Venice Boulevard runs from downtown Los Angeles to the ocean at Venice Beach, with downtown Culver City in the middle. It follows the path of its predecessor, the Venice Short Line, an interurban passenger railway that, in 1906, became part of Pacific Electric’s network, often referred to as the Red Cars. The railway had a stop at Culver City/Palms, at the intersection just outside the front door of the CLUI main office, where passengers could transfer to another line running down Culver Boulevard to Playa del Rey. The building that provided power for the Venice Short Line remains in the park across the street.
Initially there were just a few stops along the route between downtown Culver City and the coast, as the land was still mostly empty in the 1910s. One stop was at the sprouting downtown strip in Mar Vista, between Centinela Avenue and Grand View Boulevard. Approaching the coast, the line merged with the northbound tracks running atop the dunes, with a stop at Windward Avenue, heart of the new community of Venice. The railway was the main way for people to get to and from the Venice Canals, the Venice Pier, and other attractions that grew out of the developments led by Abbot Kinney, which became the Venice neighborhood.
At first Venice Boulevard was just a dirt track used by cars traveling in both directions, on either side of the railroad. A portion of it, west of Inglewood Boulevard, was paved in 1912, though different parts had different names. Starting in 1924 the roads on either side of the tracks were widened to 60 feet, and paved in stages, to help relieve increasing car traffic on Washington Boulevard, which had long been the main road from downtown Los Angeles to Venice. Most of the street was officially named Venice Boulevard in 1926, and by 1938, it was fully paved to downtown Los Angeles.
Ridership on the Red Cars diminished steadily as the use of cars increased. In 1950 passenger trains stopped running for good on the Venice Short Line, and the tracks were pulled up the following year. One-way traffic in opposite directions was established on the two roads, and the wide, dusty median, where the tracks were, was empty, used for parking, mostly in a haphazard fashion.
In the early 1960s part of Venice Boulevard became a state highway (CA 187), officially part of the National Highway System, a link connecting Highway 1, at Lincoln Boulevard in the west, to Interstate 10 at La Cienega Boulevard in the east. In 1966 much of it was widened into three lanes in each direction, with parking along the curb. The median remained to divide the eastbound and westbound lanes, but was narrowed to less than a car’s width in most places. As part of beautification efforts along Venice Boulevard in the late 1960s, especially in commercial parts of Mar Vista, power lines were put underground, trees were planted, street lamps installed, and sidewalks were widened. By the 1970s, the road was set as it appears today, and has continued to commercialize and densify.