The 2021 Venice Community Calendar honors the longstanding contributions of Venice’s black residents, from the workers who built Abbot Kinney’s canals in the early 1900s to community leaders living in the neighborhood today.
The history of black residents’ contributions to Venice is rich and multifaceted but not widely known by the broader community. The creators of this year’s calendar want to change that.
“The mission of the calendar is to celebrate and enlighten the residents of Venice about where they live,” said co-creator Stephen Pouliot. “Venice’s history is rich in the gifts that the black community has given.”
The first community calendar was created by history enthusiasts Stephen Pouliot and Paul Tanck to mark Venice’s centennial in 2005. Two years later local real estate agent Betsy Goldman offered to sponsor the calendar and it became an annual tradition with each edition focusing on a different facet of Venice’s history.
This year’s calendar begins by honoring Arthur Reese, the first black resident in Venice who came to the area in 1902. Reese was hired to perform janitorial services by Abbot Kinney, but knew he was capable of much more.
Kinney recognized Reese’s natural artistic talents and hired him to renovate the Venice Dance Hall, which Reese transformed into a visual spectacle that serves as the calendar’s cover image.
Reese later became Kinney’s Chief Decorator and brought many of his family members to Venice including Irving Tabor. Tabor worked as Kinney’s personal assistant and chauffeur and went on to found Tabor’s Bay City Maintenance Company, the first African American-owned maintenance company in the area.
“The two major people shown in the introduction, Arthur Reese and Irving Tabor, showed that black residents were the backbone of early Venice and I think that holds true today, even though Oakwood has become very gentrified,” said Tanck.
Many black residents have historically lived in the 1.1 square mile of Oakwood, which used to be the only area of Venice they could buy property in.
The calendar honors several Oakwood community leaders who worked on many social issues including affordable housing, access to health care, voter registration, and LGBTQ rights.
“Pearl White and Vera Davis, these ladies were irreplaceable in the community,” said Goldman, referring to two such leaders featured in the calendar. “They were unique among themselves and to me they represent the essence of Rosa Parks. They wouldn’t listen to ‘no’; it was not in their vocabulary.”
Gentrification has caused a number of black residents to leave Venice. According to census records the proportion of black residents in the community has nearly halved since 1980, dropping from 9.6 percent to 5.4 percent.
Although smaller in number, Black residents remain an essential part of Venice today and the calendar honors many living leaders including Naomi Nightingale, Pastor Marvis Davis, Sr., Traci Nichols-Thrasher, and Joe Wheatley.
“We have had a tremendous response to this year’s calendar,” said Pouliot. “It takes a lot for people to sit down and write a note saying ‘I read your calendar, It enlightened me, I did not know these people, thank you’.”