On this clear, sunny, warm Sunday morning, January 11,, the large group of people gathered atop a grassy knoll on Venice beach seemed like they were having a picnic, or a love-in, as befitted their long hair, colorful clothing, beads, and incense. In actuality, they were at a memorial service for one of their own, Mark “Sponto” Kornfeld, who passed away December 28 from an apparent heart attack at age 59.
Sponto, a name he had concocted from “spontaneous” and “pronto,” ran the Sponto Gallery at 7 Dudley Avenue for 24 years. The site had previously been the home of Venice West, a coffee house that, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, epitomized the Venice beat scene. With his gallery, and indeed with his lifestyle and viewpoint, Sponto provided a continuation of the beat and hippie philosophies that has permeated Venice culture to this very day.
The gallery never made much money. Sponto exhibited local, unknown artists and gave the artists all the money their works made, never taking a percentage for himself. (He charged a fee or made some other deal in exchange for the rental of the gallery spaces to artists.) He also allowed the gallery to be the venue for events-concerts by local musicians, comedy, poetry, political forums, and film programs like the popular “7 Dudley Cinema” series run by Gerry Fialka.
Up on the knoll, a man played a didgeridoo, and a woman played a mourning tune on a conch shell.
Shirley Vernale, a close friend of Sponto, welcomed the gathered to remember “this amazing spirit, Mark Kornfeld aka Sponto.”
“We know that his physical body has left this earthly plane and exists in some other form, but that his beautiful spirit lives on,” Vernale continued, recalling that she had been part of Sponto’s “family” in the 1980s when he was known as the “Pope of Venice.” But there were people at the gathering who had known this man during every decade from the 60s to the present.
There were some who had known the former Mark Kornfeld in his childhood in Glen Cove, New York. One man who spoke recalled being in school with Kornfeld and forming with him and some other individualist kids a group called GTS-The Group Therapy Society.
But most people reminisced about the man they had known in Venice and spoke mostly of his legacy of goodness.
A woman named Courtney said that Sponto to her was “like the Godfather but nonviolent.”
People recalled his non-judgmental friendliness his willingness in a risk-laden society to walk down the street and say “hello” to everyone. Gerry Fialka suggested that everyone stand up and hug the person next to them in homage to Sponto.
Beyond the hugging, the music, the poetry, and the circle of unity at the gathering, there was also a realization that Sponto and his work must be honored with the continuation of that work.
While the 7 Dudley, Cinema series and other events that have been held at Sponto Gallery will be relocated to other venues, the gallery site is in jeopardy. Sponto had lost his lease with the owner of the building just before his death. Action is planned to seek landmark designation for 7 Dudley and those in support of this idea are urged to call or write to Los Angeles City Council member Bill Rosendahl.