A switch is defined as “a mechanical or electronic device that opens, closes or changes the connections in an electrical circuit, used to turn a light on or off; a quick or sudden change; an exchange.”
“The Switch” (as it was called) used to light up the new Venice sign was the very instrument that had lit up the first Venice sign a century ago was about to do all of that.
It was a contraption with copper bolts, a copper lever and thick black coiled wire and was brought on to the stage with a large sign attached to it: “DANGEROUS.”
“The Switch” had tremendous stage presence and smelled of old smoke. It appeared to have come out of an old silent horror or science fiction film – something that a mad scientist would have considered using to bring a Creature to life. It was an ambassador from the Venetians of Venice past to Venice present; to us – their imagined and unimagined future.
“I’ve always loved the Venice Sign in old postcards,” said Tod von Hoffman who spearheaded the project, “so I get a thrill every time I see it back up.”
To see if “The Switch” worked…A few days before von Hoffman tested it.
“I first saw it when we had a secret test-lighting on Thursday night before the Sunday official lighting. Daniel Samakow, who was a tremendous help with this project, flipped it on from the roof for about five minutes and our little band on the street (and a few lucky folks passing by) went completely nuts. We all felt honored to have been a part of it. And I was particularly thrilled with the effect – the LEDs (nested in look-alike bulbs) perfectly simulated the warm soft glow we were hoping for.”
Sunday, June 24, after sunset, the moment came for the warm soft glow to be back up there. Councilman Bill Rosendahl and Congressman Ted Lieu were poised to pull down its lever.
Rosendahl: “In 1955, for some strange reason, which historians have been unable to tell us, the sign was taken down. Right, Jim Smith? Unless you have the answer to that – do you know?”
Jim Smith (publisher of the Beachhead). “No. The state tore down everything around here as far as St. Mark’s.”
Rosendahl: “He’s saying for some strange reason the City of Los Angeles took down all the Venice stuff. They didn’t want to give us much of an identity. But Venetians always wanted to keep their identity.
“So 1955 it was taken down and in 2007 we are putting it back up. It’s ready everybody! It’s ready! We’re going to have a countdown. Here we go, folks! Come on, Venice! Light up! Light of my life!”
Nothing. It seemed the sign did not light up from the pulling of “The Switch.”
Rosendahl: “OH! We have conformation. She’s lit but on the other side, folks. It’s typical Venice, folks! It’s on the other side!”
“The Switch” had switched in that the light coming into Venice for over a century was going out now at the turn of Venice’s second century – sending it across America, across the world.
This light was from an extraordinary people. On the stage as well in the crowd, Venetians who had come to Venice to give not to take – like Steve Clare laboring for decades for its people and to maintain Venice’s identity and Elayne Alexander of the Venice Historical Society to preserve it. There was the Venice Trust, the Unchained Venice… people too innumerable to mention but many of their faces can be seen in photos taken by the Venice Paparazzi where “the locals are the celebrities.”
“I felt especially proud seeing the Venice sign relit,” said longtime organizer and Venice activist Linda Lux. “The daylong party preceding the ceremony was pure Venice joy.”
Pure Venice joy with those who support the art and poetry of Venice would be Nancy McCullock sitting at the Venice Arts Council booth along with Emily Winters and Suzanne Thompson who had spearheaded the mural art fund to preserve the murals and Poets Walls of Venice. And next to them Bill Ewald, who years before had worked with Fred Dewey with Gang’s Peace Initiative. Fred Dewey, now director of Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center and curator of the Poets Walls, chose this day for the first full presentation of Beyond Baroque Books. “This was the first full presentation of all the books we publish and it was absolutely essential, and an honor, to have it be a part of this day.” The light of poetry – the very heart of Venice.
Now Venice has an entrance to its “other side.” The Venice sign has returned at a crucial time in American history when there are so few other sides to step into. It comes at a time in Venice’s history that its flame is in great danger of being blown out.
To enter Venice now is to walk under the warm glow of the word “Venice” gently swaying in the Pacific breeze. And I believe that each person that passes under it will somehow be switched – undergo a sudden change or exchange. It may be so gentle, you may not even feel it. Nevertheless it comes with a warning: dangerous. But the danger is pure joy: you may be ignited.