Bordered by the Pacific, 26th Street, Montana and Colorado Avenues, when Santa Monica was incorporated in 1886, businesses boomed around the Third Street Promenade.
Across the nation as the country grew during the industrial revolution, amusement parks were of greater interest as lower and middle classes grew more prosperous and leisure time increased. Five piers were built in the area and each commissioned a wooden roller coaster to rival the others. Most were destroyed by fires including the Ocean Park Pier, the Blue Streak Racer roller coaster, the Sea Serpent, and the Whirlwind Dipper. But Santa Monica Pier, the lone survivor, includes the Santa Monica Hippodrome—a national historic landmark whose carousel was featured in the 1973 film,“The Sting”—the Pacific Park amusement park, and the more recent West Coaster roller coaster.
The roaring 20s was a great time for the area—in 1921 the Douglas Aircraft Company built its first plant at Clover Field, now the Santa Monica Municipal Airport. In 1928, William Randolph Hearst gifted his mistress Marion Davies with beachfront property for Ocean House. It eventually became the Sand and Sea Club and then a public beach facility where ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ filmed on location. The Gold Coast developed in the area surrounding Ocean House and became home to J. Paul Getty, Louis B. Mayer, Harold Lloyd, Norma Talmadge, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford— and later, Peter Lawford, Sean Penn, Tobey Maguire, Robert Redford, Jeff Bridges, Jamie Lee Curtis, and the fictional cast of ‘Three’s Company’ and ‘Baywatch’ were also Santa Monica residents.
While elegant luxury resorts were forced to close during the Great Depression, gymnasts and body builders gained popularity as inexpensive entertainment south of the Pier at Muscle Beach. WPA projects in the 30s provided jobs then and architecture that still stands now—including the main Art Deco style post office and the Santa Monica HS auditorium, Barnum Hall.
Redevelopment continued over the decades—Sears built a moderne-style store in 1947 and Papermate opened a pen factory in 1957. Between 1960 and ‘69, The Cheetah Club featured The Grateful Dead, The Doors, Alice Cooper, and Pink Floyd. Lawrence Welk broke ground for a Union Bank and built the appropriately named ‘Champagne Towers’ apartments and plaza—known as 100 Wilshire, it’s still the tallest building in the city.
Since the 20s when beach volleyball started, health and fitness have continued to be of importance and the Santa Monica Steps are a hotspot for outdoor workouts today. National businesses that started here include Supergo, Gold’s Gym, World Gym—and when the Z-boys had little else to do, free-style skateboarding grew out of empty Dogtown swimming pools.
During renovation of the Santa Monica Pier, the La Monica Ballroom—once the largest in the States—hosted “Save the Pier Week” in 1983 sparking the first annual “Twilight Dance Series” concerts. And Santa Monica Place, originally an indoor mall designed by Frank Gehry, opened in 1980. Redevelopment projects were completed in 1991, 1996 and in 2010 it’s being converted to an open-air mall—including home to the newest CB2!