AFM Flashback: Santa Monica Pier Got a Legendary Carousel in 1916

COLLECTION CHRISTOPHEL / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
Robert Redford (left) and Paul Newman in the Looff Hippodrome in the 1973 film 'The Sting.'

The original Looff carousel was sold off a long time ago, but the current merry-go-round, the bureaucratically named Philadelphia Toboggan Co. Carousel #62, was produced by the aforementioned Philadelphia Toboggan Co. in the 1920s and has been in operation inside the hippodrome since 1947.

What is now known as the Santa Monica Pier originally was called the Looff Pleasure Pier. It was erected in 1916, the year the Looff Hippodrome was built. Both were the final works of master carousel builder and amusement park pioneer Charles I.D. Looff.

Born in Germany in 1852, he immigrated to the U.S. in 1870 and started out as a furniture carver. Soon, he was creating masterful wooden horses and state-of-the-art carousels, the first of which was installed at Coney Island in Brooklyn. He moved to Southern California in 1910, and by 1916 his Santa Monica project was well underway. He envisioned a Byzantine/ Moorish-style hippodrome to house his carousel, the most cutting- edge he had ever created. He also erected the Blue Streak Racer, a wooden roller coaster, and two soon-to-be popular thrill rides, The Whip and The Aeroscope. (Looff also built and operated amusement parks and carousels in Santa Cruz, California, and at Ocean Park, Redondo Beach, Venice Beach and Griffith Park in L.A.; the latter’s carousel, still in operation, contributed to Walt Disney’s inspiration for Disneyland.)

The original Looff carousel on the Santa Monica Pier was sold off a long time ago, but the current merry-go-round, the bureaucratically named Philadelphia Toboggan Co. Carousel #62, was produced by the aforementioned Philadelphia Toboggan Co. in the 1920s and has been in operation inside the hippodrome since 1947.

In the 1974 best picture winner The Sting, the hippodrome is where Henry Gondorff, played by Paul Newman, lives and works, operating a carousel with his girlfriend, Billie (Eileen Brennan). But there’s no Pacific Ocean behind it. Rather, the Chicago skyline looms in the background — the handiwork of a matte painting by Oscar-nominated artist Albert Whitlock

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Nov. 6 daily issue at the American Film Market.