Lincoln Boulevard is the portion of Pacific Coast Highway that connects the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Santa Monica, Venice, Marina del Rey, Playa Vista and Westchester/LAX. It is the main stretch of road locals have seen transform many times to accommodate the growing population of these beach neighborhoods. The urban mishmash of old and new building developments, along with the co-existing residential and business districts, come together with the ebb and flow of various traffic speeds, depending upon the time of day one decides to get on Lincoln Boulevard. As such, some may dub Lincoln Boulevard as the Necessary Evil Route for getting from Point A to Point B.
My first view of Lincoln Boulevard was back in college. Whenever I found time between an early morning class and my Work-Study library job, I would march up to a bench situated on the Westchester Bluffs of the school campus and just sit there to enjoy the view of the Santa Monica Bay. Often I found myself staring at the thick white fog that enveloped the grounds below. The fog was intriguing to me because it was antithetical to what I expected when I moved towards the beach. The expected 72 and sunny days people often equate with the year-round Los Angeles beach weather was not always the reality. It can get really cold here, so cold that I actually put those thick University Store sweatshirts into daily rotation for four years straight.
Like so many Beach City transplants, I eventually got used to the gray morning cold and learned to become patient for that time of day when the sun eventually burns the cold air, usually by mid-morning, when Lincoln Boulevard traffic is free and clear of the daily work commuters. I must have jumped onto Lincoln Boulevard at least 3,000 times heading north to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, back when Woolworth’s was still there for us meagerly earning college students to buy and smuggle in a box of Goobers for a movie screening. Sometimes I found myself on Lincoln Boulevard with classmates and roommates to immerse ourselves in the plethora of affordable college eats/drinks, promises of various street performance arts (either via Venice Beach or the Promenade), or to satisfy one of my roommate’s insatiable urge to purchase a pair of knee-high combat boots from the then-only Official Doc Martin dealer west of the 405.
There was one instance when another roommate and I had to hop onto Lincoln to commute to the nearest Standard Brand Paints in Santa Monica (which later became a Sav-On Drug Store, now a CVS Pharmacy) to buy paint and putty because a large hole somehow found its way on our dorm room wall. This was when the Ace Hardware Store on Manchester did not sell paint and when Home Depot on Jefferson was yet to be realized.
Traffic on Lincoln Boulevard becomes a standstill during the late afternoons and early evenings. Like other locals, this slow traffic would allow me to wave at an elderly man who frequented the grassland with his temporary flower stand during my afternoon commute to/from my part-time college job. He and his flowers are long gone, eventually replaced by Bluff Creek Drive, where one can find a community Farmer’s Market on weekends at Playa Vista Sports Park. Gone are the days when I used to be able to see the remains of the old Howard Hughes airport runway and airplane hangers, temporarily replaced by film and television sound stage rentals, later demolished and reimagined as the Playa Vista Residential Community, with sprinkles of storefronts, small green spaces and an elementary school. The Ballona Wetlands was always there back in the day; it is less rustic now as it has become more pedestrian and family friendly.
I can think of a handful of businesses on Lincoln Boulevard that have folded or relocated due to the changing times: Warehouse Records, Blockbuster Videos, Odyssey Video, Top-to-Top, Del Taco, Kinko’s, Tower Records and Marie Callender’s, just to name a few. The futon furniture store on Venice and Lincoln, where I bought my first piece of furniture, along with the leather furniture store on Pacific and Lincoln, where my husband and I bought our first sectional sofa set as Newlyweds, are long gone. I recently noticed Uncle Darrow’s Cajun Restaurant is no longer; neither are the mysterious white Psychic House and the local auto/body shop just south of Superba. Work/Live modern lofts, artisanal restaurants and mini-malls have sprung up in their place.
Urban progress to make room for the growing and youthful population? Yes.
But what happened to the heart and soul of the existing communities, the people whose presence left a mark on Lincoln Boulevard?
The changing landscape of Lincoln Boulevard over the years impacted others to address just that. To capture the personality of the community, Santa Monica business and residential community leaders worked together to spearheaded “Beautify Lincoln,” an off-shoot of the “Beautify Earth” project, through art, murals, and general streetscape improvements. The goal was to celebrate old and new members of the community in a memorable way that was both impactful and personal.
I recently decided to take a walk up and down Lincoln Boulevard one afternoon to admire the murals as envisioned by leaders of the community and realized by the local muralists and volunteers.
At first, a passerby would ask what I was taking pictures of. Then some of the shop owners would come out and say hello. One of the proprietors even jumped into one of the frames of my photos, hoping for me to shoot him while in mid-air against one of the blue/green murals in the background. Alas, I was too slow to capture that funny moment, then too self-conscious for not being able to keep my composure. Wow, strangers laughing together for a good 10 minutes. Others by way of automobiles would slow down to see what I was taking pictures of. We would glance at the murals, then at each other, then gift each other with friendly smiles before the traffic forced the driver to continue on with his or her destination.
The intent of Beautify Lincoln and Beautify Earth to “come together for a single cause… to make their neighborhood beautiful, together” indeed empowered the community to leave an impactful mark through the murals. To me, the presence of the murals offered a glimpse of my neighbors by way of personal conversations and human interaction. By taking an afternoon to admire the murals, I was free to briefly engage with people with whom I would not normally be speaking with because I would have been in my car driving across town to run errands, or racing to-and-from meetings, transporting children to-and-from school or birthday parties, etc., all with the feeling of anxiety and dread for being late, because of the traffic.
Art in unexpected places has been a blessing for this urbanite as she has come full circle in appreciating the inspirational neighborhood full of people who choose to be happy here.
City of Santa Monica Cultural Affairs
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