The Pine Avenue Pier and pavilion, circa 1903. Photo courtesy Long Beach Public Library.

Much as ancient astronomers built towers in order to get closer to the stars and planets, people along coastlines have built piers to get just a little farther out into the ocean.

In Long Beach, piers have been built over and over again. In the early years of the city, before the breakwater was built, storms regularly shortened their lifespans.

The first municipally owned pier on the Pacific coast was the Pine Avenue Pleasure Pier, which opened in the spring of 1893 when the city was only 5 years old. For the time it was a fantastic pier, jutting out 1,700 feet closer to Hawaii and a good 1,000 feet longer than the unspectacular but serviceable Magnolia Avenue Pier, which had been built by the Long Beach Land & Water Co. in 1885.

For 20 years, the old Pleasure Pier served as a pleasant place for fishing, strolling and, with the addition in 1899 of a pavilion, for dancing and music.

But by 1903 the pier had suffered from the ravages of heavy surf and insatiable shipworms and was racking up heavy fees in annual repairs. The city looked for something better to replace it, and the citizenry agreed. A bond issue to pay for a top-notch $100,000 double-deck Pine Avenue Pier was passed that year by a vote of 452 to 14.

There was a spot of trouble during the pier’s construction. A massive storm hit Long Beach on Sept. 5, 1904, with 20-foot waves pounding the shoreline and the unfinished pier, causing $6,000 in damage, but construction went on undeterred, almost as if the builders and the city figured there’d never be another big storm.

The pier opened on Nov. 12, 1904, with a “Pier Day” celebration. A half-mile parade stretched down into the business district on Pine Avenue to Fifth Street. It proceeded along a route decorated with flags and palm fronds tied to telephone poles.

A young woman named Ella Wilson was the event’s Queen of the Sea and rode in a float in a floral nautilus shell and wore an abalone shell crown.

The pier’s entrance was an arch made out of a half-dozen pilings from the old Pleasure Pier, with the pilings bound by ropes and hung with fishnets and a large rusted anchor suspended from the center.

Like every event of note in the young city, everyone showed up, with maybe a few paying attention to the usual speechifying from politicians ranging from mere local trustees all the way up to the California Gov. George Pardee, who opened the gates amid the booming from Navy gunboats hanging just offshore.

The day’s events included yacht races and a huge barbecue followed. A 1,200-foot-long table was constructed on the lower deck of the pier, where 10,000 pounds of meat was barbecued to feed the teeming public—a hungry crowd of some 25,000 people. Fireworks closed out the celebration.

The pier served the city well for three decades while undergoing frequent repairs made necessary by the elements as well as what turned out to be some early shoddy construction flaws. It was nudged aside as the city’s premier pier with the opening of the grand Rainbow Pier in 1931 and had fallen into disrepair.

Then, on Sept. 5, 1934, 30 years to the day after a storm delayed construction on the pier, another onslaught of massive waves pounded the aging Pine Avenue Pier. The pier cracked in the center under the strain, and then one end fell off and the entire structure toppled into the surging ocean. A newspaper account reported “Heavy seas, rising mysteriously at low tide, smashed the Pine Avenue Pier stub into kindling wood destroying 350 feet of the pier. And then staged a tremendous spectacle at high tide at 7 o’clock last evening hurling huge pilings and rafts of driftwood at the central beach and the Rainbow Pier.”

The Rainbow Pier and the Municipal Auditorium in 1935. Photo courtesy Long Beach Public Library.
The Rainbow Pier and the Municipal Auditorium in 1935. Photo courtesy Long Beach Public Library.

The Rainbow Pier, meanwhile, had become the city’s finest pier (and perhaps always will be) until the 1960s when a land reclamation project created the area for the Long Beach Convention Center, the Aquarium of the Pacific and Shoreline Drive. That was soon followed by the opening of the Belmont Pier, the city’s only and longest-lasting pier, in 1967. The pier was rededicated in 2001 as the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier to honor Long Beach area veterans.

Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.