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Vintage postcard circa 1959 showing the entrance plaza of Pacific Ocean Park
Pacific Ocean Park was a twenty-eight acre (110,000 m²), nautical-themed amusement park built on a pier at Pier Avenue in the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica, California, which was intended to compete with Disneyland. "And Disneyland and POP is worth a trip to L.A." is a line from the Beach Boys' song "Amusement Parks U.S.A." from their 1965 album Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!).
"POP," as it was soon nicknamed and pronounced, "pee-oh-pee" was a joint venture between CBS and Santa Anita Park. It opened on Saturday, July 28, 1958 with an attendance figure of 20,000. The next day, the park drew 37,262 which handily outperformed Disneyland's attendance figure that same day. Admission was ninety cents for adults which included access to the park and certain exhibits. The term "POP" was also used as a clever acronym for "Pay One Price", though other rides and attractions were on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Like Disneyland, Pacific Ocean Park found corporate sponsors to share the expenses of some of the exhibits. Six of the pier's original attractions were incorporated into the new park: The Sea Serpent roller coaster, the antique Looff carousel, the Toonerville Fun House, the Glass House, twin diving bells and much more.
Among a standard complement of carnival-style attractions and rides were the following:
- Westinghouse Enchanted Forest/Nautilus Submarine Exhibit featured a 150-foot-long model of the atomic reactor section of a submarine.
- House of Tomorrow was themed like similar "looks at the future" featured at Disneyland and the World's Fair. The robot from the 1939 World's Fair was a prominent display.
- Sea Circus was included in the basic attraction price. Performing dolphins and sea lions played to audiences of 2000 at a time. After the show, visitors could feed seals in the Seal Pool.
- Diving Bells in which passengers were submerged into the ocean via hydraulic pistons. A vast underwater vista was clearly visible through the portholes.
- Ocean Skyway built by Vonroll were bubble-shaped gondolas suspended 75 feet (23 m) above the surface of the ocean. Passengers were treated to a one-half mile (800 m) trip out to sea and back.
- Union 76 Ocean Highway was similar to Disneyland's Autopia attraction. Visitors could drive miniature, gasoline-powered automobiles on a simulated highway.
- Flight to Mars was an audio-visual presentation that simulated a trip to Mars.
- Flying Carpet was a ride themed around Tales of the Arabian Nights. "Flying carpets" suspended on an overhead track took visitors over an Arabian-themed diorama.
- Mirror Maze was a standard funhouse attraction.
- Davy Jones' Locker was another funhouse with a nautical theme.
- |Flying Dutchman was a dark ride similar to what Disneyland would present in 1967 with the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean.
- Deepest Deep simulated a voyage via submarine. Unlike Disneyland's Submarine Voyage attraction, "Deepest Deep" took place above water.
- Round the World in 80 Turns was an unusual combination of travelogue and thrill ride. Tub-like ride vehicles whipped sharply to the right and left to show travel scenes from around the world. The attraction was closed in the middle of the park's second season due to complaints of nausea and neck and back pain.
- Safari Ride was an interactive children's ride in which riders in miniature Jeeps used an electronic rifle to "hunt" animals in the African jungle.
- Mystery Island Banana Train Ride Considered by many to Pacific Ocean Park's best ride, passengers were treated to a trip aboard a tropical banana plantation train complete with a simulated volcano and simulated earthquakes.
- Sea Serpent Roller Coaster was a wooden, 1926 Hi-Boy roller coaster from the original pier.
- Mahi Mahi was a massive tower with long arms that were turning around and people sat in something resembling a jet.
- Whirl Pool was a centrifuge that pinned riders to the walls as the floor slowly lowered beneath them.
- Mr. Dolphin was another original pier attraction.
- The Strat-o-liner rocket ride was an arena where forty or so people sat in a circle and the entire room spun as well as lifted up and down several times, simulating a rocket ride.
- Flying Fish was a miniature roller coaster.
- Carousel was the 1926-vintage Looff carousel from the original pier.
- Fisherman's Cove and the International Promenade were shopping, dining and souvenir areas which featured a number of good, international restaurants.
By January 5, 1959, Pacific Ocean Park had attracted 1,190,000 visitors. Although plans were made to add four new attractions, only two were completed at a cost of $2,000,000. They were:
- Space Wheels were a unique pair of double Ferris wheels.
- Fun Forest was a new children's area with mazes and slides along with helicopter, boat, monorail and covered wagon rides.
In 1965, Santa Monica began its Ocean Park urban renewal project. Buildings in the surrounding area were demolished and streets leading to the park were closed. As a result, visitors simply couldn't reach the park and attendance plummeted to 621,000 in 1965 and 398,700 in 1966.
At the end of the 1967 tourist season, the park's creditors and the City of Santa Monica filed suit to take control of the property because of back taxes and back rent owed by the park's new owner since 1965. Pacific Ocean Park closed on October 6, 1967. The park's assets were auctioned off June 28 through June 30, 1968. The proceeds from the sale of thirty-six rides and sixteen games were used to pay off creditors. The ruins of the pier became a favorite surfing area and hangout of the Z-Boys of Dogtown fame. The park's dilapidated buildings and pier structure remained until several suspicious fires occurred and it was finally demolished in the winter of 1974-75.
Other than a few underwater pilings and signs warning of them, nothing remains of Pacific Ocean Park today. However, a few miles north, the original Santa Monica Pier does feature a newer amusement park, similarly called Pacific Park. Today, the rides and attractions of the Santa Monica Pier include the old Carousel that is featured prominently in the 1973 Academy Award -winning film,The Sting.
The final episode of the ABC television series "The Fugitive" was shot at Pacific Ocean Park. Filmed on location just prior the park's closure in the fall of 1967, the park's "Mahi, Mahi" ride tower was the setting for the dramatic face off between Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen) and the fictional one-armed man. The episode, broadcast on August 29 1967, was one of the highest rated in television history.