The Annenberg Community Beach House at Santa Monica State Beach is a public beach facility built on the location of a now-demolished 110-room mansion that was built for Marion Davies by William Randolph Hearst. The mansion's original pool was restored by the Annenberg Foundation and opened to the public on a fee for entry basis in 2009. The pool is trimmed in tile and has a marble deck. The mansion's original guest house also still exists and is used for events. New facilities include a pool house with changing areas and a second floor view deck, a new event house, a splash pad, gardens, beach volleyball/tennis courts, a children's play area, public restrooms, beach rentals, and a cafe.
The site of the Beach House was a hot spot on Santa Monica's Gold Coast in the 1930s and 1940s, as William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies entertained Hollywood's rich and famous at Davies' 5-acre (20,000 m2) estate. The property boasted a 110-room Georgian Revival mansion designed by William Edward Flannery, tennis courts, guest houses, and an ornate swimming pool complete with marble deck and staircases.
After Davies sold the estate in 1946, it was operated as 'Oceanhouse,' a luxury hotel and limited-membership beach club. Prior to being sold to the State of California is 1959, the main mansion was demolished. The Sand & Sea Club continued until the City of Santa Monica took over operation of the site in 1989. It was run as a public facility open to event rental and filming until the 1994 Northridge earthquake severely damaged all structures on site.
After the earthquake, the City of Santa Monica conducted an extensive community process to re-envision the role of the site as an important community gathering space. The resulting reuse plan called for a facility with a 'light touch' on its surroundings and one that would encourage a diverse group of users. The project sat on hold while the City sought funding.
In 2005, the Annenberg Foundation, at the recommendation of Wallis Annenberg, made a generous financial commitment to realize the City's vision and preserve the site for public use. The Annenberg Community Beach House at Santa Monica State Beach opened to the public on April 25, 2009, representing a unique partnership between the Annenberg Foundation, California State Parks and the City of Santa Monica. The total construction costs were roughly $30 million. Local residents succeeded in forcing the city to significantly limit its hours of operation.
Developed as a Design-Build partnership between Frederick Fisher and Partners Architects and Charles Pankow Builders, The Annenberg Community Beach House was conceived as a series of indoor/outdoor recreation and event spaces, both formal and informal, woven through the site. The primary organizing device is a concrete wall that serves a backbone to the disparate elements of the project and as a sound buffer to the adjacent highway. The wall is subtly stained with green stripes to suggest beach awnings. The new buildings and landscape elements of the project were designed to create a public gateway to the beach, an icon for the site's history and a framework for many kinds of community uses, returning the site to its former status as a landmark for the City and southern California.
The new entry to the facility exists at its southern end with public parking and public transportation drop off areas. A high trellis frames the entrance on a boardwalk that runs the length of the site, parallel to the water, at the line of the mean high tide when the estate was developed. After the Santa Monica Pier was built, the mean high tide line has shifted to enlarge the beach by four hundred feet. This boardwalk is an index of the gradual changes in nature and is a link to each of the four main areas of the site: the Entrance, the Pool and Pool House, the Event House, and the Guest House. The entrance is flanked by the pre-existing “Back on the Beach” restaurant and public restrooms and showers on one side and the reception, ticketing and lifeguard building on the other. A shaded children’s play area and restaurant take-out window are just past the entrance on the beach.
The historic pool and deck area, with restored tile mosaics and stone paving, is within a landscaped enclosure below the beach level. Facing the pool is a freestanding white colonnade that defines the location and scale of the mansion’s façade. The footprint of the huge structure is delineated on the parking lot behind the Pool House. Behind the colonnade, a series of 14 concrete pillars, each 30 feet high, is the new Pool House with changing rooms, restrooms and built-in cabana areas lined with wood stained in colors taken from the pool tile. On the second floor is a glass-enclosed event room and open terrace that overlooks the pool, with views along the coast from the Santa Monica Pier to the Santa Monica Mountains and back to Palisades Park.
Midway along the boardwalk, at the center line of the old mansion, a second boardwalk facilitates accessibility across the deep beach to the water’s edge. Continuing north, the boardwalk passes beach volleyball courts that maintain the game’s presence on the site where it was invented. On the inland side of the boardwalk north of the pool is a series of ground level terraces framed with landscape. These areas include a children’s play area with a water feature and other spaces shaded by palm and melaleuca trees. The Event House contains three rooms of different sizes, two with fireplaces, for community use.
The Boardwalk terminates at the north parking lot. Beach activities are supported by a small building that supplies umbrellas, chairs, boogie boards and other beach paraphernalia. Beach volleyball courts are available for public use as well.
The historic Guest House is the focal point of the sequence of spaces and structures. Carefully restored, the house is set within gardens and terraces that create a series of outdoor rooms. A sculptural installation in front of the house by artist Roy McMakin relates to feelings of tradition and domesticity. A waterfall masks the highway sound in this space between the Guest House and the Event House. The Guest House accommodates community uses and didactic exhibits about the site’s history.
During the summer, the Beach House is open to the public daily from 8:30 am to 8:30 pm, with the pool open from 10 am to 6 pm.
Use of most of the facility is free – guests pay for daily pool passes, parking and to reserve beach volleyball and beach tennis court time.
Pool, parking and other passes can be purchased on line 3 days in advance starting at 6 am. They sell out early for weekend dates. Walk up access may be available but be prepared to wait.