You’ve Never Seen Santa Monica Like This Before

One hundred years of the Hippodrome, in 23 photos

By The Editors
June 10, 2016 9:00 am

The Santa Monica Pier was built in 1909 not as a tourist attraction, but as a means for the city to dispose of its sewage (the practice was nixed 11 years later).

Nonetheless, this was the era of the pier as social gathering place. Venice had a pier. Long Beach had a pier. Santa Monica had to compete, so they hired renowned carousel carver Charles Looff to build a Hippodrome, which turns 100 this Sunday.

It’s the only piece of the original pier that’s still standing today. But its history lives on, if only in pictures — 22 of which we’ve compiled (along with some fun historical facts) to get you prepped for this weekend’s anniversary celebration.

All you need is a nickel to rides on the ponies this Sunday, and you can tour the rarely seen second floor, which used to be apartments (Joan Baez was a resident) and offices (Cesar Chavez once took meetings there).

And the Soda Jerks stand will have a favorite of the Pier’s early days called the Big Brass Sundae: scoops of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, crushed potato chips and salted caramel sauce.

But first, let’s take a look back.

Looff bought the entertainment rights to the pier in 1920, renaming it the Looff Pleasure Pier.

One of the first things he did was build two carnival rides: the Whirlwind Dipper and the Blue Streak. They would later come down during the Great Depression.

It’s startling to see how small the beach was before decades of sand renourishment projects. 

In 1933, a bond was issued for the Santa Monica Yacht Harbor, and the Pier was remodeled in time for the 1934 Yacht Regatta. Five years later, a racketeer named Tony Cornero anchored the SS Rex a few miles offshore. The gambling ring he ran there would later be busted.

In 1983, after a bad storm, the Pier was overhauled and transformed into its current iteration. The Hippodrome, where Marilyn Monroe once rode mechanical horses to escape the press, is the only remaining part of the original Pier.

After digging around in the archival footage of the Pier, we found some gems of Downtown Santa Monica over the years, from its humble beginnings as a tumbleweed-strewn cowboy town to, well, whatever you want to call it today.


1880 3rd Street looking north to Utah Street

1890 The Santa Monica Bank 

Circa 1900 The 3rd Street Trolly 

Circa 1900 The Vitagraph Co.

Another of the Santa Monica Bank, date unknown, but probably in the ’20s given the streetcar. 

1902 Santa Monica Power & Light, Keller block

1925 Juniper Lake

1927 3rd Street and Broadway

1927 3rd Street and Broadway (opposite corner from previous image)

1930s El Miro movie theater

1934 El Miro movie theater on the left, and the 1945 Criterion movie theater on the right

Circa 1940s W.T. Grant department store

Circa 1950s Parade on Wilshire

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