At Our Leisure: The First Day of Summer at Ocean Park at Santa Monica, 1928

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Here it is, the 21st of June and the official first day of summer.  For many of us sweltering in the inland valleys with the heat and, today, the humidity (about 40%), we long for the opportunity to head down to the abundant coastline in greater Los Angeles and enjoy the cooler weather, the sand, and the ocean.

I’m here at the museum and can’t get down to the beach today, but I can at least live somewhat vicariously through a 1928 snapshot of the Ocean Park area of Santa Monica.  Taken from a pier that no longer exists, the view shows a very crowded shore packed with umbrellas sheltering folks from the sun.

Notably, although there are plenty of people on the sand, only a few are in or near the water, as it was very common for more persons, often in street clothes like suits and ties and dresses, to park themselves on the shore rather than play in the ocean.

Behind all the beach-goers, there is the dominant architectural curiosity of the Ocean Park Bath House, about which will be more below.  To the right are commercial and residential buildings, including the Denver Hotel, a seven-story apartment building, two large tanks and other elements.

As to the area, Ocean Park was a development sandwiched between Santa Monica on the north and Venice (flamboyantly called “Venice of America”) on the south.  In the ashes of the great “Boom of the Eighties” that erupted with the arrival of a direct transcontinental railroad route to Los Angeles in 1885 and then flamed out by the onset of the 1890s, real estate entrepreneur Abbot Kinney and a silent partner, Francis Ryan, purchased land south of Pico Boulevard and created the Ocean Park Development Company in 1891.

Santa Monica Beach 2003.254.1.1
This 1928 snapshot from the pier at Ocean Park, between Santa Monica and Venice, shows a packed beach, a few swimmers and waders in the ocean, and the distinctive Moorish-influenced architecture of the Ocean Park Bath House or Plunge, which existed for about forty years after its opening in July 1905.

The pair constructed a pier, boardwalk, horse-racing track, and golf course among other elements on their property, which was subdivided and known as South Santa Monica until the name Ocean Park was bestowed on it in 1895.  By the end of the decade, Ryan died and his widow’s second husband, Thomas Dudley, became Kinney’s partner.  Meanwhile, the community was growing with some 200 cottages and residences, a small commercial area, and a 1250-foot long pier.

Dudley sold his half-interest in the Ocean Park enterprise to three men, including former California governor Henry Gage, but, in 1904, disagreements among them and Kinney led to the dissolution of the development firm.  Kinney went on to work on developing his Venice project, while the others built the Moorish-influenced Ocean Park Bath House shown in the photo and which opened the 4th of July weekend in 1905 after a year-and-a-half of construction and a cost of $185,000.

Though a highly successful enterprise for years and just one of a series of salt-water plunges lining the coast from Santa Monica to Long Beach, the Ocean Park facility, like the rest, suffered from the down years of the Great Depression and then the restrictions imposed during World War II and it was razed sometime after the war.

As to the Ocean Park Pier, there were a succession of these with fires and storms destroying several, before a 1924 edition, the one from which the photographer snapped this image, was constructed.  It was reconfigured into the Pacific Ocean Park in the late 1950s and it lasted just under a decade, closing in 1967.  Just after it was shuttered, the park was the site of the filming of an episode of the TV spy spoof, “Get Smart,” that fans of the show will well remember.  The site remained decaying until it was razed in the mid-Seventies.

One other item to note about Ocean Park was that it was a segregated area with most of the beaches closed to ethnic minorities, with the exception of places like the “Inkwell,” which was located at the northern end of the development from Pico Boulevard south for a couple of blocks.  From the early years of the 20th century until the 1960s, even after legal efforts to desegregate the beaches were successfully prosecuted, blacks and other minorities still went to the “Inkwell” to avoid harassment from whites.

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