Pacific Ocean Park (1958-1967)
Revised April 6, 1998In 1956 CBS and the Los Angeles Turf Club (Santa Anita) acquired the lease on the Ocean Park Pier and they proposed to build a $10,000,000 nautical theme park to compete with Disneyland. They closed the pier after Labor Day, hired the best amusement park designers and Hollywood special effects experts and began to design innovative new attractions for the theme park. More than 80 special effects men, scenic designers and artists worked for more than a year on the project.
They like Disney, found corporate sponsors to share the expenses of some of the exhibits. To save money they renovated existing buildings and incorporated six of the old attractions into the layout; the roller coaster merry-go-round, Toonerville Fun House, Glass House, twin diving bells, and Strat-o-liner ride. They called the new park Pacific Ocean Park.
The 28 acre park was decorated throughout in a sea-green and white art moderne look. Its entrance set amidst fountains, sculptures and large sea horse and clam shell decorated frieze, set the mood for the wonders within. The ticket booth in Neptune's Courtyard was set under a six legged concrete starfish canopy. Plastic bubbles and sea horses adorned its top. All day admission was ninety cents for adults; less for children. This included access to the park, Neptune's Kingdom, the Sea Circus and the Westinghouse Enchanted Forest exhibit. Other rides and attractions were at additional costs.
Opening day on Saturday July 28, 1958 drew 20,000 curious people and dozens of Hollywood celebrities. Sunday's 37,262 paying customers brought traffic jams to the area. During the first six days it out performed Disneyland in attracting customers.
Visitors entered the park through Neptune's Kingdom where they descended in a submarine elevator to the oceanic corridors below. Across from the elevator was an enormous sea tank where it appeared a shark and its prey shared the same tank. Beyond and covering one entire wall was a large diorama filled with creatures that couldn't live in captivity. Motorized artificial turtles, manta rays, sawfish and sharks glided by over coral reefs and hanging seaweed. Sponsored by Coca Cola.
NOTE: This article is condensed from the P.O.P. chapter in my book Venice of America - Coney Island of the Pacific. While the book is rich in detail, ride descriptions in this article are sparse since this site is designed to view photos by clicking on locations on the park maps. [See Pacific Ocean Park map.]
Apparently many people enjoyed the park, for by the time it closed for remodeling on January 5, 1959, it had attracted 1,190,000 visitors. Management decided to add four new attractions at a cost of $2,000,000. Actually only two of the attractions were completed.
The new owner instituted a one price admission policy to attract more customers. He set the price the following spring at $1.50 for adults and $1.00 for children. The Sea Serpent roller coaster was an extra 25 cents because it was the one ride not owned by the park. Morehead's goal was to run the park as a small family amusement park instead as competition to Disneyland. He expected to raise prices for the summer.
Unfortunately the park continued to lose customers. The trouble was that Pacific Ocean Park was in a run down, seedy part of town. The nearby streets were littered with bums and winos who accosted customers for money. Local teenagers, whose parents frowned on them going to the park on weekend evenings, told them they were going to a movie and sneaked down to P.O.P.
The park, too, was having trouble maintaining its own operation. It offered a large number of rides and attractions for the price, but with such a high overhead it had to skimp on maintenance. Rides were often broken, and everything deteriorated against the rough ocean elements. In short the park was run down, but however, it did attract 1,216,000 customers in 1963.
It was sold in October 1963 to Irving Kay, a San Francisco real estate developer, for $7.5 million. At first he leased P.O.P. back to management, then in January sold the park to Robert's company for $2.5 million.
The 1964 season was the most successful; 1,663,013 visitors. New rides included a flat ride called the Himalaya and the Monster Mouse steel roller coaster where Fun Forest stood. The kiddie rides were moved to the Fisherman's Village area.
But in 1965 Santa Monica began its Ocean Park urban renewal project. There was wholesale demolition of nearby buildings and closing of streets leading to the park. The entire area was chaos while they built two large apartment towers nearby. In short, visitors couldn't reach the park and attendance plummeted to 621,000 in 1965 and 398,700 in 1966. Roberts paid bills rarely, not even his modest lease rent to Santa Monica.
Finally at the end of the 1967 season, P.O.P.'s creditors took action and forced the park into involuntary bankruptcy. Santa Monica precipitated the action when they filed suit to take control of the property because Roberts owed them $17,000 in back rent since 1965. The park closed on October 6, 1967.
The park's assets were auctioned off on June 28, 1968 and ran through June 30th. The proceeds from the sale of 36 rides and sixteen games were used to pay off creditors. The park's dilapidated buildings and pier structure remained until several fires and the final demolition in the winter of 1973-74 removed it from all but people's fond memories.
Today there isn't even a sign saying where the park once stood. But in the no man's area between Venice's Rose Avenue parking lot and Santa Monica's Ocean Park parking lot, there are signs saying "No Swimming - Possible Underwater Obstructions." One can stop their bikes on the bicycle path and stare out at sea and wonder what might have been if the amusement park had survived.