Archives » March 17th, 2006

March 17, 2006

Pacific Ocean Park

Next month we’re heading down to Los Angeles and likely going to the Santa Monica Pier, the last remaining of the seaside amusement areas along L.A.’s beaches.

But probably second-most-famous of all the piers, after Santa Monica, was Pacific Ocean Park just a little ways south. Built on the Ocean Park Pier in 1958, POP was devised as a direct competitor to Disneyland, which at that time had only been open a few years. So rather than just throwing together the usual carnival rides, something Venice was no stranger to at this point, real money was put into themed attractions, educational exhibits, and corporate sponsors for POP.

The main entrance to POP.

And the result, from what I’ve heard, was pretty impressive. At least by 1950s standards. There of course were roller coasters, spinners and ferris wheels, but there was also a Mystery Island, with a train that took you through jungles and volcanoes, and several other highly themed indoor dark rides. The park started out successful, even beating Disneyland in attendance figures for a short time. But it couldn’t sustain the growth, and by the mid 60s it was on the decline. Development in Venice had made it hard to get to, and when you did get there it was in a bad neighborhood that scared many families off. And unlike Disneyland, they weren’t adding new attractions to keep people coming back. The park went through several owners, then finally went into bankruptcy and closed in 1967. Many of the rides were removed and sold, and what remained was left to rot in the elements.

The skyway, suspended over the ocean’s wave.

The pier became a hangout for local gangs, and suffered vandalism and arson. It burned several times in the early 70s, and finally in 1974 what little was left was demolished and removed. Now there’s nothing left but a stretch of empty beach.

POP burns in the 1970s.

But though it’s gone, it remains close to the hearts of many people. I obviously never went there, since it was demolished a couple of years before I was born. But many who did go there in their youth still fondly remember it, and it’s looked on almost as highly as Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm. There are a few really good sites out there devoted to POP that do a much better job descibing the park than I ever could, so I urge you to give them a visit:

Jeffrey Stanton’s POP Page: Stanton is an dedicated historian of old amusement areas, with sites covering Coney Island, Expo 67, and the 1964-5 New York Worlds Fair. But Venice is his first love, and POP his “home park”, so to speak.

Stanton’s Map of POP: A map of the park, with link to ride descriptions and historic photos.

Where the Mountains Meet the Sea: A 1959 promotional film about Santa Monica, part of the Prelinger Archive. It’s in two parts (One | Two). Part One includes footage of POP.

My Own Abandoned Amusement Park: Memories and photos of visiting POP in the early 70s, after it was closed but before it was completely destroyed.

The Imaginary World: Photos and a brochure of the park.

Update 2006-03-24: Charles Phoenix’ Slide of the Week just happens to be from where? That’s right – Pacific Ocean Park. The Flight To Mars ride, specifically.