I was hanging out in Los Angeles last week with my friend Wendy. The weather was perfect, cinematic Southern California summertime glory, so we wandered over to Santa Monica to go to the Pier. One couldn’t ask for a more perfect afternoon. Seventy-four degrees, cornflower blue skies, beautiful, tan, mostly naked people everywhere, gentle zephyrs softly distracting me from the fact that I was getting a sunburn on my pasty San Francisco skin. It was dreamy.
Several interesting bits of historical Californiana and pop culture intersect at the Santa Monica Pier and beach. It’s the end point of the notorious Route 66, for one. The original Muscle Beach was located at the Pier’s base, before Venice Beach, just a couple miles south, later assumed the title. And more importantly, multiple episodes of Charlie’s Angels, The Incredible Hulk and Three’s Company were filmed there. Oh yeah…and Baywatch.
That scene in Rocky III, where Rocky and Apollo are
frolicking training on the Beach, was shot on Santa Monica beach. The carousel scene in The Sting? Santa Monica Pier. In fact, the carousel is still there, and still in operation (sans bordello). And don’t forget about Lords of Dogtown!
Oh, if you haven’t seen it, Lords of Dogtown is awesome! The acting is passable at best, and Heath Ledger’s bucktooth prosthesis was distracting, but the story is great, and it is set in 1970’s Southern California, which is when/where I grew up, so it really transports me. The astonishing soundtrack alone gets it on my list of perennial faves (along with Pretty In Pink) to tune in to whenever it’s on TBS or WGN as I’m cooking and doing laundry on Sunday afternoon. Plus, you can see Sofia Vergara, before she was well known, make a cameo as an honest-to-goodness Dogtown Chola, as well as Alexis Arquette in drag, of course, twist her ankle and fall off her stilettos trying to get into a limo with Johnny Knoxville, which was clearly not in the script. PS: They were both fabulous.
“Dogtown,” of course, is Santa Monica’s nickname–more specifically, the nickname of the grittier south side of Santa Monica, all the way down to Venice Beach, around where the old P.O.P. (Pacific Ocean Park) Pier was, before it burned down, and where 70’s surf and skateboard culture spawned Zephyr Surfboards’ pro skateboard team, the “Z-Boys”: Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Stacy Peralta, among others, i.e., the Lords of Dogtown. So, strictly speaking, Dogtown proper is a smidge south of the Santa Monica Pier, down the skate/bike path a bit toward Venice Beach.
But, there at the base of the Santa Monica Pier, at the site of the original Muscle Beach, is something far more marvelous than the P.O.P. A holy site, of sorts. A place to which every fiber of my being was drawn, as if by gravitational force, in an unplanned mystical pilgrimage.
I didn’t know why I was being pulled in that direction, down the steps behind the carousel to the sand, as if in a trance. But when I saw it, my arteries vibrated with excitement, and I just…knew. It was the original…Hot Dog On A Stick. The very first one, opened in 1946! Oh yes, gentle friends. It was the place where it all began. To be perfectly honest, I previously had no idea that Hot Dog On a Stick originated at the Santa Monica Pier, but as I stood there, awash in the angelic choir that emanated from the
ancient temple/shipping container-like structure, under the watchful eye of the corndog archangel disguised as a giant pigeon perched on the light fixture over the order window, I had an epiphany (that I immediately confirmed by looking it up on Wikipedia on my iPhone). It was the real deal; the corndog Mecca. So, I did what the devout do, and I got in line to receive my corndog communion.
And it was good.