Like the sand castles being built in the competition on the beach a few yards away, Santa Monica‘s new Annenberg Community Beach House, which held its grand opening last Saturday, is spectacular-looking and largely useless. To take the analogy further, the grand opening also featured free flavored ice cooler snacks that tasted sweet but had little nutritional value, and Cirque du Soleil performers walking on stilts and wearing wispy costumes.
The Beach House facility cost almost $35 million, of which $27.5 million came from the Annenberg Foundation. The remaining money, according to the Foundation, is from an “innovative public/private partnership between the Annenberg Foundation, California State Parks and the City of Santa Monica, with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Preserve America Program.” The “Preserve America” portion apparently pertains to the former Marion Davies house that is part of the facility, and which was open for tours on Saturday. The Beach House is made with first-rate materials, such as wood, steel, glass, and concrete. It’s clean, modern-looking, and beautiful. I just can’t figure out what it does.
The two-level Beach House has a pool, but it’s a narrow lap pool suitable for maybe 4 swimmers at a time. There are changing rooms inside, as well as a volleyball and tennis court outside, and an observation deck on the second floor. The Beach House also sports several good-sized “event” rooms suitable for parties, classes, and art exhibits. It also has at least 4 really nice bathrooms. It is open to the public, and no membership card, i.d. card, or fee is needed to get in the door (although use of the pool requires a modest fee).
But the Beach House is, surprisingly, not designed to be a low-cost alternative to the pricey beach clubs nearby. Specifically, it provides no beach chairs, chaise lounges, umbrellas, or canopies for people to use when they actually go to the beach. So I guess the Annenberg Community Beach House will be primarily a party rental space, and a much fancier place to take a crap than the bathrooms located on the beach nearby.
I know this sounds perhaps unduly harsh, and the Annenberg Foundation can spend its money any way it wants. Perhaps the public will find the Beach House really valuable. But I can’t help thinking: couldn’t the governments of Santa Monica, the State of California, and the United States of America figure out something more useful on which to spend $7 million than a beachfront birthday party rental facility? How about better public transportation? Feeding and sheltering the homeless? Environmental initiatives? Cleaning up the filthy Santa Monica Bay? Or here’s a radical idea: how about just returning that $7 million to the taxpayers?