Rialto's charm: Tension between grit and gentrification

Listed just under $5 million, the most expensive home currently for sale in Venice is on Rialto Avenue. Architect Fred Fisher designed it for the current owners, a talent agent-turned-psychologist and a writer.

It’s the kind of property often viewed as a totem of Venice’s transformation. However, Ramey Ward, an agent with deasy/penner & partners, says some buyers think the name architects and granite kitchens mean they’ve found a discount Malibu.

“On Rialto, you can find an old apartment complex filled with renters across the street from a $2 million house,” she says.

Stretching between Abbot Kinney and Venice boulevards, Rialto is prized for its proximity to retailers, restaurants and the beach while the random weirdness of Windward Circle and the boardwalk remain out of range. However, its motley crew of properties also make it a microcosm of what’s happening in Venice at large.

As on other Venice streets, buyers are razing Rialto’s humble beach shacks and replacing them with new constructions. Culver City firm Callas Shortridge Architects is building a two-story home for a client; David Hertz Architects is represented by two lots, two doors apart and sold by different brokers. Each is priced at $1.2 million; each includes a spooky teardown and Hertz’s plans for a new two-story residence.

Ward notes that since lots tend to be small, around 2,500 square feet, buyers often choose to tear down and rebuild or add a second story. Thus far, Ward says newcomers respect the street’s low-slung character — thereby dodging “Friends With Money”-style social suicide by real estate.

Tension between grit and gentrification is part of Rialto’s charm. Joseph Jerome, a CBS attorney who has lived on Rialto for two years, says the neighborhood’s “eclectic mix of people and fantastic vibe” reminds him of the unpretentious beach town on Long Island where he spent summers growing up on the East Coast.

However, while some buyers are eager to become part of the mix that Ward calls “old hippies and surfers living next to the rich and powerful,” others aren’t up to it. “The reality hits them in the face when they move in and there are drugs deals going on in the apartment across the street,” she says.

That’s why Sabine Gebser of Venice Properties has a stock answer for would-be buyers who are swift to ask, “Is Venice safe?” Says Gebser: “I tell them, ‘I think you’d be happier in Brentwood.’ ”

532 Rialto Ave. 550 Rialto Ave.
563 Rialto Ave.
532 Rialto Ave. 550 Rialto Ave. 563 Rialto Ave.
Ana Henton, a Frank Gehry protege, transformed this 1923 Craftsman beach bungalow on a 2,500-sq.-ft. lot into a two-story contemporary home with two bedrooms, two baths and a family/media room in what used to be the garage. Exterior features include a Zen garden, sunny sitting areas and a rooftop deck with sunken hot tub and 360-degree views.
Listing price: $1.55 million
Contact: Ramey Ward
deasy/penner & partners
(310) 266-0867
This two-story contemporary home, on a double lot of over 5,000 sq. ft., was designed by Frederick Fisher and built in 2003. Behind the imposing facade are serene living spaces and private gardens/patios. The home has two bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms in 4,865 sq. ft. Other spaces include an artist’s studio, family room, breakfast area and an office/library.
Listing price: $4.995 million
Contact: Elaine Spierer
RE/MAX Beach Cities
(310) 577-5300
Original 1913 California bungalow on a 1,677-sq.-ft. lot has two bedrooms and one bathroom, an open floor plan, remodeled kitchen with granite counters and backsplashes, hardwood floors, skylights and custom tile work in the bathroom.
Listing price: $859,000
Contact: Melanie Sommers
Coldwell Banker Santa Monica
(310) 586-0361
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