Third Street Promenade has been a center of business in Santa Monica since the town’s inception in the late 19th century. The Promenade’s roots date back to the 1960s when three blocks of Third Street were converted into a pedestrian mall. Although successful, by the late 1970s, the Santa Monica Mall (as it was then called), was in need of modernization and a redesign. A new enclosed shopping center, Santa Monica Place (1980–2007), designed by Frank Gehry was added at the Promenade’s southern end. A citywide bond measure was issued and architectural firm ROMA Design Group was hired to redesign Santa Monica Mall. The renamed Third Street Promenade opened on September 16, 1989, and has since become the nationally recognized success that it is today. The project was part of a larger redevelopment effort, encompassing several blocks of Downtown Santa Monica. Santa Monica Place has since been renovated into a new open-air shopping and dining experience that re-opened on August 6, 2010.
Although wildly successful, many long-time local residents of Santa Monica have mixed feelings about the Third Street Promenade, particularly about the homogenized stores and restaurants and the loss of the distinct personality and individuality provided by such independent stores as the Midnight Special Bookstore, present in the original mall. This “clone” aspect makes Third Street Promenade almost indistinguishable from any other outdoor plaza in the Los Angeles area (such as Americana at Brand, Old Town Pasadena, or Universal City Walk). Other points of contention for locals center on the increased traffic along Santa Monica Blvd, Wilshire Blvd. and Arizona Avenue, and over-crowded parking structures. Parking appears to be a continuous issue for the residents and visitors of the Third Street Promenade. Startups such as ParkMe.Inc (a Santa Monica-based technology startup) have launched services to ease this ever-present problem.
The Third Street Promenade has seen a drastic decrease in local businesses in favor of sanitized chains. Larger tenants include Anthropologie, H&M, Barnes & Noble, Urban Outfitters, a three-story Gap, Forever 21, Abercrombie and Fitch, American Apparel, Sephora, Armani Exchange, LUSH Cosmetics, Guess?, Apple, Quiksilver, American Eagle Outfitters and Old Navy. It boasts several theatres, including Mann Theatres, AMC Theatres, and Loews Theatres. Third Street Promenade also hosts the largest and oldest certified organic farmers’ market each Wednesday and Saturday on Arizona Ave. between 2nd and 4th streets.
Street performers and entertainers are a frequent sight on the street. On a typical Saturday night in the summer, singer-songwriters, classical guitar players, magicians, clowns, hip-hop dancers, lounge singers, session drummers, and other artists line up approximately 40 feet 50 feet (15 m) apart from each other all along Third Street.
The Third Street Promenade and Downtown Santa Monica are overseen by Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (formerly Bayside District Corporation), a private non-profit 501(c)(3) that works with the City of Santa Monica to manage services and operations in Downtown Santa Monica that promote economic stability, growth and community life within Downtown Santa Monica.