As Marina del Rey has grown and prospered, its example has helped inspire a $24.5 million development plan for neighboring Venice, a community within the city of Los Angeles that was founded by a tobacco millionaire in 1905 as a replica of the original Venice, complete with gondoliers poling their way through narrow canals. With Marina del Rey's enthusiastic blessing, the city proposes to spruce up the small network of crumbling canals that remains and link it, in effect, to the marina. In a most curious alliance, the project is opposed both by Howard Hughes, whose Hughes Tool Co. owns property in Venice, and by the community's many Chicanos, poor whites and hippies, who fear the higher rents that would inevitably result. Considering the contrived funkiness of parts of Fisherman's Village so close by, it is ironic that the real thing, the Easy Rider culture that thrives in the cottages and crash pads along the Venice canals, is almost certainly doomed by the project.
To regard this business with Venice as a full-blown cultural clash, however, is to assume that Marina del Rey is somehow totally homogeneous. In fact, there are incongruous elements within the marina itself, such as the band of youths in shaggy, almost piratical beards who sailed the channel one cool and sunny Saturday, the signal flags above their sloop aflutter: P-E-A-C-E. They seemed out of place, although perhaps no more so in this world of well-scrubbed cabin cruisers and haughty sailing vessels than the little man in the burnt-charcoal mustache who could be seen inching through the water in a rowboat.
Irving Benson by name, a furrier by trade, the man had driven from his home in the San Fernando Valley earlier that day, his rowboat atop the car. He had spent several hours on the water already, interrupting his rowing only to eat an apple or a pear. "I love to row," Benson said, easing on the oars slightly. "I've loved it ever since I was a little boy in Greece."
Another of the less forgettable people using the old marshland was the white-haired citizen who stepped nude onto the balcony of his marina apartment one bright morning and arranged himself in flamingo poses within view of passing boats and motorists. "The waterfront brings out the ding-a-lings," Leo Bialis affirms. Of course, the sunshine, clean water and related favors bestowed by Marina del Rey bring out a good many non-ding-a-lings, too. This is at once a tribute to the place's efforts to achieve paradise and the reason it is never going to make it. It is an old dilemma, but there is reason to hope the city will not intrude too much. Living as they do amid a jumble of place-names, there are doubtless many perfectly happy Angelenos who still think Marina del Rey was the one who played opposite Gene Raymond in Flying Down to Rio. Perhaps it is as well to let them go on thinking so.