Bay Street Beach, Santa Monica, CA

Santa Monica’s Bay Street Beach Added to National Register

Patrons at Bay Street Beach, Santa Monica, CA, 1924
Patrons at Bay Street Beach, Santa Monica, CA, 1924 - Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Online Collection

On July 9, 2019, the 53-acre Bay Street Beach Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Located on public trust lands in Santa Monica, California, the beach was a popular leisure destination for the area’s African American community, drawing visitors from the larger region as well.

Although local beaches were not legally segregated, the shoreline was crowded with private, discriminatory beach clubs. Bay Street Beach was thus a haven for the patrons who gathered there, facing comparatively little threat of harassment during the Jim Crow era of discrimination and racial violence. Nicknamed “the Inkwell” by its detractors, a slur referring to the skin color of its visitors, this seaside refuge is a rare, extant example of an African American leisure landscape. The beach was also frequented by Nick Gabaldón (1927-1951), a groundbreaking surfer of African American and Mexican American descent, the first known surfer of color in the Santa Monica Bay area. A monument celebrating Gabaldón was installed at the corner of Bay Street and Oceanfront Walk in February 2008.

With a Period of Significance from 1908 to 1965, the historic district includes four contributing resources: three sites—an open, grassy area in Crescent Bay Park; the beach area; and a nearshore area—and one structure, a pergola built in 1911. The 14.5-acre beach stretches between Vicente Terrace and Bicknell Avenue, just southwest of the Phillips Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church. Moved to its current location in 1908, the church is Santa Monica’s oldest African American house of worship and was another physical anchor of the community.

Lower portion of Crescent Bay Park and its pergola
Lower portion of Crescent Bay Park and its pergola - Photo courtesy The Sea of Clouds Project, 2019

Along with a host of other organizations and individuals, TCLF formally supported the nomination in writing, noting that African American landscapes tend to be far more susceptible to loss from natural phenomena, such as flooding, and have frequently fallen victim to misguided municipal programs, including urban renewal. In fact, of the 94,364 properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, only an estimated eight percent of the listings represent sites of special significance to communities of color and/or women.

Further information on the Bay Street Beach Historic District, along with an updated schedule of community events, can be found on the website of Sea of Clouds, a non-profit organization that promotes the stewardship and conservation of historical coastal places. A dedication ceremony celebrating the National Register listing will be scheduled for Summer 2020.