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November 27, 2022

Today, I’m taking a little trip back in time to POP, a place that I visited regularly in my youth. I remember this place with fondness and I can still recall the thrill of the Flying Dutchman ride. Memories fade but they never go away.

A look at Wikipedia yielded the following:

Pacific Ocean Park was a twenty-eight acre 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. After it closed and fell into disrepair, the park and pier anchored the Dogtown area of Santa Monica. I remember many a day there doing all the rides and generally having fun.

“POP” (pronounced “pee-oh-pee”), as it was soon nicknamed, was a joint venture between CBS and Santa Anita Park.  It opened on Saturday, July 28, 1958 with an attendance of 20,000. The next day, the park drew 37,262 which outperformed Disneyland’s attendance that 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 expense of some 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 more. The carnival-style attractions and rides were the following:

Westinghouse Enchanted Forest/USS Nautilus Submarine Exhibit featured a 150-foot (46 m)-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. Elektro, the talking and smoking 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 a large tank via hydraulic pistons. An underwater view of the tank was visible through the portholes. The ride was manufactured by Martine and this was their dual Maritime Diving Bells. Another such ride also existed in single fashion at the Long Beach Nupike and also Coney Island Astroland. The thrill of the ride occurred when the bell was allowed to “surface”. When the hydraulic pressure holding the bell down was released the bell would shoot back up to the surface in dramatic fashion.

Ocean Skyway built by Von Roll 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 in theme to Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean but without the animatronic figures.

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 Dark 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 be 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 rotating arms ending in jet-style cars, each of which held eight passengers. A Stantzel Strat-O-Liner, six of these rides were manufactured; none exists today.

Whirl Pool was a centrifuge that pinned riders to the walls as the floor slowly lowered beneath them. This ride was essentially a themed Chance Rotor ride.

Mr. Dolphin was another original pier attraction.

Flying Fish was a miniature roller coaster made by Carlos and Ramigosi. It was the first steel Wild Mouse roller coaster in the U.S.

The 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.

King Neptune’s Courtyard was a colorful walk under the ocean to view King Neptune’s lair.

Mrs. Squid also known as “The Ahuna Thrill Ride” was an Eyerly Dual Tub Octopus ride with a squid decor in the center. The ride had 16 tubs, each carrying 2 passengers.

Mr. Octopus was a standard Eyerly Octopus ride with 8 tubs.

In 1965, Santa Monica began the Ocean Park urban renewal project. Buildings in the surrounding area were demolished and streets leading to the park were closed.  As a result, visitors found it hard to 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 in 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. I was not one of the Z-Boys but as an area surfer I certainly knew most of them by name. 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. A few miles north, the original Santa Monica Pier features a newer amusement park, similarly called Pacific Park. Today, the rides and attractions of the Santa Monica Pier include the Carousel that is featured in the 1973 Academy Award-winning film The Sting.

As a young teen I was a regular at POP. I especially remember the Flying Dutchman. I must have ridden that ride a thousand times. It is one of those strange things that I look back upon in my youth with a smile and warm heart. I also surfed there among its submerged pilings after its demise and POP has remained with me for more than 60 years. Is there the smallest chance that any of you also remember POP? If so, please leave a comment. I can’t be the only one with POP nostalgia.

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  1. Great memories, Allen. It must have been a pretty cool place.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Right around the time you were going to POP, I was hanging out at Palisades Park in New Jersey. You may know the Freddie Cannon song that it inspired.

    Liked by 1 person

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