Friday, November 26, 2010

Santa Monica Pier

Photo: Patrick Smith

The Santa Monica Pier, which opened on September 9, 1909, offers entertainment, dining and shopping, including thrill rides, a historic 1922 Carousel, and an interactive aquarium. Popular rides include a roller coaster and Ferris wheel. Just recently an old fashioned soda fountain opened in the carousel building. Visitors may enjoy street performers, a game arcade and vendor carts, not to mention spectacular sunsets.

The pier has burned twice, but was rebuilt each time. It weathered destructive, harsh winter storms, bankruptcy, changing popular tastes, and economic depression. Part of what stands today, like the carousel building, dates from the beginning of the 20th century, but some of it, like the LED solar-powered Ferris Wheel, is brand new and state-of-the-art.

Historical notes:
In 1924, the La Monica Ballroom opened on the pier. The main room, decorated in a French Renaissance theme, could accommodate 5000 patrons, who danced to live music. At the time it was built, La Monica was the world's largest dance hall, and listeners from all over the country tuned in to its famous New Year's Eve radio broadcasts.
Corruption infected Santa Monica’s waters, beginning in 1928, when gambling ships started anchoring in Santa Monica Bay, just beyond the 3-mile territorial limit. Water taxis ferried patrons from the piers in Santa Monica and Venice. The largest was the S.S. Rex, launched in 1938. Capable of holding up to 3,000 gamblers at a time, the Rex was a target of anti-gambling interests. After state Attorney General Earl Warren got a court order to shut the ships down, the crew of the Rex fought off police with water cannons and sub-machine guns. The ship surrendered after nine days, in what newspapers called The Battle of Santa Monica Bay. Its owner, Tony Cornero, went on to build the Stardust Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Santa Monica Pier is open 365 days a year, and admission is free.

This iconic sign, still welcoming visitors to the pier, was installed in 1940.

Two photos from the 1920s. The 1924 La Monica Ballroom (first photo) served as a big band venue and roller skating rink until demolished in 1962. The second photo shows the Carousel Building.

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