The Quick 10: Santa Monica Pier

Image credit: 

One of the things I really loved about L.A. is how easy it is to transport yourself to a totally different environment. One day I was hanging out at the same hotel Marilyn Monroe once lived in and thinking about how I wasn't cool enough to be enjoying a super overpriced drink at the Tropicana; the next day I was eating a hot dog and going barefoot in the sand at the Santa Monica Pier. Maybe that's not that impressive to most of you, but when you come from the midwest, you don't transition scenery that fast. If you want a beach, you have to hop on a plane and travel several hours. Unless you count lake beaches, which totally aren't the same thing. Um. All of this rambling is my longwinded way of saying that today's Quick 10 L.A. Week post is about the historic Santa Monica Pier (and area).

sign1. Open since September 9, 1909, the Santa Monica Pier was originally anything but fun and carefree. It actually served the very practical purpose of carrying sewage out past the breakers. So when they advertise that they're celebrating 100 years of the Santa Monica Pier this year, what they are really saluting is 93 years of fun and entertainment and seven years of poo disposal. I kid... sort of. It was made for sewage, but even so, people were flocking to it even since 1909.

2. The second, adjoining pier was built in 1916 and has been known by three different names, which I'll probably use interchangeably. When it was first built by amusement park magnate Charles Looff - he built the first Coney Island Carousel in 1876 - it was known as the Looff Pier. At some point people started calling it Newcomb Pier and then the Pleasure Pier (as opposed to the municipal poo pier). I'm not sure that anyone actually designates between the two piers these days; at least from a non-Californian's perspective, the whole kit and caboodle is just referred to as Santa Monica Pier.

carousel3. Since Charles Looff brought Coney Island its first carousel, it's fitting that he was responsible for the Santa Monica Pier's first carousel as well. The wooden carousel with 44 hand carved horses - no two are alike - has been housed in the Looff Hippodrome since 1922. The building has been there since the pier opened in 1916. After many years of use, both the building and the carousel were found to be in dire need of repairs when the city conducted an inspection in the late '70s. The Hippodrome was scraped all the way down to bare wood and given a new coat of stucco; the carousel was meticulously taken apart piece by piece, then cleaned and repaired and put back together perfectly. People had actually lived on the floor above the carousel until 1974 when a fire forced them out, but when the building was put back together, the floor above the ride was restored. Office workers now occupy the second floor. Another fun fact: Wwen the carousel was fixed, the restoration artists discovered that one of the horses has a paper bag for a hoof - it was just crumpled up and just covered with several coats of wood putty.

4. The original Muscle Beach used to be located just south of the Santa Monica Pier. From the 1930s to the end of the 1950s, when people were talking about Muscle Beach, they were talking about the one in Santa Monica. It was especially known for its tumbling platform and gymnastics equipment, and people would wander away from the actual attractions on the pier to see what was going on with the athletes on the shore. This made the pier vendors none too happy; that coupled with the huge crowds and rumors of bodybuilders hooking up with underage girls caused the city to shut it down for a while. It returned without a tumbling platform. Obviously now feeling unwanted in Santa Monica, weightlifters headed down the shore to Venice, where the L.A. Parks and Recreation Department had plenty of barbells and weights were available. Venice has been the home of "Muscle Beach" ever since. Santa Monica has recently erected a sign claiming "The Original Muscle Beach" and still tends to attract people wanting to practice acrobatics and gymnastics while Muscle Beach Venice attracts the Arnold-type jocks. Joe Gold and Jack LaLanne were two of the original Muscle Beach's early regulars.

5. The La Monica Ballroom opened on the pier in 1924 and was the largest ballroom in America, able to hold more than 10,000 dancers. In 1926, a huge storm rolled in and almost devastated the whole pier and did enough damage to the ballroom that the whole thing had to be renovated. In the '50s it was home to a bunch of dance shows and radio broadcasts and was one of the nation's biggest skating rink from 1958-1962, when it was finally torn down.

ferris6. The Ferris Wheel you see in the pictures isn't the original... which you probably already know if you have seen pictures of its amazing light show at night. The Pacific Park Ferris Wheel had stood at the end of the pier for 12 years when Pacific Park decided to auction it off on eBay last year with a starting bid of $50,000. They got a bid on the first day. The 122,000 pound wheel was bought by Humphreys Real Estate Investments of Oklahoma City, Okla., and half of the proceeds of the winning bid was donated to the Special Olympics.

7. Movies with scenes there include They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, The Sting (even though the movie took place in Chicago, the pier was Santa Monica), A Night at the Roxbury, Titanic, Iron Man and The Hannah Montana Movie.

hotdog8. When is a hot dog not a hot dog? When it's a Hot Dog on a Stick. Or something. Hot Dog on a Stick has been at the Santa Monica Pier since 1946 - you might recognize the colorful uniform even if you don't know the chain. Originally you could just get corn dogs and lemonade at the stand, but now they've expanded to include french fries and fried cheese on a stick. I'm sorry to say I didn't experience any of these delicious items - has anyone else?

9. There are 12 attractions at Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier, including the West Coaster, a steel roller coaster that tops out at 55 feet high; the world's only solar-powered Ferris Wheel (which is what replaced the one sold on eBay last year); bumper cars; a drop tower; and several rides targeted at younger kids. Pacific Park is the first full-scale amusement park on the pier since the '30s.

SIGN10. The Santa Monica Pier is exceptionally susceptible to the California weather phenomenon "June Gloom." Mornings are foggy and will sometimes even include a touch of rain and the overall feeling is just kind of overcast and dreary. Some California residents have even reported June Gloom symptoms similar to seasonal affective disorder. Whereas it tends to "burn off" by early afternoon most places, spots on the shore or even a bit out on the water like the pier is don't heat up as fast as the land does and the clouds never really dissipate.

Have a Q10 idea for me? Send me a Tweet and let me know!

May 27, 2009 - 11:25am
webby
submit to reddit