Venice developer’s lease Terminated: Evicted by even Bigger DEVELOPER - Werner Scharff 1916–2006

By Carol Fondiller

When a long time adversary dies, it’s as much of a shock as when a dear friend or relative dies.
I felt a sense of loss when I learned that long time Venice speculator/developer Werner Scharff died.
He certainly affected my life and the social ecology of Venice.

That other local semi-quarterly monthly on-line paper called him a Venice Patriot, bestowing on him the mantle of Venice founder Abbot Kinney.

I’ll leave you to read the L.A. Times obit for an even more paroxseismic, paragyniacal ode to the departed Mr. Scharff and his good work, such as giving aid to artists’ businesses.

To his credit, Mr. Scharff never said a mumblin’ word when Emily Winters painted a highly political anti-development mural on the wall of his Park Avenue mini-mall. At one time Mr. Scharff owned about 80% of the Ocean Front Walk. It was he who led the charge for Urban Removal—whoops—Renewal in Venice. He and other developers/speculators pressured and conspired with various public and private agencies and entities, i.e., Commissioners, Saving & Loans, City Council, Banks to evict low-income tenants, and to condemn the many small cottages on the Ocean Front Walk and walk streets, and eliminating second stories from the buildings between Windward Ave and Pacific Ave. These second stories consisted of single rooms and small apartments. This also halted the integration of the western portion of Venice. In those post World War II days there were regulations called restrictive covenants that allowed people to deny renting or selling to black people. One could be denied housing or rental in certain areas solely on the basis of race or religion.

Black people were not allowed at the beach. Those second stories were being rented to black people—one of the few places that people of colour were renting near, or on, the Ocean Front Walk! Building and Safety, and other agencies ordered the destruction of those second stories.

Mr. Scharff was, in his taking on the mantle of Abbot Kinney also responsible for the demolition of many of the old Venetian/Victorian style buildings on the O.F.W. The one remaining example of that style is the building that houses the Sidewalk Café and Small World Books.

Mr. Scharff used his old-world charm to try to widen Speedway, which would have taken away 20% of the housing in North Beach. He did not succeed in his efforts. When Mr. Scharff wanted to build his mini-mall on Park Ave., he wanted the property next to his property, one of the few remaining one-family buildings on the O.F.W. He would suggest that the O.F.W. was not suited to the elderly woman who lived there and perhaps the family should move.

His many ocean front acquisitions include the Beach House whose tenants fondly remember his thrifty ways. He replaced the toilet fixtures, but retained the old seats to save money. He still raised the rents.

One of his dreams was to build a freeway along or off the shoreline. Unfortunately, this dream was frustrated by a cabal of tree-hugging comsymp anti-progress community residents.

When Scharff bought the Cadillac Hotel on the O.F.W. it was occupied by mostly elderly tenants who had lived there for decades. After years of attempting to evict them by threats and harassments, such as prohibiting them the use of the lobby area where they used to congregate and watch the passing parade on the O.F.W. It was a large lobby with a huge window facing the front. I remember there was a painting of a matador on the wall, a TV, a motley crew of chairs and sofas and tenants. Mr. Scharff in his love for art allowed an artist to put in an installation consisting of plastic bags cut into strips hanging from the ceiling and the floor covered in sand. The installation was taken down by orders of the Fire Department. Thanks to Legal Aid and/or Bet Tzedek, a settlement was reached where the tenants were allowed to stay, and as each unit was vacated, the rent would be raised.

Scharff was heard to say that they were old, and eventually they would all die off. Finally when all of those bothersome obstacles were rid of, he illegally turned it into a Youth Hostel and slid it in on a prior use (in the twenties it was a hotel) despite the fact that there is no parking anywhere near the building.

Perhaps he deserves the title of Venice Patriot because he clamored for a freeway that would eliminate most of Oakwood and create a barrier for the, at that time, mostly black property owners who lived there, denying them easy access to the beach, and thereby enabling his Vision of turning Venice into Miami Beach West.
His philosophy seemed to be that of his long time business partner Curt Simon who expressed his views “You feed the sparrows by feeding the horses” in a film by that name. In other words, give the rich what they want, and the poor can eat shit.

I don’t deny that Werner Scharff did many acts of personal kindness to individuals.

He also sat on the board of several philanthropic organizations, among them the Venice Family Health Clinic. Perhaps the Clinic would not be so overextended helping people who were made homeless if Mr. Scharff and others like him had a little less “Vision” and a little more humanity.

Posted: Fri - September 1, 2006 at 07:00 PM