Call Girls, Crackheads, and Charlie Chaplin: Venice Beach Gets a New Old Hotel

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Photographer: Magdalena Meissner/Courtesy of The Rose Hotel

The original check-in desk from the hotel's brothel past still greets guests in the lobby of The Rose Hotel.

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Photographer: Magdalena Meissner/Courtesy of The Rose Hotel

The original check-in desk from the hotel's brothel past still greets guests in the lobby of The Rose Hotel. Close

The original check-in desk from the hotel's brothel past still greets guests in the lobby of The Rose Hotel.

Source: American Stock/Getty Images

Real estate tycoon Abbot Kinney built The Rose at about the same time that he completed his dream seaside development, modeled on Venice, Italy. Close

Real estate tycoon Abbot Kinney built The Rose at about the same time that he completed his dream seaside... Read More

Source: Courtesy of Glen Luchford and Doug Bruce

A postcard shows the building in its early days, when Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford used to sun themselves on Venice Beach. Close

A postcard shows the building in its early days, when Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford used to... Read More

Photographer: Magdalena Meissner/Courtesy of The Rose Hotel

The exterior of the building during its hostel days had unfinished mosaics and murals. Close

The exterior of the building during its hostel days had unfinished mosaics and murals.

Photographer: Magdalena Meissner/Courtesy of The Rose Hotel

The building's previous owners would let artists stay for free in exchange for murals. Close

The building's previous owners would let artists stay for free in exchange for murals.

Photographer: Magdalena Meissner/Courtesy of The Rose Hotel

Luchford and Bruce worked with designer friend Katerina Tana on the interiors, stripping it back to its historic bones. Close

Luchford and Bruce worked with designer friend Katerina Tana on the interiors, stripping it back to its historic bones.

Photographer: Magdalena Meissner/Courtesy of The Rose Hotel

Original plank flooring is covered in kilims reminiscent of beach towels. Walls are hung with the works of Luchford, his friends, and illustrations from Dashwood Books. Close

Original plank flooring is covered in kilims reminiscent of beach towels. Walls are hung with the works of Luchford,... Read More

Photographer: Magdalena Meissner/Courtesy of The Rose Hotel

Upstairs suites have a large balcony overlooking the ocean and the action along Rose Ave.  Close

Upstairs suites have a large balcony overlooking the ocean and the action along Rose Ave. 

Photographer: Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Actor and director Dennis Hopper was a longtime resident of Venice and is rumored to have come to The Rose to score drugs back in the day.  Close

Actor and director Dennis Hopper was a longtime resident of Venice and is rumored to have come to The Rose to score... Read More

Source: The Aurora Hunter/Flickr

Jim Morrison, who has become a Venice icon, is also rumored to have visited The Rose. Close

Jim Morrison, who has become a Venice icon, is also rumored to have visited The Rose.

Source: Kilburg/Flickr

Both Luchford and Bruce share a love of the surf and skate culture for which Venice became known. Close

Both Luchford and Bruce share a love of the surf and skate culture for which Venice became known.

“A psychedelic pizza.”

That’s how photographers Doug Bruce and Glen Luchford describe the state of 15 Rose Ave., a hostel the two friends converted into The Rose Hotel, Venice, CA’s newest design clubhouse. Beneath hypodermic needles, neon murals, and layers of vomit and tobacco, they uncovered California redwood walls that had seen a roller coaster history from brothel to flophouse, gang headquarters to surf hostel, a history that mirrors the ebbs and flows of Venice.

Tobacco mogul Abbot Kinney founded this wild fever dream of a town in the early 1900s, transforming a mess of marshland west of Los Angeles into what he hoped would become the U.S.’s answer to renaissance Italy (with a side of Coney Island thrown in for profit’s sake). He had slightly less grand ambitions when he built this party pad in 1905 for the Hollywood types and East Coast friends out to visit the town’s canals and dance halls. (It was basically a brothel, according to the whispers of history that were passed down from the former residents to current owners.)

Many of the area’s most famous residents partook of its pleasures. Charlie Chaplin, whose mother lived two doors down, showed up both in the early 1900s -- and again in 2014 as a ghost during Bruce and Luchford’s renovation, leaving butts from his trademark cigar throughout the hotel, a nervous contractor told Bruce.

“Slum by the Sea”

After Kinney’s death in 1920, his family sold the building to triplets named Tom, Dick, and Harry -- I kid you not -- and the hotel mirrored Venice’s midcentury decline, eventually becoming a flophouse fitting of the town’s new nickname “Slum by the Sea.” The cheap rents drew a new generation of party people, from the Beats and flower children having canal-side love-ins in the ’60s to the roller glam girls and mural artists of the 1970s. The free-loving Rose became the place to score drugs, fueling up locals from Jim Morrison to Dennis Hopper.

Actor and director Dennis Hopper was a longtime resident of Venice and is rumored to have come to The Rose to score drugs back in the day. Photographer: Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Actor and director Dennis Hopper was a longtime resident of Venice and is rumored to have come to The Rose to score drugs back in the day. Photographer: Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hopper, incidentally, was Luchford’s first introduction to Venice Beach. While showing me around the property in a holey tee and well-worn jeans, the photographer told me how he came to the town in 1993 during the height of its gang violence to shoot portraits of the actor/director. “Dennis was the first person at that time who was speaking passionately of Venice. He said, ‘I even like the criminals around here. They broke into my place, left the Warhol and stole my VHS tapes.’”

Those tapes could well have ended up at 15 Rose, which the notorious Venice Crips had made into their gang headquarters. “If you had asked me back then if I would end up in Venice, I would definitely have said no,” Luchford said, leaning against the old check-in desk in the lobby.

