SM PIER — Benjamin Thomas, an Australian, peered through a coin-operated pair of binoculars on the north end of the Santa Monica Pier.
“I saw the beach and lots of cold people,” he said, grinning.
While Tuesday may not have been Santa Monica’s most ideal beach day, it was picture perfect, a fact that Thomas and other patrons that wandered up to the new viewing fixtures can appreciate better now than any time in the recent past.
Each of the coin-operated distance viewers on the pier and in Palisades Park have been replaced with newer, sleeker models that have the benefit of improved optics to enhance the views of the beach and Pacific Ocean.
The machines come in both binocular and telescope models, as well as two that are accessible to people with disabilities, said Rod Merl, the manager of the pier.
They’re the same models used at Griffith Park and even the Empire State Building, which makes sense given that they’re provided by the New York-based Fare Share Enterprises.
The City Council approved a contract with Fare Share Enterprises in November to replace the old viewers with the new models. The contract stipulated that the company would put up the money to replace the viewers, and then recoup half of the proceeds.
That’s roughly the same deal that City Hall has enjoyed for some time, although those using the devices may notice a difference on their end — the machines cost twice as much to use as they did before, jumping from 25 cents to 50.
The cost is up to the company, Merl said, and may have been necessary to afford the replacement of all of the viewers.
“We’re hard put to find out when they were last changed,” Merl said.
City Hall believes it will make $6,400 per year off of the binoculars and telescopes after the revenue-sharing with Fare Share Enterprises.
Although that’s not a lot in the context of the pier, the new viewers are just another one of a series of changes at the pier that add up to a revitalization of one of Santa Monica’s most popular attractions.
The iconic destination — which has appeared in movies, commercials and publications and in many ways signifies Santa Monica — is in the process of changes both big and small that will add up to a significant shift in how the pier looks and feels.
From chains of energy-efficient lights that hang like a necklace from the sides of the pier to an $8.5 million reconstruction effort that will restore it to an all-wood state, City Hall has committed to investments for one of the city’s biggest draws.
That was certainly true for Thomas, who traveled by bus from West Hollywood specifically to see the pier, as well as the estimated 6 million other visitors who make the site a destination every year.
“We want people to enjoy the pier,” Merl said. “Anything that makes the pier more attractive is good.”