Carousel Park, Santa Monica, CA

Carousel Park Designated a Local Landmark

On September 13, 2018, the City of Santa Monica Landmarks Commission officially designated Carousel Park a local Landmark. Located just east of the Santa Monica Pier and named for the antique carousel displayed at its entrance, the Postmodernist park was part of a waterfront redevelopment plan that replaced the pier in the mid-1980s. TCLF was a co-applicant to the nomination, alongside Chattel, Inc., and the Santa Monica Conservancy. The city-owned park was designated under five of the six possible criteria, recognizing the landscape’s place in the cultural history of the city, the aesthetic value of its design, and the importance of its designers, among other significant benchmarks. Recently threatened with destruction, the park has now become the youngest site on Santa Monica’s extensive list of local Landmarks.

Santa Monica Pier and Carousel Park, CA
Santa Monica Pier and Carousel Park, CA - Photo by Robin Carmichael, 2013

The Santa Monica Conservancy was pleased to partner with Chattel, Inc., and The Cultural Landscape Foundation in this very successful collaboration, which brought an important and underappreciated resource to the attention of the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission and the community. Long considered just an amusing playground, we showed that the Park had much greater significance.

-Carol Lemlein, president of the Santa Monica Conservancy

TCLF enrolled Carousel Park in its Landslide program in April 2018 in response to a Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Assessment (DEIR/EA) issued by the California Department of Transportation and the City of Santa Monica. The assessment presented three alternative plans for replacing the Santa Monica Pier Bridge with a new structure. Two of the three alternatives would have effectively dismantled Carousel Park, which, with the recent Landmark designation, has been afforded a new measure of protection.  

Carousel Park with Santa Monica Pier Bridge in the background, Santa Monica, CA
Carousel Park with Santa Monica Pier Bridge in the background, Santa Monica, CA - Photo courtesy Robert Chattel, 2018

Designed between 1984 and 1987 by the architectural firm Moore Ruble Yudell and landscape architects Campbell & Campbell, the park is frequently credited with contributing to the renaissance of the Santa Monica Pier in the late 1980s. It features a stepped, octagonal entryway with poured-in-place light standards, an enlarged deck around the carousel, a pavilion, and a 5,000-square-foot children’s playground that occupies the southern edge of the site. The playground includes a custom-made concrete ship and a dragon sculpted from river-washed granite boulders. Two large ramps provide access from Ocean Front Walk to the deck of the pier, while, to the south, a large wood-plank amphitheater and stairs give access from the beach to the pier deck, flanked by two octagonal towers that echo architectural elements of the Carousel Building.

The project won several awards, including, in 1987, an official commendation from the mayor of the City of Santa Monica. For his work on Carousel Park, Douglas Campbell received the Award of Excellence from the Southern California chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (1988); the Honor Award from the California Council of the American Institute of Architects (1988); the Honor Award from the Waterfront Center for National Excellence on the Waterfront (1987); and the State of California Department of Rehabilitation Award for Excellence in Barrier-Free Design (1987).