Reviewed by Jim Smith
Sometimes those who report the news have the biggest influence on shaping the news in the first place. Probably no one had a bigger influence on the the development of Marina del Rey than Argonaut founder and publisher Dave Johnson.
David Asper Johnson and the newspaper he founded were inextricable linked with Marina del Rey. The small craft harbor began in the 1960s and the Argonaut was not founded until 1971, but from that day the newspaper reflected, for better or worse, our unusual neighboring community to the south.
Before dredging began, it was a swamp, a wetlands, as was Venice many years before. The natural environment was destroyed, as was 99 percent of the wetlands in Los Angeles County.
Snoopin’ Around, the title of the book – subtitled The Story of David Asper Johnson and The Argonaut – was also the title of Johnson’s long-running column. In it, and in the news stories carried by The Argonaut, is chronicled the 50-year journey that changed the Marina from a small-boat harbor into a mega-development that even attracts Saudi princes, and is L.A. County’s cash cow. In fact, the major topics of concern in The Argonaut, as reflected in Johnson’s columns are proposed new developments, not all of which were successful, and airport noise. The low rumble of giant jet aircraft that we sometimes hear in Venice could be a deafening roar in the neighborhoods of Playa del Rey and Westchester which were served by The Argonaut.
During the 1970s, many of us in Venice cast a wary eye on the Marina. The culture clash between bohemian Venice and swinging-singles Marina was extreme. There was even a popular tee shirt, “Venice Is Not Marina del Rey.” But even while we were condemning the high-rises sprouting in the Marina and the “straight” lifestyle of the thousands pouring into new waterside apartments and condos, many of us trooped off to work in the “swamp.” Venice women worked in the many expensive restaurants, and I still remember, not so fondly, waxing boats to make ends meet.
It’s always good to know your neighbors, and the Marina has been Venice’s neighbor, for better or worse, for nearly half of our town’s lifetime. The building of the Marina put more pressure by developers on Venice. The upwardly mobile have been trying to slice off Venice neighborhoods and call them part of the Marina for decades. Many newer residents of Venice’s Oxford Triangle and the Peninsula think of themselves as residents of the County’s boat harbor, instead of Venetians whose neighborhoods have a long history as part of Venice. Johnson noted this, and called Washington, “the Mason-Dixon Line.” Indeed, Marina signs can be found up and down Lincoln Blvd. and the large hotel a block south of Windward was until recently called the Marina-Pacific Hotel.
The Argonaut has never been as partisan as the Beachhead, yet by simply shining the light of publicity on outrageous development schemes, the Argonaut helped to quash them. There was a plan for a 13-story Holiday Inn at Lincoln and Mindanao, recurring Marina Bypass freeways, and a yacht harbor in the Venice canals. Johnson calculated how many more boats would be entering the Marina’s main channel from the canals, creating the specter of traffic jams. He reported on Dow Chemical’s former dump site that lies under some of the plushes homes in the Silver Strand. Even though a Republican, Johnson supported the drive for decriminalization of marijuana back in 1972. He also reported favorably on a petition drive for Venice cityhood in 1990.
At the same time, Johnson was an unabashed capitalist wannabe. He purchased a chain of newspapers in the South Bay, and moved his main office to Hermosa Beach. The papers folded a short time later. In 1980, Johnson invaded Venice in partnership with Tom Victory who wrote a chatty column in their short-lived paper called the Ocean Front Weekly. The Beachhead countered with a satirical column by “Dawn Defeat.” In his last couple of decades Johnson focused on the Argonaut, and made it a going concern.
At all times, the competition between the Argonaut and the Beachhead was friendly. So much so that when Johnson died in 2006 he was eulogized in this paper by none other than Carol Fondiller, usually our most caustic writer. But Fondiller, who had been with the Beachhead off and on since 1968 had nothing but high praise for the humor and integrity of the Argonaut’s publisher. If only corporate media had those qualities.
For those who are interested in the history of the Marina and Venice, this is a book to have. Helga Gendell, a Marina historian, has done a fine job researching and editing the book.