Beach Clubs Aren't Only for the Rich and Famous

When you think of the Los Angeles coastline, images of a glistering Ferris Wheel at the Santa Monica Pier, over-tanned men pumping iron at Muscle Beach and local surfers hanging ten come to mind. But, now the tourists and locals can both add, "The Annenberg Community Beach House," to their coastline icons.

Officially opened to the public on Saturday, April 25, the long awaited community beach house made a splash with their grand opening. Their ornate marble and tiled pool showcased with a "First Splash" performance by the "O" cast of Cirque de Soleil and performances by young synchronizing swimmers.

Families gathered to dance and peruse the site while summer tunes like the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby" resonated throughout the 5 acre lot. There were even Cirque de Soleil girls in giant beach balls in the pool.

Hard to imagine? Think about the 2001 movie "Bubble Boy" but on water. The beach house also played host to face painted stilt walkers, ballroom dancing, storytellers, power volleyball exhibitions, hula dancers, extreme kite flying, wind and gravity defying sandcastles and free bike valet for all the cyclists.

This full blown extravaganza seemed appropriate though since the long awaited project is officially proclaimed the first run public beach house of its kind on the California coast. Sparking enthusiasm with the public, the Annenberg Foundations said the five acre beach facility will provide "public access to a beautiful, multi-faceted facility offering swimming (both pool and beach), volleyball and beach tennis courts, children's play areas, event and meeting spaces, classes and other recreational opportunities."

However, this beachfront property has gone through a whirlwind of transitions before becoming what it is today.

The Annenberg site sits on the property once purchased in the late 1920's by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst for silent film actress Marion Davies. Dubbed the biggest house on the beach and designed by America's first prominent woman architect, Julia Morgan, the 118 room mansion was home to socialite gatherings hosted by the vivacious Davies - with guests like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant and Charlie Chaplin.

When Davies stopped making movies in 1937, the house was then sold to Joseph Drown in 1947 and ran as the "Oceanhouse" hotel. After this venture failed and Drown inexplicably demolished the 118 room mansion, the State of California then purchased the lot in 1959. For the next thirty years, the lot served as a popular private beach facility called "The Sand & Sea Club." For a short period of time, the club also doubled as a shooting location for the hit TV show"Beverly Hills 90210."

Yet disaster struck "The Sand & Sea Club" when the 1994 Northridge Earthquake damaged the facilities, which by then was owned by the City of Santa Monica because of an expiration on the club's lease. The only remnants of the club were the guesthouse and one swimming pool, which was red-tagged and wrapped around chain link fencing. For the next decade that followed, the once glamorous and alluring spot on the beach was reduced to a decrepit victim of neglect and a perfect proponent for a major transition. Step in TV Guide heiress and philanthropist: Wallis Annenberg!

Wallis Annenberg of the Annenberg Foundation learned about the City's struggle to accumulate funding for a year round public beach facility. Annenberg recalled her fond memories and personal connection to past facility "The Sand & Sea Club" and felt compelled to help. With a generous grant of $27.5 million, the Annenburg Foundation paved the way for the sites reconstruction and repair.

Today hundreds of visitors and community activists who fought area homeowners threatening to block the club in court, can marvel at the creation of what was once a Hollywood glamour spot.

The community beach house now provides an entry pavilion, pool house, volleyball and tennis courts, public art and the Back on the Beach Café. Designed to encourage people to further observe the under-explored north side of the Santa Monica Pier, the community beach house allows people to witness the natural beauty of the Santa Monica Pier but without the bustling shoppers from the Third Street Promenade.

Stating that he was truly grateful for Annnberg's commitment, City Manager Lamont Ewell labeled the new beach club as "the crown jewel of Santa Monica." And everyone can easily preview this "jewel" located directly adjacent to the South Bay Bike Trail where there is ample bike parking, several footbridges crossing over PCH to connect Palisades Park to the South Bay Bike Trail and even reservations for on-site parking.

Pool passes are $4 for children, $5 for seniors, $10 for adults - or $24 for a family pass (2 kids, 2 adults) and no membership is required.