SM BEACH — Under the late morning sun, a man and his young daughter stand in line at the Annenberg Community Beach House, waiting to pay the price of admission to enjoy a day by the pool.
They were teased in the meantime by the sounds of children splashing and laughing nearby, and the sights of wet haired little ones exiting the facility with towels wrapped around them, talking about what they would have for lunch.
When the father and daughter finally reached the window, instead of receiving a wristband, they were directed to the waiting list, told the pool had reached capacity.
Despite a gloomy May and June, the Annenberg Community Beach House has received a strong flow of visitors since its long-awaited grand opening the last weekend in April, attracting both local residents and tourists to the historic pool and other amenities even though the ocean lies just yards away.
“People walk around with half a smile and half a state of awe,” Barbara Stinchfield, the director of community and cultural services for City Hall, said.
City Hall spent several years rehabilitating the former estate of late Hollywood starlet Marion Davies, restoring the original guest house and pool and constructing new volleyball courts, an event house, splash pool and garden.
The estate, which at one time featured more than 100 bedrooms and 55 bathrooms, was built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst for his rumored mistress, who sold it for $600,000 to investors when she fell into financial trouble.
Today the property is home to the nation’s first public beach club.
Pacific Palisades resident Nicki Azami visited Annenberg for the first time with her two children on Monday, finally giving in to her curiosity of what lay behind the tall walls separating the beach house from Pacific Coast Highway. She said the Santa Monica Swim Center has a more child-friendly pool because it has steps leading in as opposed to the ladders in the pool at Annenberg that just drop down. But she nevertheless likes having the choice of swimming at the facility or the nearby beach.
“It’s beautiful,” Azami said as she cradled one of her children to sleep. “I love the columns, I love the buildings.
“The architect did a beautiful job.”
City officials previously set targets for the number of pool passes to sell every day. During the first five days of July, between 97 and 180 pool passes were sold.
Monday is one of the busiest days of the week thanks to the Dollar Splash program through which visitors entering before noon can use the pool for a discounted admission of $1.
Pool passes cost $10 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for children and $24 for a family pass. Parking ranges from $6 to $10 per day.
Some of the major holidays since the grand opening, including Memorial Day and Independence Day, also drew large crowds.
“We do get a lot of visitors off the bike path who are just walking or biking when they see it and they kind of walk or ride in and look puzzled,” Stinchfield said. “We have a lot of people come back and new visitors as well.”
Attracting visitors is key given the cost of operating the facility, which is currently subsidized by the general fund. In December, city staff said the Beach House would need roughly $3.3 million annually for operations, generating an estimated $1.9 million in revenue. There were concerns during the planning stages that the facility could become a drain on city coffers, failing to generate enough revenue to sustain itself.
Stinchfield said the challenge in the opening months has not been getting the word out but letting people know exactly how they can use the beach house. One way to clear up the confusion is by improving the Web site, Stinchfield said.
The beach house, for now, is getting some positive remarks.
Kris McDonough of Ship Bottom, N.J. came to the beach house on Monday with her friend Cara Barrese, a Santa Monica resident.
“I wish we had something like this where we live,” McDonough, who resides in a small beach town, said.
Barrese, who has visited Annenberg three times, said she was originally excited to learn that a beach house was opening but was concerned about whether the operation would be well-run.
“I thought it would be chaos,” she said. “But it’s been organized.”
Officials are also planning on expanding the programs offered at the beach house in the coming months, including creating lap swim classes and building a fitness room. Current programs offered include family beach workout on Saturdays, beach tennis on Sundays and yoga for adults on Wednesdays.
“Our motto is let’s do simple things exceedingly well and we’ll build based on what people want,” Stinchfield said.