January 25, 2022 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Santa Monica’s Magical Camera Obscura

120 years of optic wonder at this hidden gem.

By Keldine Hull

In a tower overlooking the pier rests a unique and rare piece of Santa Monica history. Mayor Robert F. Jones created the Camera Obscura in 1898 as a means to attract more people to the growing yet new city of Santa Monica. What began as a tourist attraction grew to become a sacred gem in Santa Monica’s link to its colorful past. 120 years later, located at 1450 Ocean, the Camera Obscura remains in use as part of the Camera Obscura Art Lab, a cultural center that provides a safe place for artistic expression within the community.

Naomi Okuyama, Santa Monica Cultural Affairs Supervisor, reflects on the historical significance of the Camera Obscura. “It was just a really interesting time in the late 19th century when people were very excited about new ways of seeing new perspectives,” Okuyama begins. “Film was already a little bit older, but people were still kind of in the early days of the film industry and the camera was one of those optical devices that people were exploring.”

The Obscura when it was located on the beach in 1898.

As it is today, the camera was open to the public, and attracted people from all over the world. “Mayor Jones charged 10 cents a visit, and it was there for a few years. Soon after he installed it there, he got some interest in bringing it over to what was then called Westlake Park. He brought it over there for about a year, and it came back. It was on the beach for quite a while and then it moved up to its own little shack on the bluff overlooking the beach around 1907. Then in 1955, the current building where it stands now was built and it was moved from that small shack into its own little tower where it’s been faithfully throughout the years.”

Anyone can come see the camera, free of charge, throughout the week. And on a clear day, you can see forever. “You can definitely see to the end of the pier. You can see waves on the shore and then you can see on the other side, Ocean Avenue, people walking by, cars, and things like that. It’s a really interesting optical device,” Okuyama explains. “It’s like stepping into the body of a giant camera. You step into a dark room, let your eyes adjust and see a 360-degree image of what’s outside.” Younger visitors are perhaps the most intrigued by how the camera operates. “A lot of kids are fascinated that it’s a moving picture. They look around to see where the video projector is or where the television is, and there’s nothing like that because it’s completely analog. It’s just light. So that’s kind of what makes it special.”

A family enjoys the Camera Obscura circa mid-century.

In 2013, Santa Monica Cultural Affairs took over the building and embarked on its mission to become an art and cultural center, opening the Camera Obscura Art Lab. “It started with various programs to see what people were interested in doing,” Okuyama continues. “We are a center for all adults, including seniors. It’s kind of unusual because a lot of art and crafts places are for kids, and this is one of the few places that’s really about adult creativity and nurturing your own creative life as an adult.”

The art lab also offers an artist residency program that allows artists to create art while engaging with the public. “We employ local artists to come use part of the building as their studio,” Okuyama explains. “We have working artists who are creating new pieces here and the public can see that happen and interact with them as they’re working. And then the artists share their work with the public every week. You can come by and hang out with a working artist.” The art lab hosts two different artists every 14 weeks for an artistic experience as unique as the artists themselves. “We host two artists at a time and they could be working in really different practices. We might have a choreographer at the same time as we have a painter, or a puppeteer. There’s a lot of variety and a lot of interesting things happening all the time.” Okuyama continues, “One thing that I reiterate with all of our artists is that we want to see what you’re doing. Don’t try and do something that’s not natural to your practice, but also know that people are coming with no previous experience.”

In addition to interacting with working artists, visitors are welcome to participate in classes like watercoloring, poetry, hatmaking and even natural dyeing of fabrics. With a variety of different classes for adults to attend, there’s something for everyone and more than enough creativity to go around. “Every day is a new, exciting adventure because art is always changing, and there’s always something new in its constant conversation with the world,” Okuyama explains. “There’s a sort of open feeling that’s really beautiful. And to be really anchored in the community in this place that has been here beloved for so long is amazing.”

To learn more about classes, visit: http://facebook.com/1450ocean/events

For general information, visit: http://smgov.net/camera

And for those who visit, use #ArtSaMo to share your experience with others.

Related Posts

City Breaks Ground on Water Self-Sufficiency Project

January 24, 2022

January 24, 2022

City Representative Sunny Wang explains what the new improvements to the Arcadia Water Treatment Plant will mean for local residents..Video...

Euro Investment Firm Buys Santa Monica Whole Foods Property for Over $50 Million

January 24, 2022

January 24, 2022

Whole Foods Santa Monica property sold to Deka Group By Dolores Quintana One of Europe’s largest investment firms has purchased...

Preliminary Injunction Granted to Halt Demolition Of Parking Structure 3

January 21, 2022

January 21, 2022

January 24 hearing set following LA Superior Court Judge ruling By Dolores Quintana The Santa Monica Bayside Owners Association’s (SMBOA)...

Westside Home Prices Rising?

January 21, 2022

January 21, 2022

Redfin report shows 11.1 percent increase in median home prices By Dolores Quintana Are Westside home prices rising?  On the...

Film Review: “Don’t Look Up”

January 21, 2022

January 21, 2022

FILM REVIEWDON’T LOOK UPRated R138 MinutesReleased December 24th As with other Adam McKay movies, such as Vice and The Big...

Anti-Vaccine and Mask Rally Coming to Santa Monica This Weekend

January 20, 2022

January 20, 2022

Ocean Avenue protest will draw 300-400 people Saturday By Sam Catanzaro 300-400 people are expected to attend an anti-vaccine and...

Popular Taco Spot Coming to Santa Monica

January 19, 2022

January 19, 2022

Tacos Tu Made opening in former Obica space By Dolores Quintana A popular taco spot is opening its first Santa...

Arrest Made in Murder of Brianna Kupfer

January 19, 2022

January 19, 2022

Shawn Laval Smith in police custody By Sam Catanzaro Police have arrested a man suspected of the murder of Brianna...

Police Say Suspect in Brianna Kupfer Murder Case Has Been Seen in Santa Monica

January 19, 2022

January 19, 2022

UPDATE: Shawn Laval Smith, the suspect responsible for the murder of Brianna Kupfer is in custody, after being located and...

160 Santa Monica City Employees Have Confirmed COVID Infections

January 19, 2022

January 19, 2022

Public Works employees record most cases among workforce By Dolores Quintana Among Santa Monica city employees there are a total...

Effort to Recall LA City Councilmember Mike Bonin Falls Short

January 19, 2022

January 19, 2022

Final tally 1,350 signatures short of required amount  By Dolores Quintana The group that attempted to recall Los Angeles City...

World’s Largest Wildlife Crossing Set to Break Ground

January 18, 2022

January 18, 2022

Crossing over the 101 Freeway set to break ground this spring By Sam Catanzaro The world’s largest wildlife crossing will...

Santa Monica Unified Among Top School Districts in California

January 18, 2022

January 18, 2022

SMMUSD earns high marks in Niche survey By Sam Catanzaro The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) is among the...

Los Angeles Homeless Count Postponed Amid COVID-19 Surge

January 18, 2022

January 18, 2022

LAHSA count to take place February 23 for Westside By Sam Catanzaro On Friday, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority...