During Harold Lloyd’s 1917 short film, By The Sad Sea Waves, Harold pretends to be a beach life guard in order to impress the ladies. Filmed where David Hasselhoff would film Baywatch many decades later, By The Sad Sea Waves provides a wonderful time capsule view of the Santa Monica pier, and the Looff Carousel and Hippodrome, still in use after nearly 100 years. (The film title is a play on words of “by the glad sea waves,” a somewhat obscure figure of speech at the time.) Built in 1916, the distinctive carousel served as an important location for the 1973 Best Picture The Sting, and is Santa Monica’s first National Historic Landmark.
Leisure time and disposable income were in short supply at the turn of the prior century, but as the working class began earning higher wages, and receiving both Saturdays and Sundays off from work, a need arose for local and inexpensive pastimes, and beachfront amusement parks provided welcome entertainment. After saving their nickels, factory workers and office clerks could hop on the trolley and lose themselves for a day at the beach. Many Southern California beach communities had amusement park piers during the silent-film era, and as I explain in great detail in my book Silent Visions, Lloyd filmed at nearly every one of them.
The above photo, taken from Palisades Park overlooking the ocean in Santa Monica, looks south towards the Santa Monica Pier, and shows where most of the scenes from the movie were filmed (left). The blue line marks the stairway and pedestrian bridge leading down from Palisades Park to the beach. Though now rebuilt with cement, the bridge still stands in the same spot, across from the bluff-top terminus of Arizona Avenue. The yellow box marks the former apartment house at 1255 Ocean Front, once the northernmost structure along the cement promenade leading from the pier. You can see the terminus of the promenade in the background of several scenes.
At the time of filming, most Los Angelenos would arrive at the beach by trolley, wearing suits and ties, and other formal street clothes. They would then rent heavy wool bathing suits from one of the numerous bath houses along the coast, changing either at the bath house, or at small beach dressing rooms available for rent, such as the Palace Bathing Car rooms pictured here, marked by yellow boxes.
Below, a view of the Santa Monica Pier today, with the only original structure, the Looff Carousel, at the upper right. Left-click on the photo, and move it around to see the neighboring beach and bluffs.
The movie concludes as Harold and recent conquest Bebe Daniels ride off into the sunset aboard the Venice Miniature Railway (see below), a popular beachside attraction that once operated about two miles south of Santa Monica. Harold used the same railway to conclude his short comedy Number Please? (1920), only in this film Harold loses the girl, and rides off all alone.
The Venice of America beach resort, pictured below, was built on reclaimed marshland by developer Abbot Kinney starting in 1904. The planned community was situated on eight miles of man-made canals, radiating from a large central lagoon that featured real gondolas and gondoliers imported from Italy, and a two-block business district noted for its covered arched walkways and Venetian Renaissance architecture. Today the lagoon and most of the canals have been paved over, and most of the buildings have been streamlined or demolished. Venice was also home to the former Abbot Kinney amusement pier that appears in several Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd comedies.
Kinney installed the Venice Miniature Rail Road (V.M.R.R.) in 1905, as both a tourist attraction and as a means to escort potential home builders and buyers to look at the subdivided parcels he was promoting. The train was very popular for its time, but it interfered with traffic, and was shut down in 1925 when Venice was incorporated into Los Angeles.
The YouTube site below is an early silent Century Comedy Kids comedy, copying the Our Gang format, that has amazing historical footage of the railway in action – you can even see the letters V.M.R.R. on the side of the cab. At 8:55 marks the corner of Market Street and Riviera, depicted directly below. The main intersection of Windward and Pacific, pictured further below, appears at the 8:18 and 14:34 marks in the video.
Below, the same Venice corner at Windward Avenue and Pacific Avenue today. The corner building on the right has had the top floor removed.
HAROLD LLOYD images and the names of Mr. Lloyd’s films are all trademarks and/or service marks of Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. Images and movie frame images reproduced courtesy of The Harold Lloyd Trust and Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc.