Cornering The Future Aesthetic Of Lincoln Blvd.
Tiffany Rochelle remembers when Lincoln Boulevard was full of prostitutes, auto repair shops, and furniture stores. “Its nickname was Stinkin’ Lincoln,” she says. “Nobody was walking on Lincoln. You just drove by really fast on the way to the airport.”
That was then, and now? Well, things are looking very different to Rochelle—wife of Paul Hibler of Pitfire Pizza and Superba fame—and to the rest of the Venice public. Whether on the southern end of the boulevard where the motorcycle-surfboard-art emporium of Deus Ex Machina pours lattes or to the north where wayward beachgoers can nom French-Vietnamese-inspired sandwiches at Banh Mi Venice, the strip is changing—and fast.
Of special interest to Rochelle, a real estate broker, and Hibler is a single block between Amoroso Place and Marco Place, adjacent to their coffee shop-bakery-restaurant Superba Food & Bread, which Hibler opened in spring 2014. (Sister spot Superba Snack Bar opened on Rose in 2012.) The couple are in the midst of remaking that stretch of Lincoln into what they hope will conjure the Abbot Kinney of old, aka a walkable strip where arts and commerce and neighborhood life quirkily intersect. “We are helping to curate the block,” Rochelle explains.
The renovations are going full bore, and in the place of an old upholstery shop will be Bassike, a high-end organic cotton clothing line, and replacing a barber shop will be Venice Collective, an artist collective led by Matthew Schildkret of the Late Sunday Afternoon scarf line. Already open are The Golden State, a California lifestyle store that relocated from Rose Ave., and sells T-shirts, jewelry, books, and the like, and Christy Dawn, a made-in-LA women’s dress shop.
At the heart of the strip’s transformation, though, is a hidden garden, Farm Superba, currently accessible through the back door of The Golden State. Run by Courtney Guerra who is making a name for herself as an urban farmer with a niche in servicing restaurant chefs, the “farm” doesn’t resemble a typical farm at all. True, there are some herbs planted in the ground next to drought-tolerant natives, but most of the vegetables (arugula and kale were a test crop) are being grown via hydroponics and aquaponics and then served at Superba F&B.
The babble of water from the 20 hydroponic towers fills the spacious yard with an unexpected zen calm. “What I love about the noise,” says Guerra, “is that you can sit in the space and you can hear the water flowing, and it drowns out the sound of busy Lincoln and completely shifts the energy.”
Guerra notes that although the sound of water echoes throughout the outdoor space, hydroponic farming uses about 90 percent less water than traditional farming, so there’s no need to feel drought-shame while chowing down on your kale saag or octopus salad with arugula at Superba F&B. Aquaponic farming is also environmentally sound -- it uses fertilized fish water (ahem, fish poop) to create a closed-loop microenvironment. Currently tilapia, koi and crawdads fill the tanks that feed the cucumbers and kale that grow above, and the system’s creator, Funn Roberts, is looking at putting plants in the water to feed the fish.
If Guerra is the inspiration behind the things growing in the garden, Funn is the actualizer of her (and Rochelle and Hibler’s) backyard dreams. In a double-storefront sized outdoor space that was once stuffed with dead animal carcasses and furniture left to rot in the rain, he’s laid stonework, built picnic tables out of reclaimed wood, designed a raised deck to hide the inner workings of Guerra’s hydro-powered garden, and crafted a German swinging grill known as a schwenker. And those aquaponic tanks don’t fill themselves—Funn came face-to-face with a rattlesnake while hunting for crawdads one day in Topanga Canyon.
Funn and Guerra are in an informal way part of Rochelle and Hibler’s family. Rochelle met Guerra while playing pick-up volleyball at the beach (both were former pro players), and Funn made the bracelets that the couple regularly wear. This rehab project is a bit of a family affair, and that’s what the couple wants the garden to be and how they want it to operate. Its exact purpose is still fuzzy—is it a maker’s garden, a community gathering place, a host of occasional outdoor yoga events or kids cooking classes, or all of the above?
The couple themselves seem unsure of the garden’s exact plans and are sensitive to a mood of “angst and anxiety” that many Venice residents feel about changes in the neighborhood. Whether it’s due to increased traffic and noise or the swift gentrification that has tear-down bungalows listing over the $1 million mark, some longtime community members are uneasy about the appearance of high-end restaurants and boutiques on Lincoln.
“We don’t have a monetary secret plan,” Hibler confesses. And he says he feels confident that what he and his wife are doing is the best possible outcome for a neighborhood where the question is not, Will it change? but How will it change?
“Nobody wants big corporations to control things," he says, pointing out that “the person who chooses to buy an expensive home in Venice is a little bit weird and creative.” That person is the type who “wants a village feel, but they want the good stuff.” And he and Rochelle, who live nearby in Venice, are banking on their cadre of “creative, talented friends” to help preserve the bits of Venice that drew people like themselves to the area in the first place. In the end, he says, “I feel like this is going to make people happy.”
Farm Superba // 1900 S Lincoln Blvd., Venice 90291