed from Santa Monica, not Venice, Pier.

While it might have been that the beach was particularly crowded because it was a hot summer day, there was another reason, as stated on a caption on the reverse of the image:

It’s quite a job wetting a hundred thousand Elks, but the Pacific succeeds when the Antlered Herd invades the beaches at Venice, Calif., during their 65th annual convention.

Another caption indicates “here is a view of Ocean Park from the pier at Venice, Calif., showing the influx of Elks.”  The problem, though, is that Venice is south of Ocean Park, not to the north, so the photographer had to have been on the Santa Monica Pier, with Venice in the distance.  Incidentally, the original Muscle Beach would be about where the left part of the photo is.

Coverage of the arrival in Los Angeles of thousands of members of the Brotherhood of the Protective Order of Elks fraternal society for the national convention, Los Angeles Times, 6 July 1929.

The photographer, as is often the case with press photos, is not identified.  The pasted-down caption came from the Eyre Powell Press Service, located in the Chamber of Commerce Building in downtown Los Angeles.  Just below that, though, is a stamp from the N.E.A., or Newspaper Enterprise Association, which was discussed in a recent post here.  The date of 1 August 1929 is present, though, as noted earlier, the photo was taken not long prior to that.

The Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, one of the largest of the many fraternal orders extremely popular with American men (auxiliaries of women were common with many of these orders), had its national convention in Los Angeles from 7-13 July and there were many meetings, an electrical parade held on the 11th, trips and tours and many more components to the event.

Attending Elks could order up to a dozen sets of seven issues of the Times with its extensive coverage of the convention, 7 July 1929.

It is possible that one of the attendees was Walter P. Temple, who was an active member of Lodge 1328, then based in Alhambra, now located in San Gabriel.  Once he made his fortune in oil, Temple became a local benefactor of the fraternal order, sponsoring the Walter P. Temple Trophy for best regional lodge and hosting picnics at the Homestead in the early 1920s for up to 1,500 guests.

There was even a fashion show previewing upcoming fall fashions of all kinds for the “visiting lady Elks” held at the famed Ambassador Hotel, Times, 11 July 1929.

This photo has value for several reasons: as a nice document of Ocean Park (albeit one that was photographed often over the years), as a reflection of how popular our local beaches were (and are) in the summer, and as an artifact concerning the 1929 Elks national convention, an event that received much press coverage and likely was an economic boon for the city and region.

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