CityDig: In 1940 Santa Monica Was Literally the Best Place Ever

At least according to this old map
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This light-hearted pictorial map of the “Bay District”—aka Santa Monica and its environs—is a fine product of the golden age of such cartographic beauties. Though the cartographer, Rena Roblin, remains in obscurity, her work more than speaks for itself, and it brings 1940s-era SaMo vibrantly to life.

Santa Monica, “the Pearl of the Pacific” has always been a sort of paradise near L.A. In 1940, with the depression behind it, the city was competing with the rest of Southern California for tourist dollars. This map beckons to travellers, “Inviting America to Come and Play in Santa Monica.”

Picture Map of Santa Monica Bay District, Evening Outlook, Cartographer Rena Roblin, 1940
Picture Map of Santa Monica Bay District, Evening Outlook, Cartographer Rena Roblin, 1940

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As with all Los Angeles booster propaganda, golf courses abound and the sun shines benevolently down on visitors. Outdoor recreation includes skeet shooting, tennis, fly-fishing, archery, speedboat racing, bicycling, “aqua-planing,” “surfboard-riding,” lawn bowling, hiking, polo at Will Rogers Ranch, and even ice skating at the Tropical Ice Gardens. Those seeking true cardio can even take the streetcar out to Ballona Creek to participate in crew rowing.

Roblin demonstrates that there’s more to the bay than just sweat and sunshine by including Bernheimer’s Japanese Gardens, a Greek Theater, and some Mardi Gras action down by the Venice pier. She also depicts glamor attractions like the “Malibu Movie Colony,” yachting in the bay, movie studios (they were actually in Culver City), the swank Del Mar Club, and the grand LaMonica Ballroom (the largest dance hall on the West Coast) out on the pier. UCLA, in the top right, was booming by this time, and the football team featured none other than Jackie Robinson.

Santa Monica is no youngster in terms of human activity. Tongva Indians established a village called Kecheek in the area centuries ago, and when the Europeans explored the landscape, they were impressed. The Spanish crown awarded most of the “Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica” and “Rancho Boca de Santa Monica” to the Sepulveda family.

In 1872, Senator John P. Jones, Colonel Robert Baker, and Baker’s beautiful wife—the legendary Arcadia Bandini de Stearns Baker—bought some 38,000 acres of the old ranchos and set out create the city of Santa Monica. Jones managed to get a railroad built connecting the town to Los Angeles, and he constructed a wharf in hopes of turning Santa Monica bay into the official harbor. At 4,700 feet in length, “The Long Wharf” was considered the longest in the world at the time, but it was all for naught when Congress selected San Pedro for the harbor in 1897.

While Santa Monica missed out on huge ships, truculent longshoremen, and the smell of raw petroleum, they did quite well as a resort location. The magnificent, 200-room Arcadia Hotel (named after the aforementioned Stearns Baker widow) was erected right on the beach. Its hot saltwater baths and 99-step staircase right down to the Pacific Ocean made it one of the foremost vacation stops on the coast.

While the Arcadia may have been the brightest pearl in the string of “the Pearl of the Pacific,” it was also the place where the besotted Griffith J. Griffith shot his wife after coming to believe she was in cahoots with the Pope to murder him. The wife survived and so did Griffith, who served a wrist slap of two years for the crime. His besmirched name was somewhat cleaned up by his gifts to the people of Los Angeles—Griffith Park and Griffith Observatory.


Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.

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