Photo Essay: Santa Monica Then and Now

View of Pier from intersection of Colorado Ave and Ocean Ave. On the left is The Lobster Restaurant, with the Carousel below it on the pier. In the background on the pier is Sinbad’s Restaurant. An orange banner is strung across the pier sign proclaiming “Welcome Cirque du Soleil”; the troupe first performed at the pier in 1987.

Images by Tim Aukshunas and Santa Monica History Museum

There are certain images conjured when people think of Santa Monica: The sun, the sand, the surf, the mountains, the pier. Certain sensations too, be it the cool breeze gliding off the Pacific or the smells of the food vendors lining its historic beach.

The city’s rich and colorful history over the years is on full display—to the tune of 1,000,000 items—at the Santa Monica History Museum. Their work “aims to preserve and share the history and culture of Santa Monica for generations to come, and we promise to be a place that tells the story of everyone in our community,” says its Executive Director, Rob Schwenker.

…Santa Monica has always felt like a smaller community with its own sense of civic pride and an independent spirit…

A group of soldiers from Camp Cooke, an army camp located between Lompoc and Santa Maria, play volleyball on the beach while visiting the U.S. Army Recreational Camp in Santa Monica.

A group of soldiers from Camp Cooke, an army camp located between Lompoc and Santa Maria, play volleyball on the beach while visiting the U.S. Army Recreational Camp in Santa Monica.

Muscle Beach Gymnast Abbye Stockton, 1944

Muscle Beach Gymnast Abbye Stockton, 1944

“Being surrounded by Los Angeles on all sides with permeable borders of course means that we are inextricably connected to the history of the second largest city in the country,” Schwenker continues. “However, Santa Monica has always felt like a smaller community with its own sense of civic pride and an independent spirit that has led the city to be a place where innovation and creativity thrive. As a beach enclave it has attracted many people throughout its history—artists, writers, celebrities, and tourists—but it is also home to people’s everyday lives, and we try to represent the diversity of this history in our exhibitions.”

The Museum’s latest does just that. Coming Out West: LGBTQ+ Elders Share Their Stories, which runs from June to December of this year, features eight elders with connections to the Santa Monica Bay Area sharing their life stories in video oral histories. The Santa Monica History Museum also happens to have one of the most extensive image archives in Southern California, with over 600,000 rare photographs of the city’s development, its popular beaches and piers, and the people who call it home. Here, Waves plums the depths of their impressive collection to examine Santa Monica’s unparalleled history. In addition, we’ll take a look at modern day Santa Monica through the lens of famed Southern California photographer Tim Aukshunas.

For more visit santamonicahistory.org

Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel
Beachgoers at Club Casa del Mar, undated.

Above: Beachgoers at Club Casa del Mar, undated. Men with surf boards on Santa Monica Beach in front of the Casa del Mar, a well known beach club amongst leading business executives and Hollywood celebrities. Undated.

Above: Beachgoers at Club Casa del Mar, undated. Men with surf boards on Santa Monica Beach in front of the Casa del Mar, a well known beach club amongst leading business executives and Hollywood celebrities. Undated.
The famed Hot Dog Stick on the Pier. This page, 1960. Next page, 2023.

The famed Hot Dog Stick on the Pier. Left, 1960. Right, 2023

The famed Hot Dog Stick on the Pier. This page, 1960. Next page, 2023.

Previous page: The construction of the Santa Monica Pier, 1890. Photo courtesy University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society View of the concrete piles (columns) under the Santa Monica pier, 1915. Photo courtesy University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society An aerial view of Santa Monica Municipal Pier, showing Sinbad’s and Moby’s Dock restaurants. Santa Monica Sport Fishing is at the end of the pier. 1972. This page: The Pier in 2023.
Previous page: The construction of the Santa Monica Pier, 1890. Photo courtesy University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society View of the concrete piles (columns) under the Santa Monica pier, 1915. Photo courtesy University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society An aerial view of Santa Monica Municipal Pier, showing Sinbad’s and Moby’s Dock restaurants. Santa Monica Sport Fishing is at the end of the pier. 1972. This page: The Pier in 2023.

Column Top: The construction of the Santa Monica Pier, 1890. Photo courtesy University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society. 

Middle: View of the concrete piles (columns) under the Santa Monica pier, 1915. Photo courtesy University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society.

Bottom: View of the concrete piles (columns) under the Santa Monica pier, 1915. Photo courtesy University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society An aerial view of Santa Monica Municipal Pier, showing Sinbad’s and Moby’s Dock restaurants. Santa Monica Sport Fishing is at the end of the pier. 1972. 

Previous page: The construction of the Santa Monica Pier, 1890. Photo courtesy University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society View of the concrete piles (columns) under the Santa Monica pier, 1915. Photo courtesy University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society An aerial view of Santa Monica Municipal Pier, showing Sinbad’s and Moby’s Dock restaurants. Santa Monica Sport Fishing is at the end of the pier. 1972. This page: The Pier in 2023.

The Pier in 2023. 

Waves is an immersive media platform developed exclusively for the Edward Thomas Collection, founded in 1982 by Edward and Thomas Slatkin, who follow in the footsteps of two previous generations of proud family hoteliers and continue to develop and redefine the role of successful ownership and operation of luxury hotels.