By Suzy Williams
I don’t know about you, but every time I bike under the Venice sign, I get a little high, a little glow of pride, for I know that for a long, long time, for ninety-plus years, there had been no such thing. Funny, I had occasionally felt the ghost of the old early electrical marvel, and longed to see it in place once more. I guess part of the reason I get so giddy now is that I KNOW the person who made it happen and I even live on the same street (Glyndon Avenue) that he and his lovely wife reside upon. I refer of course to Todd and Theo von Hoffmann. And since they were crowned King and Queen of the Mardi Gras Festival this year, I thought I’d hie myself to their place (which sports a lit- up, smaller version of the Venice sign on its front) and see if I could find out more about this amazingly active, pro-Venice duo.
She is a petite brunette with sparkling eyes and a wide, wide smile and cooks like the Greek goddess she is. He has preppy good looks, is always down for a good laugh and peppers his conversation with masculine phrases like ”Damnit” and “Helluva” (his swingingly illustrated book The Bigger Damner Book of Sheer Manliness is a must-have for any sophisticated coffee table in our town). Todd is rife with knowledge on Venice history and is quick to credit historians Elayne Alexander, Eric Dugdale and Jeffrey Stanton as his mentors and compadres. In the backyard next to the bunting-festooned shooting gallery and the turtle, frog and fish pond, and under the biggest cactus I’ve ever seen, Todd poured himself a 1 barrel rum, two fingers, neat, and waxed on about legendary Venetians. He spoke dizzyingly of Clarence Tabor and Jataun Valentine, of Tom Sewell and Dennis Hopper (to name a few), characters he brings to life with an unflagging enthusiasm and no small amount of charm.
Back in the kitchen, Theo hands me an exquisite Malbec. I asked them how they came to live here and got so involved with the community. Theo said, “We decided to move here when we were pregnant with our daughter, Kristina, who was born in October of 1987. Initially we dreaded bringing up a child in L. A. – it seemed highly transient to us – but Venice, to our happy surprise, seemed like a Greenwich Village West, which we were both familiar with. I’d lived on the lower East Side for many years before coming west in 1980. We take a lot of pride that Kristina is a Venice-raised kid – and so does she!” Todd chimed in: “My parents had a very strong sense of place – both folks were deeply involved in the history and community of my hometown of Summit, New Jersey. They trained me well, I must say.”
“How exactly did the recreation of the ‘Venice’ sign happen?” I queried.
“Well, it was part of the pitch I made back in 2003 to then Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski to celebrate the upcoming Venice Centennial in 2005. I collaborated with Venice-owned companies DesignTown and Heaven Or Las Vegas, not to mention the community at large. The beauty of this project is that it was one thing that the often fractious Venetians could agree on.”
And to this day, there isn’t a soul who doesn’t appreciate it.
Todd has assisted with or been wholly responsible for the Venice Art Crawl, (he did a piece called “the Man Cave” which, among other things, featured a vintage milk-bottle game from the original Venice carnival. It was called “The Venice Ballz, and is Todd’s most prized possession, courtesy of EBay. He calls it “The website that ate my wallet!”), the wrap-around Rip Cronk mural inside Danny’s; the VNC Barbecue at Oakwood Park; the Venice Home and Garden Tour; the Neptune Festival on the beach; the Penmar “Gopher Scramble,” (a hilarious Caddyshack – inspired romp), the purple tux-cladded “Windward Krewe” which is ready to lend a partying hand to the Venice Mardi Gras (begun here in the 20’s), or any other necessary revelry. Yes, the list certainly does go on and on! In fact, the temptation was to mention everything that he and Theo have accomplished here, but it honestly would come off as a resume, a very long one at that! Anyone who would like to get in on this inclusive couple’s shenanigans should merely hit up “von Hoffmann Bros” on Facebook.
There you will find so many 2015 projects that Todd is now getting the community involved with, such as The Centennial of the Venice motorcycle Grand Prix, the Automotive Grand Prix, and the 50th anniversary of the start of the Doors on Venice Beach.
But I must mention Todd’s fondest dream. That dream is of a very real Venice Heritage Museum he envisions in the currently-fallow Centennial Park- the island just east of the Venice library- where Venice Blvd starts to split into north and south. There would be a replica of the old Station House and a 100 year old Red Car alongside it. Working with folks like us and the LA Dept. of Parks and Rec, the now sad space would be transformed to a gorgeously landscaped place for community events. In both structures, there could be revolving exhibits of photographs, literature and artifacts. Says Todd “We need a place where Venice youth can learn the great Venice story.”
Theo puts in her two cents: “Venice is a community of the wildest artists, musicians, explorers of culture and just plain freakazoids we have ever met. And you know what? We are so very blessed to be here.”
Above: Todd and Theo von Hoffmann
Photo: Paul Rivas