Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Sea Castle – The Fred Years


This is compilation of video I shot of The Sea Castle; an Art Deco beach club (The Breakers), turned hotel, turned apartments.  It sat about an eighth of a mile south of the Santa Monica Pier, next to where three other previous beach clubs were lined up in a row.  The following is not required reading by the way; you can just scroll to the bottom of this passage and click, "Play Video, if you want.

However, read on if you want to enter into the world of my crazy Sea Castle obsession, which is really an overenthusiasm for all old and grand buildings of yesteryear.  The Sea Castle is just extra special to me.

The way I ended up living in the Sea Castle was that after graduating from university and having my digs in West Los Angeles for about a year, my mother’s friend, who had an incredible studio apartment on the third floor of The Sea Castle with a 180 degree front ocean view, asked me if I wanted to sublet it from her.  She was moving to Colorado and didn’t want to have to rent it to anyone she didn’t know.

My first reaction for some reason was, “Will it be too desolate there?”  My concept of beach-living was that it would be too quiet at night and I would feel exiled from the inner city’s energy. It was rent controlled at the time, and had been HUD housing in the not too distant past.  So, it was a well-worn building.  After about 24 hours though, I came to my senses about this no brainer and realized that I might never get the chance to live on the boardwalk and pay only $480/mo.   So I took it.

I had so much fun there.  It was actually life-changing for me.  I wrote music there, started my first career while living there, developed some great friendships, and came into my own during that time.  My work-hours were variable, so I was able to spend a lot of time on the beach running, working out on the rings and gymnastics bars, and strolling on the pier.  What a paradise for a 23 year-old! 

Some of you who knew me when I made my  "Watercolors over the Sea" CD (available on iTunes by the way), will recognize some of the photos on the CD cover as being The Sea Castle.  I wrote most of those songs while living there, often while watching the storms come in off of the ocean like animated paintings.

After about a year and a half at the Sea Castle, I relocated down to the Venice Canals.  Ironically, the Sea Castle got heavily damaged in a big earthquake (1992’ish) and was condemned, and then burned down after transients had been living in it.  It was later rebuilt as modern, expensive apartments and still stands today at 1725 The Promenade, Santa Monica, CA  90401.

Some of my camera-work here is shaky; my apologies.  A lot of this specific footage was taken when it was extremely windy, and my camera and recording pack were cumbersome and a handful to say the least. It was so heavy, I had to carry the recorder in a back pack to be mobile.  You can hear me grunting more than a few times while operating it. I don’t know why I waited for such a blustery day to do a detailed survey of the building.  In fact, I had to pull down the ambient audio because it was so overwhelmingly loud, and then just ended up taking the audio out of the whole thing.  The video feels more like a window to the past this way.

I’m really glad I took all of this video because it represents my hey-day there, and because I took it upon myself to meticulously walk the entire perimeter of the outside of the property to show it’s size and some of it’s details.  I’ve cut as little as possible to show as much as I could for purposes of posterity.  So thank you in advance for your patience; I wouldn’t call this the most economic of edits.

Just a note that people also called this the “Whale Mural Building,” because of the fantastic ecological painting on it’s south side.  I didn’t show it in the video, but there was a quote painted on the upper left part of the mural (covered by trees in my video) that said, “We did not inherit this Earth from our parents; we are merely borrowing it from our chidren.”  I believe it's translated from a Native American saying.

At some point while living there, I took some video of some of the inside areas of The Sea Castle., which I have not found yet, and which when I do, I will add onto YouTube as separate video(s). However, all interior areas of the building, aside from the bright interior of my studio apartment, were so dark that they barely registered on my Precambrian camera equipment.  The building inside had been chopped up into apartments.  The level I lived on was actually a whole ballroom.  My floor and the one above me formed the real height of the ballroom level. 

For the first few months as I got off of the elevators to walk to my apartment, I always wondered why the ceilings of the enclosed atrium I walked through were heavily painted and decorated, then came to a sharp end where the apartments had been built into the perimeter of the inside of the building.  This was because the area I walked through was just a small, preserved portion of the huge ballroom I just mentioned above.  There are pictures of this on postcards in some books. 

