Santa Monica Pier

Although it has been just over a month since returning from America, I still have a couple of blog posts to write. The first is all about Santa Monica Pier. I had to spend quite a bit of time researching its heritage status. From what I’ve discovered, the Pier itself and its historic entrance sign are yet to be registered on the National Register or California Heritage Register. They have, however, been acknowledged by the Santa Monica Conservancy and appear on the City of Santa Monica Historic Resources Inventory as Santa Monica Historic Landmarks.

On the Pier, however, there is a National Heritage listed building and a historic monument – the hippodrome and the original end of Route 66 roadsign respectively. The Route 66 sign has been added to the World Monuments Fund, a private nonprofit organisation promoting the ongoing conservation of cultural heritage sites. The Hippodrome building, originally housing the Pier’s Carousel, was the first building in Santa Monica to be registered as a National Historic Landmark. It was listed for its eclectic architectural style and cutlural memory.

Image from Wikipedia

History of Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier opened to the public on 9 September 1909. Originally, the Pier was built to cater to the sanitation needs of Santa Monica. Within only a few years, however, the purpose of the Pier was set to transform. Firstly, it attracted members of the fishing community who would regularly fish off the Pier. Secondly, it sparked the imagination of those wishing to build an amusement park in the area. In 1916, Charles Looff purchased land south of the Municipal Pier turning it into a place for entertainment and family fun. Looff died in 1918. His family continued to run the Pier which included overseeing the construction of the famous Carousel in 1922. The amuseument park was eventually sold to the Santa Monica Amusement Company who expanded the Pier’s ‘thrill rides’ and added the La Monica Ballroom.

Sidenote – it was also during this time, the 1930s, that ‘Muscle Beach’ was formed, cementing Santa Monica as the birthplace of the physical fitness boom.

Before selling the Looff Amusement Pier to Walter Newcomb in 1943, the Santa Monica Businessmen’s Association installed the famous neon entrance sign. Newcomb owned the pier until the 1970s when it was sold to the City of Santa Monica.

Unfortuantely for the Pier, the allure of theme parks such as Disneyland meant visitation numbers were slowly falling from about the mid-1950s. As with so many other tales of heritage, the original idea was to demolish the Pier in 1973 and create an island resort. This is where the story really begins to warm my heart. When citizens of Santa Monica discovered the fate of their Pier, there was a huge outcry. After a huge amount of publicity and a successful petition, the Council had no option but to cancel all island resort plans. Three councilmen who voted for the island were defeated in their run for re-election, replaced by individuals who wanted the Pier to prosper.

The passion to save the Pier never dwindled. Even after a few destructive storms that wiped out over one-third of the Pier in 1983, the Pier Restoration and Development Task Force oversaw its reconstruction. By the 1990s, it had been fully reconstructed and was open to the public. The Pier that was going to be demolished to make way for an island resort now welcomes over four million visitors annually.

Santa Monica Historic Landmark Listing

The City of Santa Monica was recognised in 1982 by the State Office of Historic Preservation. Part of this means they must keep an inventory of their historic buildings – the Historic Resources Inventory.

The Santa Monica Pier and its sign were two of the first landmarks to be listed in the Historic Resources Inventory. Their next step is to get them listed on the National Register for continuing assurance of preservation and protection.

My Experience of the Pier

I wish I knew all this history before visiting the Pier. Still, we had a really enjoyable time seeing the amusement park and posing with the Route 66 sign. We spent most of the morning just walking up and down the Pier. Around lunchtime, it became unbelievably busy and we decided to leave.

It’s worth mentioning that not only was the Pier bustling with tourists, but also, those who had come to fish and families from Santa Monica who were bringing their kids to the amusement park for the day. Its purpose in the 1920s and 1930s has perservered. Despite almost being closed numerous times, it was amazing to actually experience the living heritage of the site.

If you are looking for a historic day out then look no further than Santa Monica Pier. Especially if you are wanting to see a more traditional amusement park. You can even still ride the carousel (not the original that was sold, but, still one that is pretty old) for $1. The cheapest day out in Los Angeles!

It is quite easy to get to the Pier. Options include the Expo Line Metro that will take you right to the beach and to the Pier. There are also a series of buses that run from areas around Los Angeles.

I just want to say researching for this blog entry has been intense. I really did not expect to find such a rich history of Santa Monica Pier. The people of Santa Monica are just continually fighting for their heritage. So much so, they were awarded the Preserve America award in 2005 for their commitment to preservation. This blog has encouraged me to research a bit more before visiting places to see what stories I can uncover and keep in mind when walking around.

Information for this post was sourced from:

https://www.smgov.net/Departments/OPM/content.aspx?id=30821

http://www.latimes.com/la-me-santa-monica-pier-history-pictures-photogallery.html

http://www.smconservancy.org/preservation-resources/santa-monica-preservation-policies/historic-resources-inventory/

Author: Rebecca Lush

Curator at the Integrated Pathology Learning Centre.

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