Cultural Undertow

But there was something about the rough and tumble town -- the boardwalk artists and skater kids, the grime and the sea, the heady scents of incense and pot and salt air -- that kept drawing Luchford and Bruce back. Both grew up in similarly laidback coastal spots: Luchford in Brighton, U.K., and Bruce in Biarritz, France. And both share a love of the surf and skate culture for which Venice became known.

Luchford had made his name capturing the ’90s grunge world in New York and London, collaborating early on with models like Kate Moss and shooting for Prada and Vogue. “It’s funny, my friends and I wonder how it was that we never ended up in Venice back then considering the similarity of the scenes,” he said.

Both Luchford and Bruce share a love of the surf and skate culture for which Venice became known. Source: Kilburg/Flickr

Both Luchford and Bruce share a love of the surf and skate culture for which Venice became known. Source: Kilburg/Flickr

A lot of it had to do with perceptions of Los Angeles. “I had really hated LA,” Bruce said over the phone after my visit. “But then I found a home in Venice, and came to realize that LA is really vibrant and evolving. It hasn’t reached that level of cultural saturation that New York has.”

Bruce fell so hard for Venice that he decided to take a break from his world-ranging travel photography to put down roots. While pondering his next steps from the balcony of his house, Luchford and Bruce caught sight of the always-packed Venice on the Beach Hotel next door. “Why don’t we open one?” Bruce said.

Hotel Hunt

The hunt for the building was challenging: Since Bruce’s 2009 move, Google had taken up residence in a Frank Gehry-designed Binoculars Building just off Rose Ave., GQ dubbed Abbot Kinney Boulevard the “Coolest Block in America,” and the median home price had soared to $1.35 million. But a broker friend tipped them off to a hostel owned by a hard-partying Texan kid named Scotty.

After well over a year of negotiations, they took over the space. Even after decades of bacchanalian neglect, the duo saw the promise of the building. “There was just this crazy energy to it. It was this sort of really, really rough diamond, but we knew if we just polished it up, it could be something special,” Bruce said.

The building's previous owners would let artists stay for free in exchange for murals. Photographer: Magdalena Meissner/Courtesy of The Rose Hotel

The building's previous owners would let artists stay for free in exchange for murals. Photographer: Magdalena Meissner/Courtesy of The Rose Hotel

A whirlwind four-month renovation stripped the blacklight murals, half-finished mosaics, and stained (by god-knows-what) floors back to their original redwood bones. Kilim rugs reminiscent of beach towels cover original plank floors. Pin-striped duvets top low-slung platform beds. And weathered midcentury furniture culled from trips to the Rose Bowl Flea Market fill suites perched along a terrace overlooking the ocean. It’s an effortlessly edited, sundrenched surf pad that instantly makes you want to be barefoot and sipping a cold one.

Native Color

Behind the front desk -- the same one where the brothel girls used to drop off their keys after a night’s work -- you’re greeted by Venice native Eric Xavier, who stayed on from the hotel’s hostel days. Hair still crusted with salt from the morning’s waves, Xavier liltingly spins stories of the neighborhood’s past, inviting you in like a long-lost surf buddy.

“You into stand-up? Grab a board from outside and we can go. Oh and there’s this punk band playing down the street later.” (Yes, they have free stand-up paddleboards; and yes, this is how he greeted me one sunny morning.)

The come-as-you-are vibe was a very deliberate choice. “We’re a couple of Europeans coming in here, and we didn’t want to upset the balance. We want to help maintain the fragile diversity of Venice as it is now,” Luchford explained during our tour.

Luchford and Bruce worked with designer friend Katerina Tana on the interiors, stripping it back to its historic bones. Photographer: Magdalena Meissner/Courtesy of The Rose Hotel

Luchford and Bruce worked with designer friend Katerina Tana on the interiors, stripping it back to its historic bones. Photographer: Magdalena Meissner/Courtesy of The Rose Hotel

As a result, accommodations range from basic $150-a-night pads with queen bed and shared bathrooms to a 1,500-square-foot penthouse with two bedrooms and a chef’s kitchen. All front that same, pared back, breezy Cali design.

But the real star is the art, culled from Luchford’s personal collection and from artist friends like London-based Dick Joule. The duo also collaborated with New York’s Dashwood Books, selecting a series of large-format posters, like Craig Fineman’s 1970s skate photography. On deck: plans for a gallery space and a shop to sell prints, goods from local designers, and collaborations with brands like Rag & Bone, friends of Luchford and Bruce.

Keeping Venice, Venice

“I don’t see us as owners. I see us as caretakers of the building until we pass it on to the next person,” said Luchford. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s backpackers or crackheads or an art crowd, this building will always maintain this feeling.”

Abbot Kinney originally founded Venice in the hopes that it would become the cultural center of the American West, fostering artists, dancers, writers, and scholars like its Italian namesake. Though the loftiest parts of that vision didn’t come to fruition in his lifetime, he’d find something to smile about in the mix of creative types now hanging out at his old party pad. As the sun set over the Pacific, a film kid played banjo next to a writer, telling the story of a ballet dancer/surfer that had checked in the previous week.

“During construction, I was walking through the hotel thinking, ‘This building is a stinking pile of s—t, and I can’t believe anyone is going to pay to stay here,’” Luchford said as we sat on the upstairs deck beneath some palms overlooking the ocean. Then he had to leave to shoot a job at a not-to-be-named luxury hotel in France.

“It had every possible luxury, but it was so f--king boring. It made me realize that here we have the most important thing: Venice.”



The Rose Hotel is at 15 Rose Ave., Venice, CA; +1 310 450-3474 or therosehotelvenice.com

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