An iconic piece of Santa Monica is now featured at a new development along the shore of the Oklahoma River.
The Ferris wheel that previously stood at Santa Monica Pier is being installed in an up-and-coming part of Oklahoma City, giving the amusement landmark a new home halfway across the country.
The site had already been prepared. The foundation was in place. And the wheel’s circular frame was reassembled in position this week, serving as a towering emblem of future construction in the area.
“It’s the exciting culmination of a long journey,” said Jeff Klocke, vice president of the pier’s Pacific Park. “It was a sentimental moment for us.”
The wheel’s 1,300-mile journey to the Sooner State began in 2008, when Pacific Park auctioned it off online. Oklahoma-based real estate developer Grant Humphreys bought it for $132,400 and made clear his intention to bring it back to his home state. It originally cost approximately $800,000.
His brother, Blair Humphreys, is currently overseeing the creation of the Wheeler District in Oklahoma City, a 150-acre mixed-use urban development project. They decided to use the Ferris wheel as an anchor for a plaza that will become an integrated part of the waterfront community.
And it probably won’t be the only wheel for long. It’s Blair Humphreys’ hope that the new district, which is being built on former airpark land, will give residents access to a recreational bike trail system that connects to Oklahoma City’s downtown area. He envisions it becoming one of the most cycling-friendly neighborhoods in the country.
Asked why the old Santa Monica feature was purchased for the Wheeler District, Humphreys said it was cheaper to refurbish the existing wheel than to pay for a new one. And the wheel’s chronology, he said, gives it a certain esteem and stature. An Oklahoma-based appraiser recently told Humphreys that he worked on the so-called Pacific Wheel when he lived in Southern California. A colleague sent him wedding pictures that were taken in front of the Santa Monica symbol years ago.
“We’re excited not just to have a Ferris wheel, but to have the former Santa Monica Ferris wheel,” he said. “We can tell people about its history and where it’s been. … It makes it special in people’s minds and a special thing to have here in Oklahoma City.”
Making its debut in Santa Monica in May 1996, the 122,000-pound wheel was modified two years later to run on solar power. The 90-foot structure was used for roughly 3 million rides in its 12 years on the pier.
After a 10-day eBay auction in April 2008, the wheel was taken apart for shipment and later put in storage in Wichita, Kansas. That city is home to Chance Rides, the manufacturing company that made the original.
The old amusement feature required significant refurbishment, Humphreys said. The wheel itself has been repainted, and the 20 gondolas will have a color scheme specific to Oklahoma City. An upgraded LED light package was also added.
Humphreys said he expects the wheel to be ready for passengers by July 4.
“It’s the same wheel, but it’s dressed in different clothes,” he said. It’s like having a historic building. It might be more work and take a little more time because it’s historical, but you have a great story. It’s been an exciting event for people to see it rise on the river.”
The installation in Oklahoma City comes as Santa Monica’s current wheel, which was introduced in May 2008, prepares for upgrades of its own. Within the next month, Pacific Park will be installing a nearly $1-million lighting package that features higher resolution, better color depth and faster display speeds.
“It’ll take the pier and the beach line to a new level,” Klocke said. “It’s coincidental and perfect.”