Santa Monica Pier





Santa Monica Pier

Situated in Santa Monica, California, the Santa Monica Pier is among the first historical milestones to undergo designation by its respective city. Over a century, the Pier has functioned as a guide into Santa Monica’s past based on the way it has incorporated a variety of architectural designs that were reminiscent of a particular era. In addition, the landmark has been a critical element of America’s popular culture. This is because Santa Monica Pier has acted as the basis for a myriad of global entertainment paraphernalia such as motion pictures and music videos, which have further cemented the attraction as a popular and historic relic of the American culture. However, in this case, the focus on Santa Monica Pier will be more on its architectural distinction rather than its chronological implications on the city’s history. Therefore, while being mindful of its significance to Santa Monica’s history, it is imperative to focus profoundly on the landmark’s building, planning and other elements of its architecture.

An Overview of the Santa Monica Pier

In overview, the Santa Monica Pier comprises a significant double-jointed berth based on Colorado Avenue. The dock, as one of Santa Monica’s oldest landmarks, possesses disparate origins based on its two piers, which underwent constructions by different architects. Currently, the scenery possesses a variety of modern establishments which were absent ever since its inception in the early 1900s (Erskine 1). These establishments serve as modern-day establishments with respect to the manner in which they appeal to popular culture. For instance, the Pacific Park is among the most popular venues subject to intense foreign and local tourist activity. The Park, which constitutes a family amusement park, is equipped with contemporary entertaining mechanisms such as a Ferris wheel. In addition to this, the Santa Monica Pier possesses a carousel, which has origins dating back to the 1920s (Harris 45). Lesser attractions within the landmark comprise the Santa Monica Aquarium, entertainment personnel, stores, video arcades, a tavern, a trapeze school and a myriad of restaurants.

History of the Santa Monica Pier

Culture and Civilization in Santa Monica

Amusement parks constituted a significant definitive of the American culture in 1900s Santa Monica. The culture, at this time, delighted in ideals specifically based on romanticism. Much of the larger population especially in the Santa Monica Bay included Native Americans. Most of the parts of California were occupied by American Indians, who underwent a casual description by their English counterparts as Californios. However, as investments escalated for the sole purpose of creating entertainment establishments, the region experienced an overhaul of Caucasian persons who would later displace majority of the Indian communities residing in Santa Monica. Adding on to the impact of migration, the displacement of Native Americans would later establish a different culture that focused overly on entertainment opportunities and pleasure seeking rather than business and commercial engagements (Harris 32). Because of these inclinations, amusement sites became rather common based on the ability to provide pleasure and enjoyment at low costs.

Apart from the occupation of Native Americans, the Santa Monica region also possessed other international communities in late 1900s and early 20th century. Around this time, an increasing populace of Asians occupied or lived approximately to Venice and Santa Monica. These Asian Americans engaged in various economic activities, which would later form an important part of the region’s economy. Fishing was essentially common among Japanese villagers, specifically near the Long Wharf. Furthermore, low populations of Chinese people occupied and worked in the area. Usually, white Americans perceived both communities differently. On one hand, most were predisposed towards the Japanese and their culture, but appeared resentful of the Chinese (Harris 52).

Establishment of the Santa Monica Pier

Over several years, the city of Santa Monica has possessed a number of piers. Nonetheless, the Santa Monica Pier has remained as an essential part of the municipality due to its unique history. The respective berth is an integration of two affixed piers. Accordingly, both structures had separate owners. The lengthy and slimmer section comprises the Municipal Pier, which underwent construction in 1909. Initially, the Municipal Pier operated as a channel that would allow the city to pump its sewage into the proximate bay (Scott 65). Regardless of its unfortunate objective, this particular structure served as a pleasant location for common relaxation activities such as fishing and walking. On the southern side of Santa Monica’s pier, a different form of berth underwent building. The dock, described as a pleasure pier, was built in 1916, but served a completely different objective from the former structure (Santa Monica Conservancy 2).

At this time, pleasure piers became considerably important especially in early 20th century Southern California. Most of the tourists in the early 1920s fancied sites and places that were complete with gratifying and congenial facilities for enjoyment. Additionally, incidences of immigration further influenced the creation of pleasure piers. While the migration of individuals from the North increased during this respective period, there was an abundance of new people ready to revel in the pleasures granted by Santa Monica’s north and south regions. Even though establishments such as Ocean Park and Venice continued to concentrate on amusing common people, the north focused on offering fun as a quality product for occupants of the economically superior classes. Hence, with the inauguration of the 1920s, Santa Monica’s northern region began budding as a globally famous resort for the wealthy and the famous due to its possession of flashy beach clubs, fashionable homes, as well as a sector meant specifically for the pursuit of pleasure and enjoyment (Scott 67).

