Remembering Marineland (Or Not)

I don’t remember much about Marineland of the Pacific. It was an ocean park/aquarium like Sea World that operated near Los Angeles for several decades, closing in 1987. I know I visited at least once, with my grandparents, but all I remember is:

  1. The view from what I assume was Palos Verdes Drive, as the car crested a low summit, brown hills rising to the right and falling gently toward the ocean on the left. The park stood on a promontory jutting out into the ocean. I haven’t been able to locate the spot, but that could just mean the road’s been moved.*
  2. A sign saying “CAFE” visible from the parking lot, which I misread as rhyming with “safe.” (Evidently I was very young at the time.)
  3. That’s about it.

You’d think I’d remember the sea life at least a little, though I suppose it’s possible I’ve misattributed some memories to Sea World (which, come to think of it, I don’t remember super-well either).

Not much of Marineland remains aside from a few names at Terranea Resort, which now occupies the site. But a piece of that history is coming back. In 2014, a 35-foot whale statue from the park entrance was found in a maintenance yard. The city has approved plans to place the statue at Point Vicente Park just up the road.

Apparently the decline and closure of the park was rather sordid: HBJ, the textbook company that owned Sea World at the time, had tried to buy Marineland’s star orcas. They weren’t selling. So HBJ bought the park in December 1986. Late in January, they secretly loaded Orky and Corky onto trucks in the middle of the night and drove them down to San Diego. A week later, they announced the park would close in March. They shut it down halfway through February, and by May they’d sold off the property to a real estate developer. Plans for a conference center were never realized, and the site was abandoned for 20 years until construction began on Terranea.

*Update: My dad pointed me to the Wikipedia article, which led me to a post at Modern Day Ruins, which led me to the California Coastal Records collection of aerial photographs. I found one from 1986 that indicates that Rancho Palos Verdes Drive is in the same spot as it was back then, but the housing developments on either side to the east of the turnoff weren’t there at the time. That’s probably why I didn’t recognize it. Or the road I remember could be the one down to the parking lot.

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