Mental Floss

The Quick 10: Santa Monica Pier

Stacy Conradt
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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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