The Santa Monica Pleasure Pier was an outcome of this predisposition towards the gratification of delight. Designed and built under the instruction of Charles Looff, the large berth was directly opposite towards the Municipal Pier. Furthermore, the Looff Pier also possessed a variety of facilities, which provided pleasure in exchange for monetary gain. For example, the dock had the eminent rollercoaster dubbed the ‘Blue Streak Racer’, bowling grounds, billiards, live music bandstands, a restaurant, carnival rides, a banquet hall, and a formidable carousel that is apparent in the contemporary Santa Monica Pier. Because of its appealing and exciting provisions, the Pleasure Pier became widely accepted as a reformed amusement center and therefore, appealed to large factions of beachgoers to the northern side of California’s Santa Monica. However, after the occurrence of the Great Depression, the berth, also described as the Newcomb Pier, would later subside into a ferry landing spot due to the effect of the failing economy on Americans especially in the 1930s (Scott 69).

Further Historical Additions to the Santa Monica Pier

In spite of the unfortunate economic status during the tide of the Great Depression, the Santa Monica Pier acted as a prime spot for commercial but illegal activities. One of the common activities constituted gambling. Under Tony Cornero, considerable gambling took place in gambling ships, which served nearly 3000 persons each day within any given time. Moreover, the berth further situated itself into popular culture based on the introduction of the Muscle Beach. This particular venue became significantly famous due to bodybuilders such as Joe Gold and Jack LaLanne. The renowned and current neon sign at the berth’s entrance underwent installation in the 1940s. However, towards the 1960s, pier amusement facilities began declining due to the materialization of highly innovative and large inland theme parks such as Disneyland, which attracted both adults and children (Scott 77).

Architecture of the Santa Monica Pier

Unlike most structures in Santa Monica, the Santa Monica Pier is an amalgamation of two piers built in separate incidences. As mentioned, this structure is a combination of the Municipal Pier, which was erected in 1909 and the Pleasure Pier, which underwent construction in 1916. Occupying a length of 1600 feet, the Municipal Pier was largely constructed with wood in order to alleviate the sanitation needs of occupants within Santa Monica (Harris 55). However, due to its concrete foundation, the pier, as half of the modern Santa Monica Pier, provided a reinforced platform for thrill-seeking people. Alternately, the construction of the Pleasure Pier under Charles Looff also utilized wood as a major material. The pier, which featured a range of amusement attractions after its establishment, utilized a large haul of raw materials from trees in order to gain a durable and strong structure.

Consequently, a large part of the labor force involved in the construction of both piers comprised people with varied diversity. In the 1900s, amusement parks had emerged as prime commercial enterprises in California and other parts of America. Because of this, the state experienced a great influx of immigrants of English, Mexican, Spanish, Russian and Jewish descent. This migration established a diverse workforce that would be responsible for the development of the Municipal and the Pleasure Pier separately. Despite of the lack of statistics establishing the average quantity of the involved labor force, it is possible to assert that the structure required a considerable number of workers based on the size and length of the respective adjoining berths.

Looff, in building the Pleasure Pier, purchased accessible creosoted wood pilings in the south of California. Apart from this, the construction also utilized more woodpiles from the northwest of the respective state. Additionally, there was also the purchase of lumber, which stood at 500000 feet. The reason for this was to ensure the establishment of a grand pier platform. Moreover, an extensive platform would easily augment the frontage of the ocean to more than 240 feet towards the pier’s north (Harris 76). The design of the structure also comprised a roadbed. The roadbed was significant in increasing the scale of Pacific Electric’s route from Los Angeles. This enabled commuters to arrive at the destination, which was the beach. Looff also instituted trolley lines, which were beneficial for the transportation and delivery of lumber and wood pilings to the site.

