Rich With History

At the center of what was once Santa Monica’s fabled Gold Coast, the Annenberg Community Beach House traces its roots to the 1920s when newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst built an opulent seaside estate for famous Hollywood starlet Marion Davies.

Santa Monica revitalizes beachfront property.

The 5-acre oceanfront site featured a mansion of 100-plus rooms and an ornate marble swimming pool. After serving its purpose as a party venue and social gathering place for Hollywood’s elite, Davies sold the property in 1947, and it was converted into OceanHouse, a luxury hotel, and the Sand & Sea Club.

In 1956, the main mansion was demolished, and in 1959 the property was sold to the state. In the 1994 Northridge earthquake, all of the site’s structures suffered extensive damage.

Seeing the potential public value of the beachfront site, the city in the early 2000s set forth a plan to redevelop the facility as a community resource.

The city embarked on an extensive public-input process to recreate the beach house’s role as not only a public gathering space, but a state-of-the-art municipal facility, featuring the latest technology and policies for optimal sustainability.

Community input came from a broad range of stakeholder meetings, governing agencies and direction provided by the Santa Monica Community & Cultural Services Department.

With an overlay of sustainability, the design intent for the beach house — located at 415 Pacific Coast Highway at Beach House Way — centered on the landmark’s natural setting, its social history and the architectural remnants of its Hollywood heyday as expressed by the Davies Guest House.

Specific design goals included:

1. Preserve the history of the site

2. Create a community-oriented destination

3. Provide public recreational activities

4. Increase public access to the beach

5. Create a range of year-round uses for diverse groups

6. Link to the regional open-space network

However, funding such an ambitious public project was challenging at best, and the plans sat in abeyance for several years while the city tried to secure financing. Ultimately, a generous $27.5-million grant from the Annenberg Foundation, at the recommendation of Wallis Annenberg, breathed new life into the property, with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the federal Preserve America program.

With the financing in hand, the California State Parks that owned the property, and the city as the operator, joined together to move the project forward into what would become the only public beach club in the United States.

The Beach House has proven to be financially beneficial to the city. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, the city estimates total revenues of $1.3 million from public use, concessions, parking, special events, catering and filming.

In terms of staffing, the city employs the equivalent of 13 full-time positions at the facility. This includes lifeguards, beach recreation leaders, guest-services assistants, facility attendants, custodians, event coordinators and a few full-time management and administrative positions.

Kids enjoy the sprayground at Santa Monica's Annenberg Community Beach House.

A Challenging Transformation

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