There was a time when the Third Street Promenade was not the Third Street Promenade. Decades ago, Third Street was a functioning road like any other in Santa Monica. Vehicles were able to travel up and down the street. Pedestrians stuck to the sidewalk. Though vehicular traffic on Third Street vanished well before the creation of a downtown pedestrian mall, the area was nowhere near as commercial as it has become in the 25 years since the Promenade became, well, the Promenade.
Kathleen Rawson, the CEO of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., remembered back to when she worked at the Holiday Inn at Colorado and Second and how difficult it was to sell rooms. Back then the Third Street Promenade did not exist.
There was a Woolworth on Third Street, as well as a Jewelry Mart where the ShopHouse currently stands at the southeast corner of Third Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.
“We had some people coming to Santa Monica, but it was a real limited marketplace,” she said, adding while hotel rooms could go for $200 per night in the area surrounding the Promenade, during her days at the Holiday Inn in the late 1980s she would be lucky to sell rooms in the $60 to $65 range.
When the Third Street Promenade took its current form as a pedestrian mall in 1989 and restaurants, retail shops, and movie theaters came to the commercial district just a few blocks east of the ocean, Rawson said there was a transformative shift for the better.
“The Third Street Promenade itself was a turning point for a community as a whole. There was actually something to sell in Santa Monica,” Rawson stated. “A lot of people say Third Street Promenade and Downtown Santa Monica is successful because of its location. Well in 1998, when I came here, it was exactly the same place.”
Former Santa Monica mayor Denny Zane said the Promenade birthed during an era of tear-down and re-build. When the right majority came aboard the Santa Monica City Council in the mid-1980s, the Third Street Development Corp. began to take form. The group, he said, took a chance on developing a commercial district that did not exist anywhere else in the Los Angeles region.
During the planning stages, there was some local opposition. Movie theater operators, for example, were looking to build cinema houses at various locations across Santa Monica. Yet, the council decided to only allow movie theaters to be built on the Third Street Promenade – and so they came.
There was also the concept of outdoor dining. Zane said despite ideal weather conditions in the Southern California region, outdoor dining really did not exist in Santa Monica or the Westside. Adding outdoor dining to the Promenade certainly helped make the commercial district appealing to visitors, Zane believed.
Another element planners looked at in the 1980s was the Farmers Market. Zane stated the “original” Farmers Market was established at the Third Street Promenade and set the precedent for dozens, if not hundreds, like it.
An international competition added the public art element of the Promenade.
“The Promenade was almost an immediate hit,” Zane said. “Believe me, that was a big surprise to a lot of people, including us. We were doing something here that had not been done anywhere in America.”
Come September, the Third Street Promenade will celebrate 25 years of existence as a thriving pedestrian mall where hundreds of thousands of people regularly visit the districts many restaurants, cinemas, and retailers.
Santa Monica Place, which reopened as an “upscale” mall in 2010, has added a more modern element to the southern base of the Third Street Promenade. Within the next few years, ArcLight Cinemas will open not one but two movie theaters within walking distance of the Third Street Promenade: one will be inside Santa Monica Place and the other less than a mile away on Fourth Street.
Before those movie houses arrive, Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., will commemorate the Third Street Promenade’s silver jubilee with a series of events, including Picnic on the Promenade and Cinema on the Street.
The Picnic on the Promenade launches today, May 16 and is held Fridays from noon to 3 pm where Third Street meets Arizona Avenue.
“Field of Dreams,” which stars Kevin Costner and released in theaters the same year the Third Street Promenade debuted, will kick off the Cinema on the Street on July 11.
For more information about the Third Street Promenade, visit the Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., website at www.downtownsm.com.