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Santa Monica Pier Showcased in Screen Disaster Again

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By Jorge Casuso

September 30, 2019 -- Ever since Charlie Chaplin filmed “Tillie’s Punctured Romance” in 1914 at the Santa Monica Pier, the iconic structure has been showcased on the small and large screen nearly a hundred times.

On Monday night, it was once again the star of the show when a tsunami sent the 110-year old wooden structure toppling into the Pacific Ocean in Episode 2 of the third season of 9-1-1 on FOX.

"We think we're quite possibly the most filmed destination like this in the country," said Nathan Smithson the director of marketing for Pacific Park.

Pacific Park roller coaster in 9-1-1 episode
Pacific Park roller coaster in 9-1-1 episode (Courtesy of FOX)

"It seems Hollywood blows up the Pier every year," Smithson said. "Last year it was the aliens in Pacific rim, this year it's a tsunami.

"Given the proximity to Hollywood, it makes sense."

For Monday night's episode of the television disaster drama, producers recreated the Pier and surrounding Santa Monica streets in the same giant water tanks in Mexico used to film scenes for the blockbuster film "Titanic."

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“We actually built the Ferris wheel from the Santa Monica Pier in the water tanks on the ocean in Mexico,” executive producer Tim Minear told TheWrap last week.

“So we see our character climbing up a Ferris wheel with people stuck in it and sticking out of the ocean. That’s real and that’s our people climbing the Ferris wheel that we built.

"And you just can’t beat doing things practically if you can.”

The set faithfully recreates Pacific Park, along with its solar powered-Ferris wheel, which is torn off by the tsunami and rolls down the pier.

Amusement park officials, who declined to participate in the filming of the disaster episode, were impressed by the set's authenticity.

"We assumed they would fly helicopters over the pier and just do it with the computer," Smithson said.

Instead, the show faithfully recreates the 85-foot-tall Ferris wheel, including the gondolas, which were painted the same colors as the originals.

"It's pretty cool that they went to the lengths to recreate that," Smithson said. "It looks from the stills I've seen they paid a lot of attention to detail."

The Pier has been the setting for scenes in 43 films and 42 episodes of major television shows, according to the Pacific Park's website.

They include Academy Award-winning films such as 1973's "The Sting," which was set in Chicago but featured the Pier’s carousel and Looff Hippodrome, and "Forrest Gump."

In addition to being destroyed by an alien kaiju monster in last year's "Pacific Rim Uprising," the Santa Monica Pier has been the subject of other famous film disasters.

In the 2013 film "Sharknado," the pier is demolished by a run-away Ferris wheel after it is knocked free by a tornado full of live sharks.

The Ferris wheel eventually slashes through the iconic Santa Monica Pier sign and crashes into the side of the Wyndham Hotel across the street (click here for clip).

The scene is a tribute of sorts to the 1979 movie "1941," where the Ferris wheel dislodges and rolls across the pier toppling into the ocean (click here for clip).

"We like it when Hollywood comes to our door and wants to film," said Smithson. "It's kind of neat for people to see the Hollywood machine in action."

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