Then & Now: Santa Monica’s Ocean Park Pier

The above video of Santa Monica’s Ocean Park Pier was shot in 1954, before the attraction was re-named and re-opened as Pacific Ocean Park (P.O.P.) in 1958. Located between modern-day Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica and Rose Avenue in Venice, The 28-acre P.O.P. had been reborn several times (thanks to a series of devastating fires) over the course of the 20th century: It was given its first life by Alexander Fraser, who built the Million Dollar Pier in 1911. Fifteen months later, the entire pier was burned to the ground in a fire that began when “Someone had carelessly tossed a smoldering cigarette in some bedding,” according to author Jeffrey Stanton.

The pier and its many attractions were re-built and re-opened in 1913, and in 1919 it was re-named Pickering Pier after Ernest Pickering purchased it and expanded it to 400,000 square feet, writes Stanton. An adjoining pier was added, along with more rides, a roller coaster and a dance pavilion were built, but five years later in 1924 the pier again burned down. After it was purchased and rebuilt by Charles Lick (who had built the smaller, adjoining pier to Pickering’s park), the new Ocean Park Pier held its grand opening in 1925 and flourished, undergoing several renovations and improvements.

But by World War II, the amusement park had grown old-fashioned, and “teenagers and young adults instead were staying home to watch television or driving their cars to outdoor movie theaters for entertainment,” writes Stanton. In 1956, the park was purchased by CBS and Los Angeles Turf Club (the folks of today’s Santa Anita Race Track) and was re-opened two years later as the sea-themed Pacific Ocean Park. By the 1960s, the park was waning in popularity as rides fell into disrepair and customers were wary of visiting because it was “in a run-down, seedy part of town,” writes Stanton. Finally, it closed in 1967, and anything that remained became dilapidated and…you guessed it…burned down in a fire.

By 1974, it was reduced to rubble for urban explorers to wander and reminisce what once was the West side’s answer to Disneyland. Check out David Doherty’s first-hand account of exploring the pier’s ruins as a teen, as well as his personal collection of newspaper clippings. The once-revered waterfront theme park became known as “Dogtown” when the Z-Boys skateboarders and surfers of the mid-’70s made it their main hangout. By the next year, the fire-damaged ruins and any remaining structures were demolished and cleared, leaving its secrets and history buried under water.

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Below: the modern-day location of the beachfront park.

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