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b_400_400_16777215_00_images_7-23-14travelogue_7-23travelogueopener.jpgBy Jim McCloskey

One of the nicest days I’ve ever spent as publisher of WaterShapes came when I joined editor Eric Herman and our good friend William Rowley on the beach in Santa Monica, Calif., one spring day in 2006.

Bill was working there on the resuscitation of the swimming pool at the old Marion Davies estate.  In the 1920s, she had been William Randolph Hearst’s paramour.  When she wanted a house built on her beachfront property, he brought in his favorite architect, Julia Morgan, to design a gorgeous swimming pool (not to mention  a 100-plus room mansion) on the five-acre plot.

By the time I moved to Santa Monica with my family in 1959, the property’s glory had long since faded.  The mansion had been a hotel for a while, but it was demolished in the mid-1950s.  Part of the compound endured as a beach club where one summer I occasionally helped park cars on busy weekends.   I don’t remember ever seeing the pool, but I suppose if it was still functional in the ’70s that it was a pleasure withheld from mere (non-member) mortals.

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When I first saw the pool, it was completely under cover – but the decking set a context that made me very curious to see what was beneath the plywood.  Rowley had seen what was there, of course, and told us about the marble ladders and tile borders.

Long story short, the property was sold to the state in 1959 and leased back to the club; by the 1990s, the city of Santa Monica had taken over.  The remaining structures were substantially damaged by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and the estate closed down once and for all.  

That day on the beach with Bill and Eric, all that remained was a guest house large enough to be mind-boggling on its own.  The other holdover was the swimming pool and deck, which had been covered with wood framing and plywood to protect it and prevent its becoming a safety hazard.

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The restored pool is now ready for viewing with all its beautiful tile and amazingly durable decking (but minus, unfortunately, the wonderful scrolled-marble tops to the ladders) on display the next time you visit the beach in Santa Monica.

As we wandered around the site, Bill told us what was under the cover and in what great shape it still was, despite decades of neglect.  We published two articles about the restoration project (linked below), but after my 2006 visit, I never went back to the fully restored pool and recreation center, which opened to the public in 2009 – until recently, that is.

The pool is now a key part of the Annenberg Community Beach House, a public facility that includes the original guest house and pool as well as a variety of new recreation and event spaces.  My wife and I were riding by on our bicycles, and we stopped in to have a look around.


To see William Rowley’s preliminary report on the Davies Estate pool restoration, click here.  For an update on the completed project, click here.

-- J.M.

Bill was right about the pool:  It is magnificent in just about every way possible, with vivid, lustrous tile mosaics and all the charm that comes with them.  I could only wish (as I know Bill did and probably still does) that building officials would have let him restore the marble handrails Julia Morgan had designed for the pool:  It would have made the transition from the water’s edge to the wonderfully patterned stone decking a slice of Morgan-authentic perfection.

The pool is only open for swimming during the summer months, but it’s viewable year ’round and well worth a visit.  Afterwards, there’s a lot to do in my adopted home town, but I have to say that dropping in to see Julia Morgan’s pool is on a fast track to becoming my personal favorite.


The photo appearing at the head of this article is courtesy of Santa Monica Historical Society Museum/Bison Archives.

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