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THE BEST...THE BEAUTIFUL...AND THE BIZARRE | BON VOYEUR
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Santa Monica's Big Brother

April 05, 1998|Sue McAllister

Camera Obscura, an anachronistic amusement tucked inside a seniors' center two blocks from the ever-bustling Third Street Promenade, sweeps you into a dark room where silent images of the passing pageant fall on a circular screen. Leave your driver's license at the front desk for the key to unlock the camera's room; you'll also be unlocking a given moment in Santa Monica life, moments the camera has captured, as of its centennial next year, for 100 years.

The screen, which resembles a kitchen table tilted askew, catches light beaming from a mirror-and-lens combination atop the building. By turning a ship's-captain wheel, the rooftop turret rotates to reveal 360 degrees. It documented, on a recent Sunday, the goings-on at Palisades Park--joggers, stroller-pushers, slumbering bench-dwellers. A woman in a pink top eyes a waiter serving breakfast at Red. Rotating seaward, palm trees wave, the Pacific glistens and sea gulls glide close to the camera, adding streaks of white to a blue-and-green tableau. And the scene's quiet except for the crack of pool balls from the game downstairs.

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