Given my headline, you might think this will be about someone who, at age 53, attended Woodstock. It’s not that kind of “hippy.” I’m referring to the famed Looff Hippodrome on the pier, which houses the Merry-Go-Round. This Sunday marks the exact 100th anniversary of our Hippodrome, which is a National Historic Landmark. To celebrate, the city is staging a gala party on the pier, free to the public, the details of which I will share later. (Aren’t you relieved this isn’t about an old codger’s memories of Woodstock?)

Among those attending on Sunday will be Elaine Jones Stephenson. Eleven-year-old “Laney” Jones came to Santa Monica in 1944 along with her mother, Lily, and four siblings,Mona, Barbara, Bobby and baby Essie as the family traveled by Greyhound from Rhode Island. Lily somehow managed five kids over five grueling days, with Barbara carsick, Bobby wandering off at every stop and Essie, at 18 months, still in diapers!

The family was reuniting with Laney’s father, Eric, who had come west in search of a job and housing and gotten both in one shot. An artist and craftsman, Eric was hired by the Hippodrome’s owner, Walter Newcomb, to maintain the Merry-Go-Round, paint the ponies and the detailed sea and landscapes. The “housing” was a small 3-room apartment over the carousel that would be a loving, albeit eccentric, home to the Jones’ for the next seven years. (Seven decades later, Elaine published her memoir, “My Life Above the Carousel in Santa Monica.”)

When the cab pulled up in front of the Hippodrome and Laney first laid eyes on the foreboding and somewhat rundown Byzantine structure it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. “We came all this way to live in an ugly old building above a merry-go-round in an amusement pier?”

To please Lily, Eric cut a hole in the roof to give her access to the clotheslines, an essential with five kids. The roof was also used like a patio. (The hole remains to this day as a skylight.) Then Eric cut a small square hole in the kitchen, which ingeniously allowed the air from the gigantic fan created by the circling horses to cool the apartment. Soon, Laney would come to love her new home and all the adventures living on the beach provided her and her siblings.

In story after amusing story, Laney grows from a young girl to a young woman. Through her innocent eyes we experience Santa Monica of the 1940’s, including the Muscle Beach gymnastics exhibitions which drew thousands; the paddle board ballet shows in which she and her sister participated; the lifeguard and paddle board races and the surfing and volleyball cultures which started here as did the physical fitness craze. “It was our neighborhood in which we looked after one another. It was a wonderful and exciting era.”

Elaine’s charming memoir of a bygone Santa Monica reminds me of Mark Twain’s tales of a kid’s life on the Mississippi. And, with the “narrator” being 11-year-old Laney, it’s also reminiscent of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. (My praise embarrasses Elaine, so I shall return to the Hippodrome and the 100th anniversary party.)

Described architecturally as “California-Byzantine-Moorish-style fantasy,” the Hippodrome was the dream of Danish-born Charles Looff, one of America’s most noted carousel builders. The big party, which will take visitors back in time, is being coordinated by Jim Harris, pier historian and author of the acclaimed book, “Santa Monica Pier: A Century on the Last of the Pleasure Piers.”

At the Sunday gala, pony rides will be 5-cents, the price during the era. Visitors will also see historic lithographs and photos and tour the carousel apartments. In addition, photos of notable people who lived there at one time include Tony Award-Winner Paul Sand, political activist, Colleen Creedon and legendary author William Saroyan (his writing office.) Those who visited so often they were almost like residents include Joan Baez, Caesar Chavez and Daniel Ellsberg.

From the 1916 era, there will be sweet-salty potato-chip sundaes created by Kevin McCafferty, owner of Soda Jerk’s fountain. The “Brass Ring Sundae” is one scoop of salted caramel topped with caramel sauce, one scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate, covered in crushed potato chips with a single chip being the “brass ring” on top. (To work off the calories, I suppose you could run up and down the pier 100 times.)

Sunday’s 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. celebration will undoubtedly be tremendous fun. Elaine and her sister, Mona, a very funny storyteller, will share more of their endearing tales, some not included in the book. And you have to see Jim Harris in his 1916 attire. Actually, everybody’s going to be there, except, perhaps, my mythical100-year-old Hippy who was at Woodstock. (If he magically appears, that’s definitely my column for next week.)

For more information, go to While you’re at the big party, check out Elaine’s book My Life Above the Carousel in Santa Monica available at the Carousel book store.

Jack Neworth can be reached at