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Arts and Entertainment

Venice Pride Lifeguard Tower Gets To Keep Its Rainbow Colors

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On June 1, artists Patrick Marston and Michael Brunt unveiled a new paint job for a lifeguard tower by Brooks Avenue in Venice. The tower was done up in a rainbow hue, reflecting the colors of the flag that embodies gay pride. Likewise, the art installation was named the Venice Pride Flag Lifeguard Tower.

The project marked the start of Venice's participation in 2017's LGBT Pride Month—the sand around the tower was also dedicated as Bill Rosendahl Memorial Beach, named after the first openly gay man elected to the L.A. City County in 2005. Rosendahl passed away in 2016.

The rainbow tower had a limited shelf life, as it was expected to return to its usual blue hue by September 8. But an online grassroots campaign, backed by city and county officials, has preserved the tower's stripes; on Tuesday, the County Board of Supervisors voted to keep the rainbow paint as a permanent fixture and rename the tower as the Bill Rosendahl Memorial Lifeguard Tower.

The effort to retain the colors first gained traction through an online petition started by actor-activist Colin Campbell, who'd asked for the Board of Supervisors to keep the tower colorful (as noted at LA Weekly, the county has lifeguard jurisdiction over most L.A. beaches). Campbell said it would be a timely action, as the air of hostility towards the LGBT community has spiked as of late. "At a time when so much of what the LGBT community and its allies fought for is under attack, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors should save the Venice Pride Flag Lifeguard Tower by designating it a permanent public art project," Campbell said in the petition. He added that the symbolic power of the rainbow tower shouldn't be underestimated; as with many art installations in L.A., the colorful structure has been a smash hit on social media, which widens its reach. "In nine weeks thousands have flocked to photograph the dramatic tower and broadcast its powerful message of equality and inclusion to millions across the globe," said Campbell. The petition had originally aimed for 10,000 signatures. In the end, it received close to 11,000.

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Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, in announcing a motion that would preserve the tower's colors, reiterated what Campbell had said about the current climate for minority populations. “At a moment when human rights for many communities in this country are under threat, this dramatic artistic and political statement on Venice Beach offers people in Los Angeles a clear statement of inclusion,” Kuehl said in a statement. “In recent weeks, thousands of people let us know they wanted hope the lifeguard tower to be preserved as it is forever. That’s a very moving testament to how far Los Angeles has come toward achieving LGBT equality.”

The art installation, as well as Venice Pride (which held its inaugural event in 2016), signals a larger movement in the area. As noted by organizers for Venice Pride, many in the LGBTQ+ community feel that they're being pushed out of the neighborhood by rising rents and the other hallmarks of gentrification. The situation came to a head when The Roosterfish, which Pride organizers say was the last "remaining gay bar west of the 405," was shuttered in 2016 after 37 years of operation. The Pride said that the "Venice institution" was "another victim of Santa Monica’s gentrification and escalating rents that continues to chase dozens of small mom-and-pop businesses away."

Venice Pride was started as a response to The Roosterfish's demise and the conditions that led to its closure. Grant Turck, board president of Venice Pride, told Los Angeles Blade that the bar's shuttering was the final phase of a long progress that has wiped out the neighborhood's gay institutions. "Venice has a huge gay history. It is a symbol of diversity, acceptance, and creativity for so much of the world," said Turck. "There was The Friendship on Channel Road (now a straight bar), Blackies’ (now Chinois) and Van Go’s Ear on Main Street, Westwinds (now a T-shirt shop) and Match Box on Ocean Front Walk, Big Brothers (now Salt Air) on Abbot Kinney Blvd. and Free People on West Pico Blvd (now Coal & Ice). Over the last several years, we’ve lost one Westside gay institution after the next.”

As such, the rainbow tower doesn't just honor gay pride in the broader sense; it's also an emblem of the neighborhood's role in L.A.'s gay history. "[The] tower serves as an important visual reminder that Los Angeles will always welcome people no matter whether they are gay, straight, lesbian, bi, transgender, queer or questioning," Campbell said in his petition.

Here are some examples of the tower's reach on social media:

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