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Santa Monica in the 1960s: A Journey of Cultural Transformation

Santa Monica, nestled along the idyllic shores of Southern California, has a rich and vibrant history. In the 1960s, this beachfront city underwent a profound cultural transformation, becoming a symbol of the counterculture movement, social activism, and artistic expression. Let’s explore the multifaceted history of Santa Monica during this pivotal decade, highlighting the key events and factors that shaped its identity.

Santa Monica's proximity to the Pacific Ocean made it an epicenter of beach culture in the 1960s. Surfing emerged as a popular pastime, capturing the imaginations of locals and visitors alike. The city's coastline attracted surfers from all walks of life, drawn to the exhilarating waves and laid-back lifestyle. The emergence of influential surfboard shapers and the establishment of iconic surf spots, such as Malibu's Surfrider Beach, solidified Santa Monica's reputation as a surf mecca.

Santa Monica became a haven for writers and intellectuals, playing a significant role in the Beat Generation movement of the 1960s. Writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac frequented the city's cafes and bookstores, engaging in intellectual discussions and poetry readings. Santa Monica's bohemian atmosphere provided a nurturing environment for artistic expression and contributed to the vibrant literary scene that thrived during this era.

The 1960s were characterized by widespread social activism and the fight for civil rights, and Santa Monica was no exception. The city became a hotbed of protests, with residents actively advocating for equality and justice. The African American community, in particular, fought against racial discrimination and segregation, organizing demonstrations and rallies to effect change. These efforts laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement, fostering a spirit of activism and resilience within Santa Monica.

Santa Monica's music scene experienced a renaissance in the 1960s, as folk and rock music gained popularity. Legendary musicians such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young performed at venues like The Troubadour and The Ash Grove, captivating audiences with their thought-provoking lyrics and soul-stirring melodies. Santa Monica's music scene served as a catalyst for cultural change and artistic innovation, paving the way for the transformative music movements of the era.

The 1960s witnessed significant architectural shifts in Santa Monica, as urban renewal projects aimed to modernize the cityscape. The construction of iconic buildings like the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and the landmarked Georgian Hotel transformed the city's skyline, reflecting the evolving aesthetics of the era. This era of urban renewal fostered a sense of pride in Santa Monica's unique architectural heritage, blending modernity with the city's rich history.

Santa Monica in the 1960s was a dynamic and transformative period marked by cultural shifts, social activism, and artistic expression. From the influence of beach culture and surfing to the emergence of the Beat Generation literary movement, the city became a hub of creativity, free thought, and cultural revolution. The legacy of this transformative decade continues to shape Santa Monica's identity, reminding us of its rich history and the indelible impact of the 1960s on this coastal oasis.


Two shots of the same block of Third Street in Santa Monica - taken just two years apart.

Pic 1: From 1963 - before the three blocks of Third St. located between Broadway and Wilshire became the pedestrian mall we know today.

Pic 2: From 1965 - taken sometime after the mall's opening on November 8th of that year. Originally called the Santa Monica Mall - it wasn't until its 1989 makeover that it became the Third Street Promenade.

Both photos from the UCLA Archives.

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