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Covering 28 acres, Pacific Ocean Park jutted far into the ocean, with scores of rides and attractions designed to appeal to adults and children.
An attraction named Neptune’s Kingdom was a live tank filled with sharks, rays and groupers. In case actual aquatic life wasn’t enough, actresses interacted with giant animated fish.
In the days before any hint of Blackfish-style controversies, George the trained sea elephant wore a hat, fetched a baton and “danced rock ’n’ roll” for the entertainment of crowds of up to 2,000 people.
The park’s South Sea Island allowed visitors to ride on a mini train through an equatorial jungle while animated monkeys threw bananas.
The Ocean Skyway let riders climb into a metal-and-plastic bubble and then suspended them out over the surf for a quarter of a mile. On a clear day, they could see north to Malibu and throw quarters to surfers below to reward them for catching waves.
A double Ferris wheel named Space Wheels was an innovation added in 1960. Its over-the-top height (92 feet) and garish lights were an attempt to attract repeat visitors to the park.
It’s a tale worthy of a Hollywood melodrama: a superstar’s rise to glory--and then spectacular fall.
No, we’re not talking about a celebrity, but rather a once-glamorous--and now-demolished--local getaway: Pacific Ocean Park in Santa Monica.
In the colorful coffee-table book Pacific Ocean Park: The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles’ Space-Age Nautical Pleasure Pier, coauthors Christopher Merritt and Domenic Priore tell how, in 1958, the businessman who developed the Santa Anita racetrack had the idea to compete with Walt Disney. He’d have Hollywood movie-set designers build a family attraction on an ocean pier, one with rides based on space exploration, nautical themes and world travel. There would even be a dance hall hosting bandleader Lawrence Welk, and later a rock club featuring The Doors and Pink Floyd.
At first, the scheme worked. P.O.P., as it was nicknamed, briefly surpassed Disneyland in numbers of visitors. But a combination of poor management and construction setbacks led to its closure in 1967, turning it into a spooky ghost town populated by surf punks shooting the waves between the crumbling pier supports.
Today, the site is a parking lot--but you can relive the glory days through a retro-tastic look backward here.
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