The Santa Monica beach property that once welcomed stars of a time in cinema known as the Golden Era will again open its doors to average citizens looking to enjoy its coastal offerings.
The picturesque site at 415 Pacific Coast Highway was first developed by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, who built a home for his mistress, silent film actress Marion Davies, in the late 1920s. During their time at the beachfront mansion, the couple hosted celebrations attended by film icons of the era, including Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and Gloria Swanson.
“It was a gathering place for people who’ve become icons in American cinematic history,” Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission chair Susan Cloke said of the property’s historical connection.
After the property’s brush with celebrity during the Hearst and Davies ownership, the land was sold and it went through various phases of operation, including as the popular Sand and Sea Club for 30 years. Though the State of California had purchased the parcel, the City of Santa Monica began managing the property in 1989 and operated it briefly as a seasonal public beach facility before much of the facility was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
In the years following, city officials have worked to restore the 415 PCH property by creating a public beach club, an effort that was heavily boosted by a $27.5 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation, an organization dedicated to philanthropy. Now, more than 15 years after the earthquake, the new Annenberg Community Beach House will open to the public, with no membership required.
“It’s a dream come true to have a world class facility like this open to the public on the beach,” said Joel Brand, chair of the group Friends of 415 PCH and board member of the Santa Monica Conservancy. “It’s an incredible gift not only for those who will be able to use it now but for generations to come.”
The original Davies mansion was demolished decades ago, but historic parts of the property, including the original guest house and pool, have been restored and incorporated into the new beach facility. Sixteen monumental white pillars evoking the iconic white columns of the original Davies Estate have also been installed at the site.
A dedication ceremony for the new public beach house is scheduled at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 25th, and among those planning to attend are city and state officials, Annenberg Foundation president Wallis Annenberg and community members who have supported the project. The club will officially open to the public Sunday, April 26th.
Officials who were active in the effort expressed excitement at having the public club finally open and said they were impressed with how the facility turned out.
“We’re delighted to have this opportunity to do something very unique,” said Barbara Stinchfield, Santa Monica’s Community and Cultural Services director. “This project is actually exactly what we all envisioned and better.”
Mayor Ken Genser added, “I think it’s a terrific facility and it will provide a wonderful service for the public.”
Brand said the “world class facility” would likely not have been built to its current quality without the contribution of private foundation funding. He predicted that thousands and thousands of people will come to take advantage of the club’s many amenities.
“Santa Monica gives a great deal to the region in terms of recreation on the beach, and this just adds another crown jewel to our coast,” Brand said.
The process to create a public beach house in Santa Monica had its share of obstacles, including a lawsuit filed by a property owners association which challenged aspects of the project, but city officials credited Wallis Annenberg with helping to “energize” the effort.
Annenberg Foundation managing director Leonard Aube noted how Wallis Annenberg felt a connection to the property, as her family was a member of the former Sand and Sea Club, and she wanted to help provide a community resource that was available to everyone. The foundation was pleased to have a unique partnership with the city for the project, Aube said.
“It’s been one of the most important and successful public/private partnerships that we’ve been involved in over the past few years,” he said. “It was a partnership where both parties worked so hard to create a world class destination.”
Cloke of the Recreation and Parks Commission said officials wanted to ensure that the former Davies Estate’s historical significance was preserved as part of the new club.
“We all in Santa Monica are careful to respect and preserve our historic resources,” Cloke said. “We wanted to respect the historic nature of the property and recognize the current opportunity to create this wonderful public beach house for everybody.”
The new facility incorporates “green” building design throughout and has full access for persons with a disability. Features of the club include volleyball and beach tennis courts, event and meeting rooms, children’s play areas and gardens. The Back on the Beach Café has been restored and a new pathway extends toward the ocean. Docents will also offer historical tours at the guest house building.
The club is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to sunset, with the pool open on weekends in May and daily during the summer, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission to the pool is $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and $4 for children, or $24 for a family of four. Walk-in entries are available.
Parking costs are between $6 and $10 per day, or $3 to $4 per hour depending on season. The volleyball courts can be reserved ahead of time for $5 or are free on a walk-in basis.
During the dedication ceremony April 25th, performers from “O” by Cirque du Soleil will christen the historic pool with a “first splash” performance. Visitors are encouraged to walk, bike or take a shuttle for the dedication, as no onsite parking is available.
In addition to the facility’s historic preservation and architectural quality, city officials say they are proud that the Annenberg Beach House is a resource that is accessible to all members of the public.
“It’s creating another wonderful place where the community can come together,” Stinchfield said.
Genser added, “This will go along strongly with the community’s general philosophy of inclusion. It’s a club for everybody and I’m very proud of that.”