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The Prince of Playa Del Rey-1905, C.M. Pierce And The LAP Balloon Route

Charles Merrrit Pierce
Charles Merrrit Pierce

After the plans to develop a deep-water seaport at Port Ballona were abandoned, the Santa Fe Railroad pulled up the tracks that were to service the anticipated commerce. By the late 1800’s, Port Ballona was not much more than a refuge for duck hunters and land squatters and a dot on the map located near the prosperous town of Inglewood.

The brains behind the development of the harbor; the Father of Port Ballona, and a new town that would be built surrounding it, was a man named Moses Langley “M.L.” Wicks. Listed among Wick’s many real estate achievements, were the development or co-development of places such as Glendale, San Dimas, and Temecula, as well as the land where the City Hall of Los Angeles is located. His mansion at 1101 Douglas Street, in Angelino Heights is still standing today.

Unfortunately, his bad luck at Port Ballona didn’t end there, and in 1919 he conked his head on a street car rail after being hit by a car at Hollywood and Vine, and he soon expired.

Meanwhile, back at Port Ballona, at one time the jewel in the Rancho La Ballona crown, a group of well-heeled developers saw an opportunity in investing in the area, and in 1902 renamed it Playa del Rey, California. Streetcar tracks were laid to the new town, and the defunct harbor was transformed into a tourist lagoon, complete with boat races and a huge pavilion, which hosted everything from silent films to bowling and roller-skating.

Eager Angelinos who were looking to build vacation homes at the seashore, purchased almost 100 residential lots. Along with the other new development at nearby Venice, CA, the area became known as a world famous vacation spot, and was visited by thousands of people a week. It was said that an almost circus atmosphere existed in the region. Camel and elephant rides were a feature on the sands.

Managing the streetcar loads of tourists, as well as the Amusements at Playa Del Rey, a great promoter by the name of C.M. Pierce, kept the folks coming in droves. Two hotels were erected, and with the advent of the new modern invention; the automobile, and a new road; Speedway Boulevard (Culver Blvd.), erected by the Automobile Club and traversing the distance from Downtown Los Angeles to the sea, the new town of Playa del Rey appeared to be well established.

Pierce served the hungry crowds fried chicken or fish dinners and steak barbecues. Fishing tournaments were held on the new Playa Del Rey fishing pier, which also served as the streetcar gateway for trains heading south to Redondo Beach, and north to Santa Monica. In 1906, the pavilion held a classroom for the first school in the area. The Playa del Rey School boasted 26 students and a library, with Mr. H. S. Davis, Custodian.

In 1905, Pierce invited over 300 orphan children; residents at the Guardian Angel and Boyle Heights orphanages; both Catholic organizations, for trolley rides to the beach. He also operated a steamer trip to San Diego, charging five dollars the round trip including berth and meals, and ran many other similar operations all over California and even into Mexico.

Unfortunately, the tourist developments were not to last long. By 1916, most of the buildings; hotels and pier, burned down and were washed into the sea, although “the residents of Santa Monica were grateful for the firewood.”


CHARLES MERRITT “C.M.” PIERCE. Pierce was the operator of the Los Angeles Pacific Balloon Route Excursion trolley cars, and the Amusements at Playa Del Rey. From a 1955 interview of Mr. Pierce; “I leased this pavilion from LAP and paid the company 10% of what I took in. I put in a good cook and fixed up the dining room and did a good business. We also gave them boat rides in the lagoon and made our larger skating rink available at a small fee.” (Photograph-about 1905; Courtesy, The Day The Circus Came to Town; Playa Del Rey-1925, Author, soon to be released).

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