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The Tail of Two (Santa Monica) Piers

SANTA MONICA— Santa Monica Pier was one of the earliest landmarks designated by the city, not so much because of its architectural distinction but because it is a uniquely rich reminder of the history of Santa Monica.


Today’s Santa Monica Pier consists of two side-by-side piers with different origins. The more extended, slender portion on the north side was built in 1909 and called the Municipal Pier. Originally its function was to provide a channel for the city’s sewage to be pumped out into the bay, though it was also a beautiful place to walk and fish. The southern portion of today’s pier, constructed in 1916, had an entirely different purpose.


The southern side was a “pleasure pier” built by the amusement entrepreneur Charles Looff. Looff was a remarkable man who had made his start in the amusement business carving merry-go-round horses. He installed his first carousel at Coney Island in 1875 and, from there, successfully developed amusement parks in several states.


Looff’s pier flourished from 1920 through 1924. Then, the La Monica Ballroom opened to become the site of many first-time national radio and television broadcasts.


Upon completion, Looff’s Pier featured the monumental Hippodrome building, which housed vintage merry-go-rounds, Wurlitzer organs, the Blue Streak Racer wooden roller coaster, the Whip, Aerospace thrill rides, and a funhouse.


However, the 1930s changed things when the Santa Monica Pier was tested with severe weather patterns and new entertainment trends. As a result, the Blue Streak Racer roller coaster was torn down in 1930, and the La Monica Ballroom eventually closed its doors.


While the Municipal Pier continued to be owned and operated by the City of Santa Monica, the Looff Pleasure Pier had a succession of owners. In 1953, the city took it over and leased it to a private operator.


Pacific Park is also known nationwide as the amusement park to unveil the world’s first solar-powered Ferris wheel in November 1998. The nine-story tall Ferris wheel lifts riders more than 130 feet above the Pacific Ocean.


While the Santa Monica Pier celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2009 and Pacific Park recognized its 20-year mark in 2016, Pacific Park celebrated its birthday with a new Ferris wheel lighting package which cost almost $1 million and features 174,000 LED lights, increasing the colors displayed on the Ferris wheel from the previous 8 to 16.7 million color value combinations.


Before the opening of Pacific Park, the Santa Monica Pier battled a rough journey to reach its present-day landmark status.


The oceanfront views from the Pier made the attraction an instant success.


The popularity of both Piers continued to deteriorate, and finally, in the early 1970s, the Santa Monica City Council ordered the demolition of the Piers.


After World War II, the Pier still attracted fun seekers, particularly to dances with music by Western swing bandleader Spade Cooley, but the piers’ long-term future fell into doubt. By the early 1960s, the La Monica Ballroom was declared a safety hazard and was demolished. Both private businesses and the city floated different schemes to revive the Pier, but the Pier was seedy and declining fast. Within this context, the city council voted to demolish both parts of the Pier in the 1970s.


In response to that decision, Santa Monica residents joined together to fight for the survival of the Piers. They developed a “Save Our Pier Forever” campaign, which resulted in the city creating the Pier Restoration Corporation to provide Pier management and oversee restoration efforts. Also, in 1975, the Hippodrome building, and carousel were designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark.


Improvements continued, and in 1988, the City Council adopted the Santa Monica Pier Development Program, which ordered the construction of a new concrete substructure to add strength and stability to the Pier. The program also added a variety of retail, dining, and entertainment attractions, a police substation, and the world-class Pacific Park amusement park.


Together, both Piers now welcome millions of visitors to enjoy the incredible views of the Pacific Ocean, Santa Monica coastline, Catalina Island, Malibu, and Palos Verdes Peninsula.

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One thought on “The Tail of Two (Santa Monica) Piers

  • I believe the photos you are showing is if the old Santa Monica Long Wharf which was a shipping port just north of Santa monica Canyon (ie Entrada).



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