While Mod B always has a list as long as her arm at the ready when she’s on vacation, she’s also not averse to “sending up a flare” and asking Retro Roadmap Readers for suggestions of where to go and what to do. And boy does that work out sometimes! We wouldn’t have known about the Camera Obscura in the Santa Monica Senior Center without the tip from you swell folks.
Even though there’s a big ol’ sign on the side of the Santa Monica Senior Center declaring that you’re at the Camera Obscura, we were still a bit hesitant about what to do – but it’s really quite simple. Go into the Senior Center, turn right and ask the nice attendant at the window for the key to the Camera Obscura. You’ll have to trade them your drivers license for it, but don’t worry, you get it back upon returning the key.
Follow the sign up the stairs and let yourself in /
then turn off the light and let the fun begin!
The camera obscura (Latin; camera for “vaulted chamber/room”, obscura for “dark”, together “darkened chamber/room” ) is an optical device that projects an image of its surroundings on a screen.
It is used in drawing and for entertainment, and was one of the inventions that led to photography and the camera.
The device consists of a box or room with a hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside, where it is reproduced, upside-down, but with color and perspective preserved.
While the basis of this technology has been around since ancient times, the Santa Monica Camera Obscura was built in 1898 and was originally located on the boardwalk near the beach (you can see some cool photos of that location here on the Atlas Obscura’s entry for this unusual place to visit.) The city bought it in 1910 and it has been at it’s current location in the mid-century modern Senior Center since 1955.
So how does it work?
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…yes that’s an old ship’s wheel that you use to rotate the mirror housed inside a turret on the roof of the senior center. When you do that you get an upside down “live” reflection of the beach and surrounding area, projected on that white disk.
Now in this day and age of modern gizmos and gadgets this may not seem like a big whoop, but I was fascinated by this ancient technology. Retro Roadhusband and I took turns steering the mirror, while the other one could move around the white circle and see the giant projected image from different angles.
You’re not rushed to get out of there, so take your time and explore the different views, and marvel at this, one of only two Camera Obscuras in the state of California.
And when you realize that this technology has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, the sweet old folks you’ll pass when you return your key will seem positively youthful in comparison!
Camera Obscura at the Santa Monica Senior Recreation Center
1450 Ocean Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90407
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