Pop: Local historian Richard Orton is launching a project to commemorate the once thriving pier and amusement park. Courtesy image

Walk along the Santa Monica shoreline today and you’ll see an unbroken expanse of sand stretching in one golden ribbon from the Santa Monica Pier down to the Venice Pier about three miles to its south. It’s almost difficult to imagine that, in living memory, Pacific Ocean Park (POP) occupied 87 acres of that span, offering rides, games and midcentury-era thrills of all kinds.

The once-fabulous sprawling amusement park, which operated for only about a decade from 1958-67, may be lost to time, but local historian Richard Orton is working to ensure its memory will not be lost to history.

Orton, who lives in the same 2nd Street apartment he’s occupied since moving to Santa Monica as a recent college graduate in 1970, said he remembers the deteriorating park — shuttered, but not yet demolished — occupying the shoreline at the western end of Ocean Park.

“All that was left were kind of just the ruins of that — it was abandoned,” Orton recalled in a recent interview with the Daily Press. Within a few years, the City removed all traces.

“There is absolutely no remnant of that amusement pier at all,” Orton added, calling the beach today “a big desert full of sand.”

Orton is one of a dwindling number of residents with memories of the attraction, which caught fire numerous times before finally being cleared in about 1975. So, to preserve that memory, he is launching a campaign to erect a memorial of some kind. Orton wants to pass on the legacy of the once beloved POP to future generations.

“It’d be kind of nice to have some kind of memorial to that amusement pier, and the places where people went for fun,” the amateur historian explained. “They always put up memorials to battlefields or wars or, you know, dead heroes and stuff, but never to a place where people had fun.”

Orton’s initial plans call for the installation of a bench, inlaid with 12-inch-by-12-inch porcelain tiles describing the history of POP and including a QR code. That code, when scanned by a phone, would provide visitors with a video presentation providing even more photos and historical context. 

It would do more than honor the short-lived but much-loved POP; Orton’s plans break down the local history of the area into four eras: the early years from 1900-39, the war years from 1939-57, POP from 1958-68 and the urban renewal from 1964-67.

The bench Orton envisions could be a traditional park bench or simply one of the long, low concrete slabs currently used as a combination bench, wall and sand barrier along the beach in Ocean Park. 

Orton has long been passionate about his neighborhood and, after retiring from his career as a graphic designer a few years ago, he has dedicated his life to local history. For the past several years, that has included writing and distributing a history newsletter, which he emails to about 800 monthly subscribers. 

He is hopeful some of those subscribers will attend a concept meeting he is planning near the South Beach Park Playground on Saturday, July 30, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. Though he’s been sharing updates with his subscribers, the July 30 meeting is open to anyone interested in learning more or weighing in on the project, and he is hoping for a good turnout of local residents.

Orton recommended those who attend should bring blankets and lawn chairs. He suggested neighbors carpool to avoid excessive parking fees; biking and walking are also options.

To contact Orton directly, email him at laxlon@aol.com or call 310-392-4082.