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Santa Monica Conservancy Offers Walk into the Past

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By Jorge Casuso

February 5, 2018 -- On Saturday mornings, history buffs can gather outside Santa Monica's oldest building -- a defunct shoe-box saloon -- and for the next two hours walk into the beach city's past.

The six-block tour offered by the Santa Monica Conservancy explores more than 130 years of the city's history "from its Wild West frontier beginnings to the sophisticated metropolis of today," tour organizers said.

Along they way, the tour stops to take in architectural gems that once housed speakeasys, hosted silent screen stars, inspired literary masters and offered a rock icon his first public stage.

It all starts at the Rapp Saloon, a small brick box at 1436 Second Street. Built when the City was founded in 1875, it soon became a popular watering hole for workers and actors in Santa Monica's fledgling silent movie studios, who gathered to drink Los Angeles brewed beer.

Down the block at 221-225 Santa Monica Boulevard is the imposing clock-topped Bay Cities Guaranty Building, a 12-story art deco treasure that was built as a savings and loan the year the stock market crashed.

Other highlights of the tour include the Keller Block Building at 227 Broadway, built of brick and stone in 1893 in the Romanesque Revival style and once the City's largest building.

A couple blocks east, the Lido Hotel Apartments on the corner of Broadway and 4th Street marked the eastward expansion of the Downtown when the Art Deco brick building replaced wood frame houses in 1931. The building features Egyptian-inspired accents that were all the craze after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922.

On the southeast corner of 4th and Broadway, the Builders Exchange boasts close ties to an American cultural icon who was created inside its elaborately detailed facade.

Cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar, who worked in the Builder's Exchange, based Popeye on Captain Olaf Olsen, a Norwegian sailor who operated the fishing barges in Santa Monica Bay ("Santa Monica Pier Seeks Volunteer Docents for Historical Tours," April 20, 2017).

Another cultural legend, Stan Laurel, half of the immortal comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, lived for years in Suite 203 of the Georgian Hotel, 1415 Ocean Avenue, overlooking Palisades Park, where he was visited by an aspiring comic named Dick Van Dyke ("Postcards From Ocean Avenue: Stan Laurel's Final Years," April 1, 2011).

Before the hotel began drawing Hollywood stars in the 1950s and '60s, it was home to a bootleg-era speakeasy that was a hangout for the likes of Bugsy Siegel and Al Capone.

The seedy side of Santa Monica was immortalized by Raymond Chandler, the celebrated master of noir, who set a series of short stories in “Bay City,” a shabby gambling burg that was heavy on speakeasies and debauchery and light on police scrutiny ("Strolling Through Raymond Chandler's Santa Monica," March 8, 2012).

A quarter century later, Legendary rock singer Jim Morrison is said to have first sang on stage at Turkey Joint West -- today's Ye Olde Kings Head -- summoned from the audience to belt out a rowdy rendition of "Louie Louie" with the band that would become The Doors.

The tour is the result of painstaking research by Conservancy officials, who
along with a small army of volunteers, combed City and County building and property records, scoured old phone books and newspapers and sorted through the Santa Monica Historical Society's vast photo collection

The guided tours take place every Saturday at 10 am. Participants gather at 9:45 a.m. at Hostelling International, 1436 Second Street (between Broadway and Santa Monica Boulevard). Reservations are suggested.

Group or private tours may be booked by leaving a message at 310-496-3146 or sending an email to at least two weeks in advance.

Self-guided Tour booklets with maps and information about 24 historic sites are available for $3 at the following Santa Monica Travel and Tourism sites: Main Visitors Center (2427 Main Street), Visitor Information Cart (1300 block of Third Street Promenade), and the Palisades Park Kiosk (1400 Ocean Avenue).


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