Saturday , May 25 2024

Marineland of the Pacific

Grand name, eh? When I was a kid we lived a few miles from Marineland – we used to go pretty often. It was low-keyed, relatively inexpensive, and not nearly the major production Disneyland was. We even rode our bikes out there sometimes.

Then, in the early ’80s, when I started in television, a story on Marineland was my very first to air – I loved that place:

    On the high ocean bluffs once crowned by Marineland of the Pacific, you can almost hear the laughter of tens of thousands of vanished children. The children have disappeared into adults, but moldering Marineland still awaits its own, long-promised metamorphosis into a luxury resort.

    The old “oceanarium,” as it was called, at the southern end of the Palos Verdes Peninsula was ahead of its time. When it opened in 1954, it was the first true destination amusement park in Southern California, predating Disneyland by a year. Its killer whale, dolphin and sea lion shows prefigured the Sea Worlds of today.

    A generation of Southern California children endured the long, inconvenient ride to the remote and spectacular site.

    Their journey was over, their fidgeting rewarded, when they finally caught sight of the 320-foot Skytower soaring into the blue ocean-side sky at the park’s entrance. It meant they’d soon be watching the splashy acrobatics of Orky and Corky the killer whales, petting Bubbles the pilot whale (then badgering their parents to buy stuffed toy models of her), and snorkeling the curved, faux-rocky recesses of Baja Reef amid rainbows of tropical fish.

    Among those children was James York, now 55, who heads the investment group that bought the property for $28 million nine years ago.

    ….In the year of its 50th birthday, Marineland, which closed in 1987, is barely a suggestion of its former self.

    The site of the large complex that housed the whale stadium and underwater feeding shows is now an empty expanse of sandy bluff top pebbled with the droppings of goats, who keep the weeds eaten and the grass clipped.

    “The structural integrity of the big tanks depended on being filled with water, so when they were drained, they were no longer structurally sound,” explained York, who keeps a full-time office at the site.

    Gone also are the walrus, sea otter, harbor seal, penguin and flamingo pools. The Sea Arena, site of the seal circus and porpoise games, also has disappeared with hardly a trace. Bushy trees now grow in the natural bowl-shaped depression once lined by stadium seats.

    Baja Reef still exists, but desiccated vegetation crunches underfoot on the approach to it, and giant twisted palm fronds lie like corpses all around. The curving channel where snorkelers once held sway is dry. Broken pieces of roof tile and other odd detritus have replaced the tropical fish and baby sharks.

    ….For as many as eight months a year, York said, some sort of filming goes on atop the bluffs. Movies that have been shot there include “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Pearl Harbor,” “The Rock” and “Spider-Man.” Marineland also was the location for the MTV shows “Beach House” and “Singled Out.”

    York ticked off the reasons the place is suited for making movies, especially action movies.

    “You can land a helicopter anywhere on the property,” he said. “And they don’t need to use a blue screen for special effects because the sky here is essentially a blue screen. And, of course, there’s the actual ocean right there.”

    The property offers commanding views of Santa Catalina Island and the nearby coastline. Standing on the roof of the old Marineland restaurant, facing due south to Catalina, York traced an arc from east to west.

    “This is one of the few locations, maybe the only one, in California where you can see the sun rise and set over the ocean while standing in the same spot,” he said.

    Small wonder that Lowe Enterprises is planning a $250-million resort there. It is to include a 400-room main hotel, flanked by 150 casitas and 32 resort condominiums, as well as a golf training facility and three practice greens.

    A previous entrepreneur who had hoped to develop the resort acquired all the necessary governmental approvals. Construction is expected to begin in mid-2005 and be completed in 2007.

    ….For a long time, however, the most stirring remnants of Marineland will exist in the memories of the erstwhile children who loved the place.

    “I lived close enough that when I was in junior high school we could just ride our bikes down, me and my friends,” said Carolynn Petru, Rancho Palos Verdes’ assistant city manager. “I’d just go over and over again. I just loved it.” [LA Times]

Hey, that’s what I said.

More on Marineland here.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted,, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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