One hundred years ago, Al G. Barnes and his circus set up camp in what is now Mar Vista. Yes, there was a circus center which was the winter resting grounds of a traveling four-ring circus, with 4000 exotic animals that traveled in up to 30 train cars across the United States and Canada. In 1910, Abbot Kinney had brought Barnes to Venice to entertain beachgoers.
Originally, Barnes had his big top and smaller tents just east of the Venice Canals. Once, an elephant took off walking down Winward Ave. Another time, a tiger escaped, then a python. Neighbors had already become disenchanted with the noise the animals made and accused the circus performers of bringing bootleg liquor and the “Spanish Flu” to their area.
In 1920, Barnes bought 780 acres between Culver City and Venice and moved his operation east. He sold off some of the parcels to private citizens. By
1923, Barnes had set up a permanent zoo for the animals who were too old, too tired, or just too wild to perform as well in the circus.
The entrance to the zoo and an 800-foot frontage faced Washington Blvd with the 70 acres of the Barnes circus establishment reaching back to Culver Blvd. When Mr. Culver made his land grab for the stretch of Culver City that runs down Washington Blvd. to the Costco, Barnes complained that the porch of his house would be in Culver City, while his bed rested in the county.
Fearing that Culver City would vote to annex his land holdings, he maneuvered to incorporate his own city, known as Barnes City. His brother became the mayor. He quickly moved to annex the Mar Vista neighborhood in 1926. Winning the vote, partially due to his 254 employees, the residents of Mar Vista caught off guard went to complain, but Barnes had appointed all the members of the Barnes City City Council.
Mar Vista residents took their complaint to the state supreme court with their petitions for a revote. The vote to be annexed into the City of Los Angeles passed by a two-to-one vote in favor of annexation. In 1927, we became part of our fair city, L.A., and so did Barnes City. Barnes then moved away to the less regulated lands between Baldwin Hills and El Monte in the San Gabriel Valley.
The moral of this story is to encourage you to learn what is going on in your community. Go to marvista.org, and don’t forget to inform yourself and vote – carefully!
By Tesi Treuenfels
Tesi is an educator and a longtime Mar Vista resident.