Monday, December 14, 2009

Beach Clubs, Pier Rides and Canals

Hmmm, now where could I be referring to?  Well, either Coney Island, or Santa Monica and Venice of old.

There are some really cool things about Santa Monica and Venice of yester-year.  For instance, there used to be big beach clubs with outdoor and indoor pools, bathhouses, and were the kinds of places that had their own food, towel and umbrella service on the sand. 

There are still a few of these left, but they are now very exclusive.  One in particular is the Jonathan Club, which unfortunately was also known for discrimination.

But the clubs I am speaking of were right next to the Santa Monica Pier.  The parking lot that sits to the North of the base of the pier was a huge pool and bathhouse.  Then South of the pier were three big beach clubs in a row.

I lived in the most Northern of these, which was called The Sea Castle by the time I lived in it.  But, like most of those buildings, it had numerous names throughout its history.

There were changing and showering rooms under the building that you would get to via elevator.  Then, when you were ready for the sand, you’d simply climb up a set of broad stairs that let out onto the sand on the West side of the strand.  All of the hotels had this feature.

Another interesting tid-bit was that the surf came a lot closer to the strand back then.  You can see this in photographs and drawings of the time.  Sand has built up over the years since making Santa Monica Pier one of the longest land-piers in existence.

Muscle beach existed just South of the Santa Monica Pier.  It later moved to the strand in Venice hear Windward Circle.

Santa Monica Pier used to have a long jetty, which paralleled the beach protecting boats, which anchored near the pier.  Several storms have torn most of this jetty down.  But when you stand on the North side of the pier, you can still see the water hitting something just below the surface; those are the rocks that still remain.

In about 1984, there was a huge storm that ate up the whole West end of the pier.  I happened to be driving by during that specific storm and remember breakers which must have been 15 feet; just massive.  The entire time I was living at the Sea Castle, the end of the pier was fenced off, and the Venice Pier was also shut because it had eroded so badly.

Since that time, both have been restored.  The Santa Monica Pier has some fun rides and is always active on a Friday night.  There’s a roller coaster, a very high Ferris wheel, and more rides meant to jostle one’s brain around.

What’s really interesting is that there used to be several more piers along this coast.  There was the Pacific Ocean Pier (POP Pier), which was totally full of rides of all kinds.  Then there was a pier just adjacent to Windward Circle.  There still stands a breakwater that is parallel to the sand at that location.  This breakwater used to protect this stout pier.

And then, of course, the canals.  Abbott Kinney, who was some sort of entrepreneur and financier, developed the Venice Canals to be like its namesake in Italy.  There is now one Grand Canal, which runs from Marina Del Rey and feeds four fingers just North of Washington.  There is also a canal that runs parallel to the Grand Canal on the East side of the fingers. 

However, originally the canals were much more extensive.  They ran around Windward Circle and North East of that location; all connected together.  There is a comparison picture in one of two books I will tell you about soon.  This picture shows the canals back then, and those same houses along the canal now sitting on asphalt streets.

There was also a miniature train that ran around Windward Circle and back east and around some portion of the canal area.  That train was long since taken out and now resides in Los Gatos, CA.

There are two wonderful books on this topic.  The “Santa Monica Pier” and “Venice of America: Coney Island of the West.”  Jeffrey Stanton wrote both.  I believe that both books were out of print, but that the Venice book may now be available again, with the Santa Monica book still being out of print.  I have copies of each, and they are among my favorite possessions.


    Jeffrey's Website            Jeffrey Stanton (at right)

Just a note that you can find the books on Amazon, but be careful and ask the person selling the books to make sure they are the full sized (about 12 inch wide x 9 inch high ) books.  There are some smaller sized versions of the books out there, but you want the original large sized, First Edition books.