I recommend highly two out of prints large coffee table books by Jeffrey Stanton, which you can probably find on or eBay.  They are, “Santa Monica Pier; A History from 1875 to 1990,” and “Venice California; Coney Island of the Pacific.”  These books have a lot of great information and pics of Santa Monica and Venice back in the day.

The dark, silent and vacuous lobby, where you will see the old man standing by the glass doors, now in hindsight somehow seems to me like a sort of forshadowing of the end and destruction that was to soon come for the building.

Things to notice in this video only if you're into nitty-gritty details:

1.  In the front of the building, you will see a decaying wall.  In the first part of the 1900’s, when The Sea Castle was built, the ocean used to come up very close to this wall in the old days, and so the stairs that lead from the boardwalk lever to the sand used to go down a lot farther. On this video, they look like steps that lead into the sand.  Also, when the camera pans to the Santa Monica Pier, note that the pier looks like a “land pier” now.  It wasn’t always that way.  It was originally built mostly over water. 

I got to know the security guy for the building who was mostly bored and loved answering questions, and he allowed me (and I doubt that he was even supposed to) into both Penthouses on the top of the tower.  Penthouse 1 and Penthouse 2 had incredible views like nothing you can see today because the new version of the building doesn’t have a tower with any penthouses anymore.  Being right on the sand and the pier that high up was breathtaking.

2.  When you are able to see the flat, open space between the sea wall and the boardwalk, you will notice a metal grating.  The security guy for the building also let me into the basement, which housed huge boilers and was mostly a mess by the time I saw it.  But he showed me how there used to be showers in the basement, a towel room, and then steps, which lead to that outdoor grating so that people could emerge, near the seawall with their beach stuff and just walk down the steps to the water.

3.  When you look at The Sea Castle from the front view, as in the first shot in the video, the two wings of the building weren’t originally apartments; they were later retrofitted to house more renters.  On the South side of the building (right side from front view) was an enclosed swimming pool.  If you look very carefully when I show the big whale mural on the South side of the building, you will see very large window frames that had been plastered over a long time ago.  These windows used to allow large amounts of light into the indoor pool.  And on the North side of the building (left side from the front view), was an indoor restaurant.  When I have almost completed my circle around the building and I am about to step back onto the boardwalk, you will see me aim the camera at a window that looks like a take out food counter. That was an extension of the indoor restaurant.

4.  When I am in the back (East) side of the building, you will see two car entrances; one which lead to upper level parking (which my parking area by the way) and one, which lead to lower lever parking.  There are also a couple of service entrances that I pass as I walk by there.  Fortunately for your sake, I've made cuts during that walk so it's not so long.  Notice how the back of the building had old fire escapes as I point the camera up.

One day back when I lived in the Sea Castle, I happened to be looking out of the back of the building from a window at the end of a hallway on maybe the third of fourth floor.  Construction crews were demolishing a small old hotel turned apartments, which sat behind the Sea Castle (on the east side) of Appian Way.  They had completely removed the hotel and were excavating down, I think to build the Santa Monica Loew's Hotel, or something next to it at the time.  I had always been a Pacific Electric Red Car buff and knew that there had been a Red Car line that ran north and south along Ocean Avenue, and that there had also been a spur line that descended from Ocean Ave to Appian Way northward toward the Santa Monica Pier. 

So on that day, when I happened to look out the back of the Sea Castle, I noticed that they excavation team had uncovered those tracks.  I felt like I was witnessing the unearthing of a history that no one else would ever see or know the significance of.  It was an exciting day in my urban-archeology world.  I wish I had had a camera with me, if for nothing else, to prove to myself from time to time that I had seen this event.

Wow!  You made it through all of that. So there you have it.  Click the "Play Video" link below and maybe it'll give you at lease some sense of what it was like there in 1989 to 1990.  Living at the Sea Castle was such a great time for me!