Remembered as the most important gathering place for African American beachgoers in Los Angeles, the Bay Street Beach Historic District comprises 53 acres in the Ocean Park neighborhood along the Santa Monica waterfront. Home to Santa Monica’s oldest African American church, established in 1908, Ocean Park had a thriving African American community during the Jim Crow era. Although local beaches were not legally segregated, most of the shoreline was home to discriminatory beach clubs. Bay Street Beach was thus a haven for the African Americans who gathered there, facing comparatively little threat of harassment in a time of discrimination and racial violence. The beach was nicknamed “the Inkwell” by its detractors, a derogatory reference to the skin color of its patrons.
The historic district encompasses a 14.5-acre expanse of beach between Vicente Terrace and Bicknell Avenue, 35.3 acres of adjacent nearshore area, and a 1.2-acre section of Crescent Bay Park. Dating from 1911, the open-top pergola below grassy curving terraces is located near the beginning of a four-mile-long pedestrian promenade Called Ocean Front Walk, the beachfront promenade is paralleled by a curving bicycle path. Jutting out from Bay Street, an accessible 350-foot wooden walkway runs 350-feet towards the ocean. Widened over time by various replenishment projects, the beach offers panoramic views of the city skyline and the crescent-shaped Santa Monica Bay. The beach was also popular with surfers, including the first documented surfer of African American and Mexican American descent, Nick Gabaldón. Dedicated in 2008, a monument at the intersection of Bicknell Avenue and Ocean Front Walk memorializes Gabaldón and the beach’s significance to African American communities in Los Angeles. The Bay Street Beach Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.