8

The approach to the Mystery Island Banana Train was awe-inspiring.

From the late 1950s to the late ‘60s, Angelenos looking for music, dancing and rides, found the party at Pacific Ocean Park.

The beachside theme park – that jetted out into the Pacific – sat on 28 acres of land at the border of Santa Monica and Venice.

It featured rides created by Hollywood set designers, setting it apart from the standard, ordinary rides at Santa Monica Pier.

Theme park designer Christopher Merritt and pop culture historian Dominic Priore are co-authors of “Pacific Ocean Park: the Rise and Fall of Los Angeles’ Space-Age Nautical Pleasure Pier.”

The two chronicled the park’s beginnings and endings – and its futuristic, cutting-edge design that made it so popular.

They spoke to KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis.

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 7.10.09 PM

“This was a full blown theme park,” Merritt said. “There were carnival-type attractions, but there were a lot of very high-end, super-stylized, designed by motion picture art director theme park attractions, that were built and designed to take on other Southern California parks like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm.”

6

A young boy stares in awe at the Banana Train. Manufactured by Arrow Development, it pushed rather than pulled the guests through the unique attraction.

Pacific Ocean Park was also a place to see live music.  The Aragon Ballroom – which had been around for decades – brought in bands from all over the world, from Frank Sinatra, to Harry Owens and his Royal Hawaiians, to Lawrence Welk, to later groups such as Pink Floyd, The Byrds and Janis Joplin.

The musicians who performed at Pacific Ocean Park were reflective of the time, and of a changing America.

2

Mr. Dolphin (later given the name Mahi-Mahi) was a simple oceanic redressing of the existing “Strat-O-Liner,” yet it continues to give the sensation of flying over the water once it got going.

If Pacific Ocean Park’s history is of coastal development and competition, its postmortem is practically the same.

The city of Santa Monica decided to redevelop the area. Beachfront condos replaced the bungalows across from the park. Streets leading to the park were closed, causing attendance to plummet.

The city and the park’s creditors sued the park’s new owner to collect overdue rent and taxes. Pacific Ocean Park closed down for good in 1967, only nine years after it opened.

And its afterlife turned hellish.

“It sits there, from 1967 until 1975, rotting, burning, catching fire, falling apart, while the cities of Santa Monica and Los Angeles argue over who’s responsible for tearing down this eyesore,” Merritt said. “So all the kids in Venice are running through this incredibly unsafe environment. It looks like a war zone at the end.”

7

Riders look up with riotous laughter at a cannibal menacing them from his hut above.

10

The Mystery Island Banana Train was a long, thrilling and engaging attraction through a jungle environment that fully embraced suspension of disbelief. To begin the adventure, guests had to traverse a tiki-flanked suspended bridge over a waterfall pumping seawater up from the ocean below.

Eventually what was left of the park was demolished completely.

The condos are still there, overlooking a playground and a bike and walking path that meander the old footprint.

The park however, is just a memory of a brighter time.

“There’s an overall sociology to this kind of park in the ‘50s in Los Angeles, where we had an idealism and optimism in L.A. at the time, and in America as a whole, that faded away with the coming ‘70s,” said Dominic Priore. “So these are things we try to recapture now that we can fix things again. It’s really a preservationist-oriented book. We’re trying to show how beautiful things could be, rather than accepting the lowest common denominator. This was a highly designed park because people had that kind of optimism, and we need to start saving places that are really good.”

4

The culmination of a visit to Pacific Ocean Park was likely the first view of Mystery Island at the end of the pier.

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  • markw

    POP always scared the hell out of me. I loved it, but I seriously thought I could get killed there. It seemed dangerous and sleazy and much more exciting than Disneyland, like Venice at that time. Definitely a gateway experience leading toward adolescent risk-taking.

  • Yolanda

    It was the best before Disneyland took over. I loved taking a ride which we called THE BUBBLE over the ocean, scared me to death… BUT I LOVED P.O.P

  • Andy Anaheim

    Growing up in Anaheim in the 1960s I was no stranger to amusement parks: Disneyland, Knott's, the Alligator Farm, Marineland… and POP. Santa Monica must have been quite a schlep in those days, but it was one of the activities that we members of Anaheim Day Camp were treated to once a summer. I can still remember the exotically musty smell inside one of the rides that involved floating in the dark. But my most enduring memory is less positive- It was at POP when I was 8 or 9 years old that I lost a big chunk of my youthful innocence. There was a carnival game where players could win stuffed animals by shooting a water jet at holes in tubes. Fill the tube with water until it overflowed and prize was yours. The hawker invited me to try for free and I instantly and effortlessly filled the tube; I was a sure winner. But when I handed over some money, the tube suddenly wasn't so easy to fill. I came soooo close and had been so good at my practice run that it was easy to convince me to spend all the money my mother had given me for lunch. I walked away empty-handed and disappointed. When I arrived home terribly hungry at the end of the day, my mother asked why i hadn't used the lunch money she'd provided me. I told her how I'd been so good at the water jet game but had failed when it counted. Of course, she explained that the worker there had been able to control the flow of water to my advantage or disadvantage. Even without her saying it outright, I had a sense that cheating a little kid was wrong and that anyone who'd stoop to that level had to be pretty pathetic. I have fond memories of POP and it comes to mind on my frequent trips to the SM pier or on bike path rides, but I'll never be able to forget that feeling of bewilderment as I frittered away my lunch money at the Space Age Nautical Pleasure Pier!

  • KPCC fan

    I worked at POP summers and weekends when I was attending Santa Monica College, ages 18-19. I was a "games girl," which meant I helped little kids who wanted desperately to win prizes; mostly they lost their money. The game and food girls and the machinery boys /operator boys had great fun and we often got home much later than closing time. Lots of fun fun memories from POP.

  • pepe

    Who's singing the song at 3:57, "…memories of POP"?

  • Larry R

    I loved the ride that was like a centrifuge and it made everyone throw up when the floor fell away.

  • Ran

    I loved it back in the sixties. Attended the recent talk at the Santa Monica History Museum, and the presenters engaged a crowd of 50+ with stories and great visuals. Big thanks for this contribution to our archives.

  • Robin Freed

    I remember Davy Jones Locker. The Mirrors fun house..The Tubs. All for $1.99.

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