One glorious weekday morning, Jeff and I met John in Irvine and he drove us into Santa Monica to visit the iconic pier. The traffic gods were in our favor as we whipped along the freeways with no delays. Driving back was a nightmare, however, but that’s another story.
SANTA MONICA PIER
The pier began as the first concrete pier, a 1,600-foot long Municipal Pier to dispose of the city’s sewage. In 1909 an underline pipeline ran treated sewage out to the ocean. This was discontinued in the 1920s.
In 1916 a shorter and wider pier was added on by Charles Looff, a carousel carver, to satisfy community wishes for an amusement park in the immediate area. Naturally, the first ride to open on the new Looff Pleasure Pier was a carousel.
The Blue Streak Racer roller coaster, bowling and billiards buildings, and a fun house followed soon after. Live music entertained crowds.
US Navy warships often visited the Pier. On one such visit in 1919, the deck gave way to the weight of a sizeable crowd. The concrete piles had rusted. Over the next 2 years the concrete piles and deck were replaced with creosote-treated wooden piles and deck boards.
The La Monica Ballroom opened in July of 1924 and was the largest dance hall on the west coast. With 15,000 square-feet of hard maple flooring, the ballroom could accommodate 5,000 dancers. The Great Depression, however, ended its dancing days. By the mid 1930s the ballroom served multiple purposes including, as a convention center, lifeguard headquarters, and the City Jail.
A frequent visitor to the Pier was E. C. Segar. He would spend afternoons on fishing trips with a squinty-eyed retired Norwegian sailor, Olaf “Cap” Olsen. (community.digitalmediaacademy.org)
Olsen officially “unretired” himself on the Pier in 1925 to create his own fleet of recreational fishing boats to keep commercial net fishing out of the bay. During the Depression he helped feed needy families by donating a portion of his own daily catch. If his name doesn’t ring a bell, you might recognize him with his cartoon name. Elzie C. Segar needed a hero for his comic strip Thimble Theater, so he drew up a rendition of Olsen and named him, Popeye.
The Pier was used mainly as a ferry landing during the Depression. All the amusement rides were gone except for the carousel.
The bridge and entry gate, along with the the blue neon sign, Santa Monica Yacht Harbor, were constructed in 1938 by the federal Works Project Administration.
In March of 1943 Walter Newcomb purchased the Santa Monica Amusement Company’s lease and changed the name of Pleasure Pier to Newcomb Pier.
By the 1960s the Pier had survived 2 World Wars, the Great Depression, and became a reputed fishing pier, amusement park, ballroom, and hot venue for locals and tourists alike. Unfortunately city leaders only saw an aging Pier that looked seedy and was an eyesore. But to the people who lived on the Pier: the fisher men and women, the artists, and the political activists… it was a neighborhood over the sea.
In 1972 the City Manager proposed plans to City Council to replace the Pier with a bridge that leads to a fabricated resort island. The local community revolted but City Council voted to destroy the Pier anyway. So, the community rallied again. This time Proposition 1 passed in 1975 to preserve the Pier forever.
But Mother Nature had other plans. In 1983 two storms threatened the future of the Pier. On January 27th, swells of 10 feet destroyed the lower deck. Then on March 1st, a crane repairing the prior damage, got dragged into the waters by yet another storm and destroyed one third of the Pier as it battered the pilings.
By 1990, the Santa Monica Pier is restored and alive and well once again!