On July 15, 1875, the auctioneer proclaimed, “At one o’clock we will sell at public outcry to the highest bidder the Pacific Ocean, draped with a western sky of scarlet and gold; we will sell a bay filled with white-winged ships; we will sell a southern horizon; rimmed with a choice of purple mountains carved in castles and turrets and domes; we will sell a frostless, bracing, warm yet languid air braided in and out with sunshine and odored with the breath of flowers.” The first town lots in Santa Monica were then sold to the highest bidders.
Thus began the walking tour of my hometown, Santa Monica, California. The Santa Monica Conservancy Walking Tour begins at a building known as Rapp Saloon, on 2nd street, built in 1875 as a beer hall in the true “wild west” fashion. Today it is a youth hostel. Lovingly restored, the beer hall remains open for rental. As I imagined the voices of sailors and suitors gathered at the bar in the nineteenth century, I simultaneously envisioned my own future party here filled with joyous celebration.
Santa Monica’s oldest surviving house is on Ocean Avenue, built in 1891, it subsequently belonged to the professional tennis player, Gussie Moran. It’s steep-gabled roof, shingles, and corner turret portray the Queen Anne Victorian style of the late 1800’s. In 1949, when Gussie occupied the home, she entered her Wimbledon tennis match wearing lace ruffled panties under her short-short tennis skirt. This caused quite the outrage! Hence, the expression, “gussied up” was born.
I thought of Cambridge, as I walked up to the Keller building/block which was designed in 1893 by architect, Carroll H. Brown, in the classic Romanesque Revival style. The tall windows reflect the Victorian taste of the day. At three stories, it was the largest building downtown and the center of business in Santa Monica. Located at 1460 Third St, it established Third Street as the center of Santa Monica and led to today’s Third Street Promenade mega shopping area.
The 1920’s brought explosive growth to Santa Monica, and in 1927 a Builder’s Exchange was built on the corner of Fourth Street. Spanish Revival architecture was skillfully completed by the expert tradesmen who lived and worked in the area. The decorative wrought iron grills and original Spanish tiles are of particular note. The cartoonist who invented Popeye, E.C. Segar, worked in the building and fashioned his cartoon after a sea captain he knew named Frank “Rocky” Fiegel who had one eye, was toothless, and had unusual strength. Segar learned to draw from a $20 correspondence course and was hired by William Randolph Hearst to design a comic strip for Heart’s newspaper.
Two years later, The Central Tower, an Art Deco masterpiece, rose high above Fourth Street. When viewing the building, the vertical lines carry one’s eye upward to the clock on top, which is purposefully placed off center. The original bronze lobby mail chute remains today, along with the cream and black variegated marble floor.
Santa Monica’s first theater was originally designed in 1911, and then remodeled in 1929 along with the invention of “talking films.” Theatrical masks, flowers, and shields ornament the facade, along with iron balconettes. Today, only the facade remains and the rest of the property is a mixed use of stores and apartments. I personally love the color scheme.
In 1912, the Juniper building was three stories and contained an elevator. A fourth story was added in 1925. Metal hooks remain on the corners of the building above the second floor windows. They were once used to assist the electric trolley which brought visitors into the city. Today’s Metro Line functions in the same way.
Hotel Carmel, with it’s Beaux Arts design and Spanish Churrigueresque interior, was built in 1928. Once frequented by Hollywood film stars, it’s roofline with ornamental lion heads was designed to protect its inhabitants from bad luck.
Santa Monica was devastated during the Depression. Gambling ships were placed at sea to attract tourists, who were then shuttled out in smaller boats. In 1931, a female entrepreneur, Rosamond Borde, decided to build a lavish seaside resort for the Hollywood elite. Using architect M. Eugene Durfee, who also designed the Builder’s Exchange and The Central Tower, she created THE GEORGIAN HOTEL on Ocean Avenue, a Beaux Arts/Art Deco masterpiece. Clark Gable, Carol Lombard, and Cary Grant were often seen on the veranda. Remaining open during prohibition, she had a speakeasy hidden in the basement. Now that’s one lady I would have liked to have known!
That same year, HARVELLES BLUES CLUB opened and still functions today in its original capacity. Don’t be surprised to catch me on the dance floor, as I love this little hole in the wall.
When the Depression ended, the 1939 SHANGRI-LA HOTEL went up a few blocks away from The Georgian. The name symbolized paradise in the James Hilton novel, “Lost Horizon.” The architectural style was named Streamline Moderne, and expressed admiration for America’s new machines; the ocean liner and the airplane. The glass brick used in the entry was a new building material in 1939. The L-shaped building allowed for an interior courtyard (with pool) so that each hotel guest received an ocean view. As I live one block away from the Shangri-La, I have gotten to know it’s top notch concierge, Adrienne Miley, with her “whatever it takes” attitude and the hotel’s delicious American classic cuisine. I’m a frequent visitor to the poolside cafe, as well as the original Streamline Moderne dining room with club chairs and cozy booths.
The quintessential British Pub, YE OLDE KINGS HEAD, used to be the go-to bar for 1960’s rock music and was frequented by UCLA students. A band called “Rick & The Ravens” played every weekend, and featured Ray Manzarek on the keyboard, along with his brothers Rick and Jim. He had just received his M.F.A. degree from UCLA film school. A drunk guy at the bar would continuously request the song, “Louie, Louie.” Eventually, Ray asked the drunk to come up and sing it, while the band played. It was a stellar performance and the first time Jim Morrison sang on stage. That was the beginning of Jim joining the band, and later changing the name to The Doors. Here’s more of the story: THE FORMING OF THE DOORS
My current apartment is located in a building once named The Champagne Towers, as it was owned by singer Lawrence Welk. It’s a 16-story apartment building and Welk made his personal residence in the complex. According to Lois Wice of The New York Post, “It was not unusual to see model and actress Greice Santo basking in the sun next to folks that included Megan Fox, Larry David, and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, while Britney Spears would go topless at the rooftop pool.”
One question I wanted to be answered when I took the tour, was “How did Santa Monica get its name?” I found out that the King of Spain sent missionaries to colonize California. In 1769, these missionaries and some Spanish soldiers were drinking from a stream (located at University High) when one of them commented that the waters of the spring reminded him of the tears that Saint Monica shed for her son, Augustine, before his conversion. The city founders heard this story and named the city after the Saint. Her statue can be viewed at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, a half block from my home.
Today, the two-hour walking tour of Santa Monica is presented weekly by Santa Monica Conservancy volunteers. Information can be found by clicking here: Santa Monica Conservancy Walking Tour