By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
The Village’s original slate of traditional mom-and-pop-type merchants gradually expanded to include some of the oddball stores that exist in the Village today, from the Living Temple—a purveyor of raw-foods cookbooks that holds occasional psychic readings—to stores specializing in home electronics and yoga. Heidi Miller points out that traditional costumes became less common in the Village when “Orientals” moved in—people who, understandably, did not feel comfortable dressing up like cast members from The Sound of Music. And there’s absolutely no provision in the bylaws related to the clothes residents could wear.
The inability of anyone to truly exert control over the Village even applies to the thread of Nazi and/or white-supremacist activity that has bubbled forth there over the years. Even in Huntington Beach, a town that’s known as a haven for skinhead gangs like PEN1 and Fuck Shit Up (yes, that’s their name), Old World Village has been dogged with the perception that it’s a hang-out for the whitest of the white-pride crowd. An October 2000 Los Angeles Times article lays out the public controversies over anti-Semitic activity in the Village. In a 1986 legal dispute surrounding advertising-assessment fees, one shop owner accused Josef of singing Nazi songs in front of her window. A Holocaust-revisionist group, the Institute for Historical Review, held a meeting at one of the Bischofs’ banquet halls in 1989. And in 1992, a club of neo-Nazis celebrated Hitler’s birthday at the Bischofs’ Old World Restaurant.
The Bischof children insist their father—who once said that the Santa Barbara County Supervisors allegedly encroaching upon his property rights should get the “Auschwitz treatments”—has been misunderstood time and again. Kasko says the 1992 incident was enough to make the Bischofs change their policies: No reservations accepted for known Nazi groups, and their security guards are told to turn away any skinheads trying to enter their restaurant during Oktoberfest.
“Just because we’re German doesn’t mean we support Nazis,” Kasko says. “We think that those kind of people are completely ridiculous and a disgrace to the German people, too. It’s horrible. It’s a mockery.”
But even with the Village’s largest restaurant now discouraging their business, skinheads still regularly patronize the Rathskeller bar and purchase merchandise from Miller’s shop, according to the Weisses. And Miller, while saying she doesn’t endorse the viewpoints of all of her customers, welcomes their business.
“They don’t bother anybody,” Miller says of the skinheads. “You can’t tell them to go and leave us alone. They’re always nice, always respect me. I have no problems with them.”
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But in the Village, ethnic and religious tensions have sometimes been mended. The Bischofs were vocal opponents of the Weisses in the 2000 flap over the Israeli flag. Kasko says that their problem was political, not racial: With the Village serving clientele of all nationalities—including Middle Eastern—they had received complaints about the flag. Michele Weiss just thinks Josef Bischof believes Jews don’t belong in the Village. The fallout from the spat left the two families not speaking to each other—until a few years ago, when their similar-age children befriended one another and Weiss and Kasko realized they both wanted the same thing for the Village: more retail. The ascendancy of “services” over “shops” in recent years, they both say, threatens to destroy the Village if something isn’t done.
Jeff Adachi, 40-year-old owner of the incongruously hip DJ Culture record store—which sustains itself largely through independent advertising and the sale of rave tickets—agrees that the lack of retail stores depresses business. “You go into a grocery store, and if there aren’t enough groceries, you leave,” he explains.
Don Rand, owner of Classy Collectibles, moved into the Village in 1987. He says he plans to close his shop by the end of the year, and he expects that within a few years, the Village will consist almost entirely of services—essentially becoming a picturesque office park.
Larschan says he originally joined the board of directors with a slew of ambitious plans to revive the Village as a tourist destination. But every time the board attempts to turn things around with festivals and events, bickering gets in the way. “Even during the farmers’ market, you had [residents] on the balconies, screaming down at the people, ‘Get the hell out of here,’” he recalls. “I can tell you, I had wonderful, wonderful ideas here. Can you imagine this being a botanical garden? There are so many good things it could be. But: 53 separate owners, 53 separate ideas, 53 everything.”
Kasko, too, has had visions for a Village rebirth over the years. But unlike Larschan, she doesn’t see those visions as a lost cause. She imagines that with the right blend of funky stores and relevant advertising, the Village could become a retail destination à la the Lab in Costa Mesa, the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica or 5 Points Plaza in Huntington Beach. “It’s such a unique feel, so cool,” Kasko says. “It’s a great place if you have a clothing boutique and you’re used to paying all this mall rent.”