Santa Monica at the End
of Route 66
1935 Santa Monica
The first white man
to set foot in what would one day become Santa
California was Gaspar de Portolá and his men who were exploring
the area. On August 3, 1769 the party camped near present day
Before long, the area
began to be filled with large Ranchos held by prominent and wealthy
families. In 1874, Nevada Senator john P. Jones decided to
develop a city and purchased almost 10,000 acres. The next year
he began to sell lots and Santa Monica was founded on the site of the
original Don Francisco Sepulveda land grant.
Two stories attest to
how the town was named, the first indicating the town was named in
honor of the feast day of Santa Monica. The second tale states that a dripping spring in the
area reminded early residents of the Saint's tears.
In 1886, the town residents voted to
incorporate Santa Monica and the first town hall was housed in a modest brick
building, which later became a saloon. Today, the building
continues to stand as part of the Santa Monica Hostel.
In 1884, a parcel of 100 acres in the
southwestern section of the city was purchased by W.D. Vawter for a
subdivision. The coastal strip portion was then acquired by
Abbot Kinney who named the area Ocean Park in 1895. It became his
first amusement park and residential project. A race track and golf
course were soon built in the area. Later Kinney went on to
focus on the south end of the property, which he made into Venice of
America, now Venice, California.
Santa Monica Bay in 1908
When the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived at
a controversy erupted over where to locate the sea port. The railroad
preferred Santa Monica, while others advocated for San Pedro Bay. The Long Wharf was built in 1893 at the north end of the city, accommodating large ships, and was dubbed Port
However, San Pedro Bay, now known as the Port of
was selected by the US Congress in 1897. Jones and
other property owners were disappointed in the selection, however it allowed Santa Monica
to maintain its scenic charm. The rail line down to Santa Monica
Canyon was sold to the Pacific Electric Railroad, and was in use from 1891
Amusement piers became
enormously popular in the first decades of the 20th century. The extensive
Pacific Electric Railroad easily transported to the beaches people from
Competing pier owners commissioned ever larger roller coaster rides.
Eventually, there were five piers in Santa Monica
alone, with several more down the coast, most notably Abbott Kinney's
Venice of America pier. The 1909 Santa Monica
Pier is the last remaining amusement pier on the north bay.
Donald W. Douglas founded
the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1921 with his first plant on Wilshire
Boulevard. Another plant was built the following year at Clover Field (Santa
Monica Airport) which was in use for 46 years. Four Douglas-built
planes took off from Clover Field to attempt the first aerial
circumnavigation of the world. Two planes made it back after having
covered 27,553 miles in 175 days, and were greeted on their return
September 23, 1924 by a crowd of generously estimated at 200,000. The
Douglas Company (later McDonnell Douglas) kept facilities in the city
until the 1960s.
The nationwide prosperity
of the 1920s was felt in Santa Monica.
The population increased from 15,000 to 32,000 at the end of the decade.
Downtown saw a construction boom with many important buildings going up
such as Henshey's Department Store (destroyed) and the Criterion Theater.
Elegant resorts were opened, including the 1925 Miramar Hotel and the 1926
Club Casa del Mar. Stiles O. Clements designed the art deco Bay City
Building, a 13-story skyscraper topped with a huge four-faced clock that
was finished in 1930.
La Monica Ballroom opened
in 1924 on the Santa Monica
Pier, capable of holding 10,000 dancers in its over 15,000 square foot
area. A major storm in 1926 almost destroyed the pier and the ballroom,
necessitating major repairs. La Monica hosted many national radio and
television broadcasts in the early days of networks before it was turned
into a skating rink in 1958. The largest skating rink in Southern
California, if not the entire state, it entertained thousands of skaters
for the next five years. However, in 1963, the building was suffering from
so much structural damage, it had to be torn down.
The Santa Monica
Muncipal Fishing Pier on opening day. 1909, vintage postcard.
Comedian Will Rogers
bought a substantial ranch in Santa Monica
Canyon in 1922. Among his improvements was a polo field where he played
with friends Spencer Tracy, Walt Disney and Robert Montgomery. Upon his
untimely death it was discovered that he had generously deeded to the
public the ranch now known as Will Rogers State Historic Park, Will Rogers
State Park, and Will Rogers State Beach.
In the 1930s corruption
infected Santa Monica (along with neighboring
Beginning in 1928, gambling ships started anchoring in Santa Monica
Bay just beyond the 3-mile limit. Water taxis ferried patrons from Santa
and Venice. The largest such ship, the S.S. Rex launched in 1938, was
capable of holding up to 3,000 gamblers at a time. The Rex was a red flag
to anti-gambling interests. After state Attorney General Earl Warren got a
court order to shut the ships down as a nuisance, the crew of the Rex
initially fought off police by using water cannons and brandishing
sub-machine guns. The engine-less ship surrendered after nine days in what
newspapers called The Battle of Santa Monica
Bay. Its owner, Tony Cornero, went on to build the Stardust casino in Las
The 3,000-seat Santa
Civic Auditorium, designed in the international style by Welton Becket,
opened in 1958. From 1961-1968 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences held its annual Oscar awards ceremony there. Since the late 1980s
the auditorium has been more popular for trade conventions than
Pacific Ocean Park, the
last of the great amusement piers, opened in 1958. While it temporarily
eclipsed competitor Disneyland, attendance later plummeted and by 1967 the
park was foreclosed for back taxes. It sat empty and rotting, an
unattractive "attractive nuisance" until finally removed in 1974.
The Douglas plant closed
in 1968, depriving Santa Monica
of its largest employer. A decade passed before the site was redeveloped
into an office park. The Museum of Flying was opened on the same site
another decade later, in 1989.
Today, this city of
almost 85,000 people has revitalized its downtown core, increasing tourism
and continues to be a resort like area, much the same as it has for almost
While in Santa Monica,
several attractions present themselves, most notably the Santa Monica
Pier, complete with its beautiful sunrises and sunsets. In addition,
it’s quaint downtown district provides a number of interesting shops and
boutiques, as well as several old theaters and museums.
of America, updated June, 2017.
Pier at the end of California's
Route 66, photo
by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
Legends' General Store
66 Postcard Coloring Book - If you love
Route 66, enjoy
coloring, and like to share with others, this book is for you! The Route
66 Postcard Coloring Book contains 20 postcards of various places along
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