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The Beach House Story

historic aerial

The Annenberg Community Beach House at Santa Monica State Beach is a public facility located on 5 acres of oceanfront property. The Beach House story is one of evolution from private to public, starting with the development of the property at 415 Pacific Coast Highway as an opulent private estate in the 1920s.

Historic Past

historic ground level

The 5-acre oceanfront site upon which the Annenberg Community Beach House now sits was originally developed during the Gold Coast era of the 1920s by William Randolph Hearst for actress Marion Davies. The Davies estate featured a mansion of 100-plus rooms and an ornate marble swimming pool. As with many Hearst projects, the vision of architect Julia Morgan provided a cohesive grace to the rambling estate. The Beach House was a hot spot on Santa Monica's Gold Coast, with Hearst and Davies entertaining luminaries from the Hollywood set, such as Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Samuel Goldwyn, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable and other stars of the day.

In 1947, Joseph Drown purchased the property from Davies and converted into Oceanhouse, "America's Most Beautiful Hotel," along with the Sand & Sea Club, a limited-membership beach club. After the Oceanhouse venture ended, the main mansion was demolished in 1956. The popular Sand & Sea Club continued to operate.

Becoming the Beach House

The property was sold to the State of California in 1959, continuing to operate as the ever-popular Sand & Sea Club under a concession agreement. In the 1990s, the City of Santa Monica ran the facility, known as '415 PCH,' until the 1994 Northridge Earthquake severely damaged all structures on site.

In recovering from the earthquake, the City embarked on an extensive public input process to re-envision the role of 415 PCH as an important public gathering space. Although a reuse plan was adopted in 1998, the project sat on hold while the City tried to secure funding. Wallis Annenberg of the Annenberg Foundation, held fond memories of visiting the Sand & Sea Club. When she learned of the City's struggle to identify funding to realize its vision for a year-round public beach facility, she enthusiastically offered to help. The Annenberg Foundation provided a $27.5 million grant that paved the way for the site's rehabilitation.

Staff from the Foundation and the City worked with Frederick Fisher Partners, Architects; Charles Pankow Builders; Historic Resources Group; Mia Lehrer & Associates; AdamsMorioka; and Roy McMakin to form the new Beach House. The project involved rehabilitation of the historic Marion Davies Guest House and pool, as well as construction of new recreation and event spaces. Three overarching themes guide the interpretation of the site with our year round cultural programming reflecting those themes.

Three Remarkable Individuals: William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, and Julia Morgan shaped the site's historical legacy.
A Beach Like No Other: The Southern California beach occupies a unique place within the physical and cultural landscape of America.
A Public Place Henceforth: The site of the Beach House has seen an evolution from private ownership to public management and ownership leading to today's universal access.

The Beach House is another step forward in the City of Santa Monica's commitment to sustainability - it has been awarded a Gold LEED rating from the US Green Building Council.


Grounds today

The site opened to the public as the Annenberg Community Beach House on April 25, 2009. The Beach House combines elements of the historic Marion Davies Estate with new amenities to create a truly unique community destination that's open to all - no membership required. With spectacular views, splash pad, children's play area, gallery, historic pool, and Marion Davies Guest House there's something for everyone to enjoy at the Beach House!