Having spent the last six years in Long Beach’s “community of swimmers,” Naples has been a locale that I have frequently visited, whether it was for open water races through the canals, summer swims around the island, or prom pictures at Naples Fountain, but I always had questions about this tiny island located a short swim away from the mainland. I was unsure of how and came to be and why on Earth people would want to live on an island.
This island did not always exist, for it is a man-made island designed by the architectural firm Mayberry & Parker and constructed in 1903. Its purpose was purely recreational, for its canals and bridges were modeled after those of Venice, Italy and intended to be used for scenic gondola rides on pleasant afternoons.
Considering the cultural history of Southern California, it is puzzling to see why a region settled by Native Americans, Mexicans, and Spanish would construct a shrine to the Italian culture; however, Carey McWilliams addresses and clearly answers this question in his book, Southern California: An Island on the Land. He states that as a middle class began to rise in the early twentieth century, so did a longing to seek adventure. This desire was however stifled by apprehension about crossing the Atlantic; therefore, people sought “an Italy nearer home – an Italy without the Italians, an Italy in which they could feel at home, an Italy in which, perhaps, they might settle and live out their days in the sun” (p. 96). It is therefore fitting that this little taste of Italy sprang up in the Los Angeles suburbs during this time period. This man-made island with its canals and picturesque view was meant to offer visitors an escape from the mundane, a vacation from their everyday lives, a chance to capture the essence of Italy that they so desperately sought.