Santa Monica Pier (File photo)

There was once a time when visitors to the Santa Monica Pier would either walk or drive down the hill from the corner of Ocean Avenue and Colorado Avenue and then walk or drive up onto the Pier. That’s right, UP! That all changed in the late 1930’s, and the result of that change left the world with one of southern California’s most immediately recognizable and iconic landmark signs.

In 1939, work began on the Colorado Grade Separation Project, a complex highway project that was designed to improve access between the Pacific Coast Highway and city streets. The location of the project eliminated the traditional access to the pier, so planners designed a ramp at the end of Colorado Avenue to allow traffic to overpass the new access ways and travel directly onto the pier’s deck.

Ground broke for the new pier ramp on September 19, 1939, closing the entrance to the Municipal Pier and tearing up part of the pier’s east end. The City, recognizing that business would be severely hampered by the project, reduced rentals for businesses on the pier by five percent. Construction took five months and the ramp was opened for use on June 12, 1940.

The new access ramp was not clearly visible, nor was it obvious that it was indeed the correct route to the pier. This was of great concern to the businesses on the pier. With the money saved from the rent reduction during construction, the Santa Monica Pier Business Men’s Association committed two thousand dollars to hire the Pan-Pacific Neon Sign Company to design and construct a neon sign and mount it at the top of the bridge. The new sign was unveiled on June 17, 1941.

The sign’s text reads “Santa Monica Yacht Harbor – Sport Fishing – Boating – Cafes”, which may confuse the unknowing visitor today. However, when the sign was originally installed the Santa Monica Pier was indeed home to a fully functional and popular yacht harbor which provided moorings for, among others, internationally famous actor Charlie Chaplin.

The arched blue sign — twenty feet at its highest point, twelve feet at its lowest and supported by columns on each side of the ramp — has since become an internationally recognized landmark. In 1996 the State of California Department of Parks and Recreation declared the iconic sign a historic landmark. The official record notes its dual historical significance as: 1) a classic example of signage from the neon era, and 2) the designated marker for the last existing pleasure pier in an area in which they were once bountiful.

Excerpt from Santa Monica Pier: A Century on the Last Great Pleasure Pier by James Harris (Angel City Press, 2009)

Since its establishment in 1975, the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission has recognized more than 125 structures and sites as designated landmarks. In the History Spotlight, the SMDP will focus on specific landmarks, spotlight interesting residents and stories about local history. The content is being produced in partnership with the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission, Santa Monica History Museum and the City of Santa Monica.

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1 Comment

  1. Los Angeles has already lost much of its historical past to the wrecking ball.
    We should have been protecting what was obvious all along instead of giving in to greed and more.
    When you lose the past, you also lose the future because you will have nothing to base tomorrow on.
    Look at the Sunset Strip.
    It’s changing at a fast pace.
    Soon, it won’t look or be the same.
    What a shame.
    At least we still have the Santa Monica Pier sign.

    George Vreeland Hill

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