Preserving the History of Pacific Ocean Park – Santa Monica Daily Press
Walk along the Santa Monica shoreline today and you’ll see an unbroken stretch of sand stretching in a golden ribbon from Santa Monica Pier to Venice Pier about three miles south. It’s almost hard to imagine that within living memory, Pacific Ocean Park (POP) occupied 87 acres of this expanse, offering rides, games and thrills of all kinds.
The once-fabulous sprawling amusement park, which only operated for around a decade from 1958 to 1967, may be lost to time, but local historian Richard Orton is working to ensure its memory is not lost for the story.
Orton, who lives in the same 2nd Street apartment he’s occupied since moving to Santa Monica as a recent college graduate in 1970, said he remembers the deterioration of the park – closed, but not yet torn down – occupying the shore at the western end of Ocean Park.
“All that was left was kind of just the ruins of that – it was abandoned,” Orton recalled in a recent interview with the Daily Press. In a few years, the City has erased all traces.
“There is absolutely no remnant of that amusement pier,” Orton added, calling the beach today “a big desert full of sand.”
Orton is one of a dwindling number of residents with memories of the attraction, which caught fire several times before it was finally cleaned around 1975. So to preserve that memory, he’s launching a campaign to erect a memorial of some sort. . Orton wants to pass on the legacy of the once beloved POP to future generations.
“It would be pretty nice to have some sort of memorial to that amusement pier and the places where people went to have fun,” the amateur historian explained. “They always put up memorials on battlefields or wars or, you know, dead heroes and stuff, but never in a place where people are having fun.”
Orton’s initial plans call for a bench inlaid with 12-inch by 12-inch porcelain tiles depicting POP’s history and including a QR code. This code, when scanned by a phone, would provide visitors with a video presentation providing even more photos and historical context.
It would do more than honor the short-lived but much-loved POP; Orton’s plans break down the area’s local history into four eras: the early years from 1900 to 1939, the war years from 1939 to 1957, POP from 1958 to 1968, and urban renewal from 1964 to 1967.
The bench Orton envisions could be a traditional park bench or just one of the long, low concrete slabs currently used as a combination bench, wall, and sand barrier along Ocean Park Beach.
Orton has long been passionate about his neighborhood, and after retiring from his graphic design career a few years ago, he has dedicated his life to local history. In recent years, this has included writing and distributing a history newsletter, which he emails to about 800 monthly subscribers.
He’s hoping some of those subscribers will attend a concept meeting he’s planning near the South Beach Park playground on Saturday, July 30, from 10 a.m. to noon. While he shared updates with his followers, the July 30 meeting is open to anyone interested in learning more or weighing in on the project, and he hopes for good turnout from local residents.
Orton recommended attendees bring blankets and lawn chairs. He suggested neighbors carpool to avoid excessive parking fees; cycling and walking are also options.
To contact Orton directly, email him at [email protected] or call 310-392-4082.