After the construction of the 240-foot wide pier, Looff facilitated the merger of the Municipal Pier and his Amusement Pier in order to establish both structures as a single berth. In addition to the affixation of both piers, Looff also focused on the construction of carousels in order to provide platforms for considerable entertainment within the joined pier. One of the most popular structures among the carousels was the Looff Hippodrome (de Turenne 3). During this period, most of the carousels comprised whimsical frameworks that liberally blended elements from various architectural conventions in order to develop overly appealing structures. The Looff Hippodrome is a good illustration of such architectural innovation. Even though a large part of the building lacks the original ornamentation, octagonal towers especially on the structure’s three corners remain. Additionally, Gothic influence is also evident based on the incorporation of Moorish-design windows and the cupola complete with shutters (Harris 96).

Initially, this specific structure, based on its architectural design, was erected as the main aspect of the Pleasure Pier before its merger with the Municipal Pier. Indeed, the hippodrome bared a dozen of smaller, uncovered towers, which interspersed the roofline. The building also included Medieval-patterned crenellations, which crowned the drome’s corner towers. A Russian-style onion dome was also evident on the top of the cupola (Harris 96). Apart from the eclectic design that the structure poses, the Looff Hippodrome also shares several aspects commonly present within carousels of the particular period. Such aspects include wood-frame edifices, a circular crown atop the carousel, an airy and spacious floor plan and massive figures of doors and windows, which amplify the circulation of air and permit passers-by to view the machine inside the building.

Inclusion of Modern Ideas: Santa Monica Pier

Undeniably, a variety of ideas can undergo incorporation especially in the construction of the Santa Monica Pier if it were built presently. Rather than incorporate electricity, the entertainment spots situated within the pier can utilize sustainable architecture. Usually, this form of building attempts to decrease negative effects that may arise from the utilization of fabricated energy sources and destructive materials (Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash 83). For instance, carousels can use solar energy in order to ensure that machines such as the merry-go-round operate in an eco-friendly manner. The use of solar energy will only be possible via the installation of solar panels. Moreover, solar panels can also be advantageous in operating massive structures such as the Ferris wheel, which require a significant supply of energy. Apart from the construction of a sewage conduit for occupants around the Santa Monica Pier, waste management systems such as composting toilets can be advantageous in decreasing sewage.

Apart from the installation of sustainable architecture, the Santa Monica Pier can also exhaust the use of computer-based interaction systems. Interactive architecture will be important especially in areas with a wide number of foreign tourists. For example, the implementation of vivid audio-visual systems can be beneficial in educating tourists and children on the history of the pier. Additionally, graphical user-interfaces can also be excessively significant in accessing a variety of the services offered at the pier. Aside from this, the Santa Monica Pier can also establish a wireless internet (Wi-fi) especially for beachgoers. This will enable them to access free internet services from the enterprise’s network, further adding to the gratification of their contemporary services. The utilization of lumber for the pier’s footpath can also undergo substitution with tougher wood such as mahogany, which is cheaper and provides a classy feel for walking-enthusiasts.


Indeed, the Santa Monica Pier is a significant historical aspect of California, specifically, the city of Santa Monica. Even though established separately as two piers, the berth has evolved to become a prime architectural and entertainment spot for enthusiasts and families alike. Nonetheless, the pier has undergone a variety of changes with the largest being the merger of the Municipal and Looff’s Pier, which further popularized the structure among beachgoers and tourists. Moreover, architectural designs used especially in the construction of both piers and particular attractions such as Looff’s Hippodrome have proved to cover several years irrespective of the traditional predispositions. Nonetheless, in relation to modern building, the Santa Monica Pier can function as a haven of architectural creativity with the incorporation of less-costly, interactive and sustainable structural design.






















Works Cited:

Ching, Francis D. K, Mark Jarzombek, and Vikramaditya Prakash. A Global History of Architecture. Hoboken: Wiley, 2011. Print.

de Turenne, Veronique. “Santa Monica’s Pier and Carousel: A Long and Circular Tale.” Los Angeles Times. 26 Jul. 2009. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. <>.

Erskine, Chris. “L.A. In All Its Quirky Glory on Display at Santa Monica Pier.” Los Angeles Times. 26 Aug. 2009. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. <,0,1386401.column#axzz2zarsTjF2/>.

Harris, James. Santa Monica Pier: A Century on the Last Great Pleasure Pier. Santa Monica: Angel City Press, 2009. Print.

Santa Monica Conservancy. “Santa Monica Pier.” Santa Monica Conservancy: Celebrating our Architectural Heritage. n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. <>.

Scott, A. Paula. Santa Monica: A History on the Edge. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2004, Print.

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