One of Marilyn’s first memories was visiting Santa Monica Pier with her mother, and she held an affection for the area throughout her life. Her friends the Lawfords lived nearby, and she would be photographed on the beach by George Barris just weeks before her death in 1962. As the Santa Monica Hippodrome (the Pier’s original name) celebrates its centenary, Julia Bennett Rylah investigates its history in an article for LAist.com.
“It was June 12, 1916 when the Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome opened its doors. Charles Looff was a carousel carver who had previously worked on the first two carousels at Coney Island. Jim Harris, Santa Monica Pier historian and author of Santa Monica Pier: A Century on the Last Great Pleasure Pier, tells LAist that Looff had expanded beyond carousels and into building whole amusement parks across the country. The Santa Monica Looff Pleasure Pier, now simply the Santa Monica Pier, would be Looff’s last park before he died in 1918.
‘When the Santa Monica Municipal Pier was built—the long part that goes over the ocean—the citizens of the northern part of the Santa Monica wanted an amusement park built next to it. And so, seeing the opportunity and realizing that the Red Cars stopped right at this location and that there was an electric tram running up and down the beach, Looff thought it would be an excellent location.’
Only three months after the carousel opened, Looff added a fourth row of horses to accommodate additional riders at the popular attraction. Back then, it cost five cents for a ride. Today, it’s $2 for adults and $1 for children.
The Looff family sold the amusement pier and the Hipppdrome to a group of local relators in 1924, and the Security First National Bank took the over both in 1939. In 1943, Walter Newcomb leased the pier and the Hippodrome, hiring the Gordon family to manage it in 1955. The Gordon family took ownership in 1956…
In the 60s, the building had a very famous visitor, though many who encountered her were probably oblivious. ‘Towards the end of her life, Marilyn Monroe was living in Brentwood and hung out at the Santa Monica Beach a lot,’ Harris says, noting that many of the iconic photos George Barris took of the actress were shot here.
‘She would come to the Hippodrome to find solace. She’d sit on a bench and watch the horses go round and round. Being sensitive to who she was, she would come in disguise wearing a scarf and overcoat and sunglasses. One day, the gentleman who was operating the carousel walked up to her and said something along the lines of, Why do you come here every day? You’re young and you should get a job. She then revealed [her identity] and said, I do have a job, I’m Marilyn Monroe.‘”