A long time ago, near Venice Beach California, a fascinating theme park rose from the water. Its name was Pacific Ocean Park. “POP” (pronounced “pee-oh-pee”), as it was soon nicknamed, was a joint venture between CBS and Santa Anita Park. It opened on Saturday, July 28, 1958 with an attendance of 20,000. The next day, the park drew 37,262 which outperformed Disneyland’s attendance that day. Admission was ninety cents for adults which included access to the park and certain exhibits. The term “POP” was also used as a clever acronym for “Pay One Price”, though other rides and attractions were on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Like Disneyland, Pacific Ocean Park found corporate sponsors to share the expense of some exhibits. Six of the pier’s original attractions were incorporated into the new park: The Sea Serpent roller coaster, the antique Looff carousel, the Toonerville Fun House, the Glass House, twin diving bells and more.
Pacific Ocean Park Attraction Roster
For a seaside amusement pier, the Pacific Ocean Park was unparalleled in the variety of attractions it offered. Oftentimes disregarding the crashing waves below its planks, the experiences attempted to transport guests to the realms of fantasy, science fiction, and adventure. Just look at the list of rides that called POP home according to Wikipedia.
Westinghouse Enchanted Forest/USS Nautilus Submarine Exhibit featured a 150-foot (46 m)-long model of the atomic reactor section of a submarine.
House of Tomorrow was themed like similar “looks at the future” featured at Disneyland and the World’s Fair. Elektro, the talking and smoking robot from the 1939 World’s Fair, was a prominent display.
Sea Circus was included in the basic attraction price. Performing dolphins and sea lions played to audiences of 2000 at a time. After the show, visitors could feed seals in the Seal Pool.
Diving Bells in which passengers were submerged into a large tank via hydraulic pistons. An underwater view of the tank was visible through the portholes. The ride was manufactured by Martine and this was their dual Maritime Diving Bells. Another such ride also existed in single fashion at the Long Beach Nupike and also Coney Island Astroland. The thrill of the ride occurred when the bell was allowed to “surface”. When the hydraulic pressure holding the bell down was released the bell would shoot back up to the surface in dramatic fashion.
Ocean Skyway built by Von Roll were bubble-shaped gondolas suspended 75 feet (23 m) above the surface of the ocean. Passengers were treated to a one-half mile (800 m) trip out to sea and back.
Union 76 Ocean Highway was similar to Disneyland’s Autopia attraction. Visitors could drive miniature, gasoline-powered automobiles on a simulated highway.
Flight to Mars was an audio-visual presentation that simulated a trip to Mars.
Flying Carpet was a ride themed around Tales of the Arabian Nights. “Flying carpets” suspended on an overhead track took visitors over an Arabian-themed diorama.
Mirror Maze was a standard funhouse attraction.
Davy Jones’ Locker was another funhouse with a nautical theme.
Flying Dutchman was a dark ride similar in theme to Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean but without the animatronic figures.
Deepest Deep simulated a voyage via submarine. Unlike Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage attraction, “Deepest Deep” took place above water.
Round the World in 80 Turns was an unusual combination of travelogue and thrill ride. Tub-like ride vehicles whipped sharply to the right and left to show travel scenes from around the world. The attraction was closed in the middle of the park’s second season due to complaints of nausea and neck and back pain.
Safari Dark Ride was an interactive children’s ride in which riders in miniature Jeeps used an electronic rifle to “hunt” animals in the African jungle.
Mystery Island Banana Train Ride Considered by many to Pacific Ocean Park’s best ride, passengers were treated to a trip aboard a tropical banana plantation train complete with a simulated volcano and simulated earthquakes.
Sea Serpent Roller Coaster was a wooden, 1926 Hi-Boy roller coaster from the original pier.
Mahi Mahi was a massive tower with rotating arms ending in jet-style cars, each of which held eight passengers. A Stantzel Strat-O-Liner, six of these rides were manufactured; none exists today.
Whirl Pool was a centrifuge that pinned riders to the walls as the floor slowly lowered beneath them. This ride was essentially a themed Chance Rotor ride.
Mr. Dolphin was another original pier attraction.
Flying Fish was a miniature roller coaster made by Carlos and Ramigosi. It was the first steel Wild Mouse roller coaster in the U.S.
Carousel was the 1926-vintage Looff carousel from the original pier.
Fisherman’s Cove and the International Promenade were shopping, dining and souvenir areas which featured a number of good, international restaurants.
King Neptunes Courtyard was a colorful walk under the ocean to view King Neptunes’ lair.
Mrs.Squid also known as “The Ahuna Thrill Ride” was an Eyerly Dual Tub Octopus ride with a squid decor in the center. The ride had 16 tubs, each carrying 2 passengers.
Mr. Octopus was a standard Eyerly Octopus ride with 8 tubs.
By January 5, 1959, Pacific Ocean Park had attracted 1,190,000 visitors. Two additional attractions were added to the park at a cost of $2,000,000. They were:
Space Wheels, a unique pair of double Ferris wheels. Manufactured by Chance Morgan Rides and known as Velare Spacewheels, only one such ride exists today.
Fun Forest, a children’s area with mazes and slides as well as helicopter, boat, monorail and covered wagon rides.
When Things Began to Sink
In 1965, Santa Monica really began its ironically named Ocean Park urban renewal project. Buildings in the surrounding area were demolished and streets leading to the park were closed. As a result, visitors found it hard to reach the park and attendance dove to 621,000 in 1965 then 398,700 in 1966.
Roads and access weren’t the only issue this park faced in trying to stay afloat. By the end of the 1967 tourist season, the park’s creditors and the City of Santa Monica filed suit to take control of the property because of back taxes and back rent owed by the park’s new owner since 1965. The struggle ended on October 6th, 1967 and Pacific Ocean Park closed for good. The park’s assets were auctioned off June over the next year with the proceeds from the sale of thirty-six rides and sixteen games used to pay off creditors. The ruins of the pier became a favorite surfing area and hangout of the Z-Boys of Dogtown fame. The park’s dilapidated buildings and pier structure remained until several suspicious fires occurred and it was finally demolished in the winter of 1974-75. A sad end to a once groundbreaking theme park.
Today, only a few underwater pilings and signs warning of them remain of Pacific Ocean Park. While a similar amusement pier has been constructed a few miles north, on the original Santa Monica Pier, people who were lucky enough to enjoy Pacifc Ocean Park in its prime bemoan the loss of this unique experience.
SPECIAL MICECHAT PACIFIC OCEAN PARK EVENT JULY 13th – DOWNTOWN DISNEY!
If you are a fan of extinct Southern California theme parks, we have a very special treat for you. Christopher Merritt, theme park designer and author of Knott’s Preserved, is about to release another amazing book on a fascinating part of theme Park history, Pacific Ocean Park.
Meet the amazing authors behind Pacific Ocean Park: The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles’ Space Age Nautical Pleasure Pier and hear all about this one of a kind Los Angeles destination which has been all but lost to history. The authors will lead us through a colorful presentation about the park, followed by a book signing (a limited number of discounted copies of the book are available). As with all of our ESPN Zone events, there will be a fabulous breakfast (yes, there will be plenty of awesome maple pepper bacon).
Here’s a video teaser for you of this not-to-be-missed event:
Seating is limited and will sell out quickly. Be the first to get this book, meet the authors, and have your very own copy signed.