Pier into the Past

 

By Wayne Edward Sherwood

Article as appeared in Huntington Beach Magazine, Vol. 1 No. 2

Today, many of the residents of Huntington Beach feel their world famous pier has always been there and in fact, the first pier was built before Huntington Beach was even an official town.

In 1903 The Huntington Beach Company decided to build a pier at the end of Main Street. The pier was constructed completely of wood and extended out into the ocean 1000 feet. By 1909 when Huntington Beach finally incorporated the pier had already become a familiar sight to the citizens of the area.

In the winter of 1912, the first, of several, damaging storms to strike the pier wrecked havoc on the wooden structure, knocking a large portion of it into the Pacific Ocean. But the residents of the growing community were not overly concerned because coincidentally the city council, at the time, was considering a measure to rebuilt the pier. By a popular vote, a $70,000 bond was approved and construction on the new pier began. This time the pier would be built out of concrete and extended to a length of 1350 feet.

When it was dedicated in June of 1914 the Huntington Beach pier entered the record books as the longest, highest and only concrete pleasure pier in the United States.

In 1930, the city once again decided to modify the pier by extending it another 500 feet out in to the waters off the coast of Huntington Beach. When the new construction was completed the pier was now 1850 feet long and a cafe had been built at the far end. However, there was a problem with the new addition: it was four feet lower than the rest of the pier and not well built. In 1933 an earthquake shook the pier hard enough to separate the new addition for the original portion of the pier. In response the city had the separation paved over.

All seemed fine until 1939 when a rare hurricane made it's appearance in the waters off of California. By the time the storm had left, the new addition and the cafe were resting at the bottom of the ocean. Once again the people of Huntington Beach were forced to reconstruct their world famous pier, but work was fast and the pier reopened in 1940.

The next event in the life of the pier was not a storm, but a war. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor shocked the country and changed America forever. Like many cities on the west and east coasts of the United States, Huntington Beach soon found itself in the middle of the war effort.

Shortly after the war started, the U.S. Navy commandeered the pier for military use. The Navy installed a submarine lookout post on the end of the pier. They considered the threat serious enough to place a heavy caliber machine gun near the look out post and there it stayed until the war's end.

After the war the pier was returned to the people of Huntington Beach. Soon the tourist returned to walk the pier, to stop at the cafe at the end and to watch the local fishermen cast their lines into the murky waters beneath the pier. Everything seemed peaceful for almost the next four decades.

In March of 1983, Mother Nature once again decided to play havoc with the pier. As hundreds watched, safely from the shore, the storms and surging sea tore the end of the pier off, sending it and the End Cafe to a watery grave.

By the time the 1983 winter storm season was over, plans were already being made to reconstruct the pier. This time, when the pier was completed, there was a new, two story End Cafe overlooking the calm Pacific.

But the calm did not last long. On Janurary 18, 1988, a large winter storm hit the Huntington Beach coast ripping the new portions of the pier from their pilings, destroying the End Cafe and a large section of the pier. Once again part of the pier disappeared beneath the famous surfing waves of Huntington Beach.

Many people wondered why the recently rebuilt pier had fallen prey to another storm. One of the reason was, when the end of the pier had been rebuilt, the new addition was 8 feet lower than the rest of the pier. This 8 foot difference brought the new section down into the reach of the surging waves.

The city began to look at what was left of the pier and what they found was not good. Decades of exposure to the damp, salt air had taken its toll on the pier. In July of 1988, Fluor/Daniel Consultants, of Irvine, submitted their findings, regarding the structural stability of the pier, to the city. As a result of the study, the pier was declared unsafe and closed on July 12, 1988.

Immediately, action began in an attempt to find funds to rebuild the pier. A local citizens organization, the P.I.E.R (Persons Interested in Expediting Reconstruction) Group was formed to raise money for the reconstruction. The P.I.E.R Group, who's members included Paul Cook, Julie Anello, Ron Shenkman, Diane Baker, Dennis Williams, Daryl Smith, Michael Gifford, Bill Richardson, Bob Traver, Diana Peters, Suzanne Beukema and members of the Huntington Beach city staff, were able to raise over $100,000, by selling T-shirts and other items that had the P.I.E.R Group logo printed on them. Another $92,000 came from the people of Anjo, Japan, Huntington Beach's sister city. In the end, enough money was collect to begin construction of the new pier, which began in October of 1990.

For the next year and a half, local residents and traveler going past the pier watched the work being done and began to eagerly await the opening of their new pier.

The new pier was being erected using a blend of the old and the new. The design of the pier replicates the architectural form of the original 1914 structure, but the materials are definitely from the 1990's. The new concrete pier uses reinforce steel, coated with epoxy, to protect it from the corrosive effect of the damp salt air. In addition the new pier is 13 feet higher than its predecessor, which puts it far above the waves. When the pier was completed it was 1856 feet long, 20 feet longer than the last one.

Finally on July 18, 1992, surrounded by a estimated gathering of over 300,000 people, the new pier was dedicated in a ribbon cutting ceremony during Pierfest 92'. By the end of the day more than 500,000 people had visited the pier. City officials were amazed; never before had so many people been seen at the pier in a single day.

Now the pier approaches its 4 year anniversary and soon a new restaurant will open its doors at the end of the pier. This time the people of Huntington Beach are confident that their pier is going to be around for a long time and with careful management and constant observation, it should stand well into the next millennium.