We all need to get away from time to time, and the late summer is a great time to sneak away to the beach. Even if you can’t get in the water for physical or medical reasons, or if you are like me and just don’t know how to swim, the California coast still has an amazing appeal. The air blowing in from the sea, the soft soothing sound of the moving waters, and the sights and energy found where the land ends offer something you can’t find anywhere else. One of my favorite spots is the Santa Monica Pier. You never know what one might find there, be it an interesting character charming tourists, a public performance, or a natural wonder such as a rare bird or marine life. This time, however, an obscure piece of history proved to be the focus of my visit.
Click here for a Custom Map showing the recommended route for this scenic trip.
(Map provided by RoadTripAmerica.com and built by Tom Herbertson.)
Built in 1909, the original purpose of the pier was to conceal sewage pipes. The city had a sewage crisis of sorts and could not dispose of the waste, so the proposal was to build a municipal pier with pipelines underneath to pour treated sewage into the ocean—which it did until the 1930s. Despite the foul utilitarian purpose behind it, the Santa Monica Pier was met with great public enthusiasm when it opened to the public on September 9, with boating and swimming competitions. It was the first concrete pier on the west coast, and proved to be one of the best fishing spots in the area.
There is, however, much more to the pier than meets the eye. There are small dedications and memorials around the pier and Palisades Park, which stretches down the shore from the pier. Some are self-explanatory of you read the inscriptions, but others not so much.
One of the latter, a seemingly out of place object, caught my eye the last two times I visited—a civil war era cannon that can be found near the entrance to the pier in Palisades Park. Why is it there? Is it just a sculpture or art installment?
As it turns out, it is one of two cannons that were given to the City of Santa Monica by the Veteran’s Administration. The cannons are Rodman smoothbore seacoast guns to be exact and date to 1861. They were originally used on Fort McDowell on Angel Island up in the San Francisco Bay. The cannons were installed in their current locations in 1908, predating the pier itself. The likely reason the cannons ended up there was to honor John P. Jones and Arcadia Bandini de Baker, the founders of Palisades Park, for donating land for an Old Soldiers Home. The second cannon is located near the visitor’s center.
Santa Monica never had to defend against a naval attack, however, it is said that during the Spanish-American War of 1898 large pipes were mounted along the bluff by the city engineer to create the illusion of a heavily fortified coast, just in case.
So that is the story behind the cannons. There are plenty more stories lurking below the surface of this magical place, undoubtedly. Even popular tourists spots have their secrets, and it is those little pieces of the obscure that I find most interesting about given locale and sometimes even a relaxing day at the beach can turn into an adventure into the unknown.
If you visit the Santa Monica Pier, there are free guided historical walking tours every Saturday and Sunday at 11:00 a.m. and noon. There is no shortage of dining options on and around the pier as well. The best place to park has got to be parking structure 6. It is located at 1431 2nd Street, just a short walk from the shore and the first 90 minutes are free and reasonably priced after that.
For more information about the pier’s landmarks and attractions, smgov.net has a very informative guide available, and of course santamonicapier.org is a great visitor’s resource. RoadTripAmerica.com is also a great place to begin planning your next journey!