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>> Aliso Pier, Laguna Beach — Update [topic: previous/next]
PostPosted: Thu Jun 12, 2008 1:39 pm
Ken Jones


Posts: 9447
Location: California

(Again, Leave the E-Mail messages and reports in or take them out?)

Aliso Beach Fishing Pier—Gone But Not Forgotten

It's gone now, the unique concrete pier with its distinctive diamond-shaped end, a shape designed to compensate and give maximum angling space to the short, 620-foot-long pier. The shape provided access to an inner section of water surrounded by the pier's pilings. Anglers could fish that inner section or, by moving a few feet away, cast out into water away from the pier.

But it's gone, it's history, and it didn't even receive a fitting obsequy. The El Niño spawned storms during the winter of 1998, together with their 20-foot-high waves, cracked more than one-fourth of the concrete pilings on the pier. That damage, combined with on-going corrosion of the inner reinforcing rebar, and lack of county funds, spelled doom for the pier. Initially it was estimated that at least $3 million in repairs might be necessary to make the pier safe. Further evidence of damage to the pier ruled out repair and showed the need for a rebuild. However, the cost of a rebuild, more than $5 million, was simply too much given the county's financial situation following unprecedented damage to its properties during the winters of both '97 and '98 (including floods and landslides). Additional concerns were the county's need to repay $1 billion in bankruptcy debt following the county's 1994 bankruptcy. No money equaled no new pier. Demolition of the pier started in the fall of '98 and the final work on its demolition was completed in March of 1999.

It's truly unfortunate because the pier was both an attractive pier and a good fishing pier. It also was relatively new having been built in 1971. It fronted on a small sandy beach; at the north end of the beach was the mouth of Aliso Creek; to both the north and south were rocky shorelines and tidepool areas. To the south was the South Laguna Beach Marine Life Refuge. Although it hardly seemed to be needed, an artificial reef was built near the pier by the WCB. It seemed to be an ideal area to catch sandy-shore and rocky-area species as well as the pelagic species found in deeper water.

Fishing in the inner section of water yielded the normal sandy-shore species including surfperch, croakers, halibut, sharks and rays (a 175-pound bat ray was caught in August of 1984). Casting out from the pier near the end, where water depth averaged 25 feet, was the best area for pelagics such as bonito, Pacific and Spanish mackerel (jack mackerel), and a few barracuda. Fishing the inside area seemed to offer somewhat better fishing for the rocky-shore species although halibut, a sandy-shore fish, seemed to like the area just inside where the pier started to form the diamond shape. Included in the rocky-shore species were such fish as kelp and sand bass, black seaperch, rubberlip seaperch, white seaperch, sculpin (scorpionfish), sargo, black croaker, opaleye, Catalina blue perch (halfmoon), and even a few sheephead. Lobster and a few crabs were also caught in the inside area.

A negative aspect of the pier was the number of yellow jackets that always seemed to be on the pier (at least during most of my visits). They almost instantly showed up whenever bait was placed on a bait cutting station and would stay there as long as there was any meat for them to eat. This pier and the Gaviota Pier shared the distinction of having the most bothersome yellow jackets.

One visit to this pier was a little disquieting. A juvenescent bacchanal of sorts was taking place out at the end of the pier. A shirty group of young men (a.k.a. yahoos) had roped off two rather lengthy sections of the pier and were heatedly (and drunkenly) letting other fishermen know that they needed all of the space for themselves. Their fastuous manner reminded me of some of those World War II films showing Nazi's calling for more and more living space—lebensraum (well, perhaps that's a little extreme). I was just taking pictures that day and did not stay very long but I am curious if that type of maleficent and egregious behavior was a common occurrence at the pier.

E-Mail Messages: Just a few...

Date: September 21, 2001
To: Pier Fishing In California Message Board
From: Corbinaman1
Subject: Aliso Pier bonito

I grew up near Aliso and still remember my first ever bonito caught there when I was little. I had an old wimpy Zebco pole and was using frozen anchovies for bait on a tiny hook with a bobber. I got a great hit/miss, reeled it in and my hook was ripped in half. So I tied a larger hook on, cast to the same spot and got hit again with some great runs. My drag broke from the runs so my buddy hand lined it in and I got it! It was only about a 2 or 3-pound bonito, but I was stoked! Good memories at Aliso Pier!

Date: November 15, 2001
To: PFIC Message Board
From: pesk21
Subject: Aliso Pier catches—

Rubber dinosaur caught off Aliso pier many yrs ago...it was small clear/pink. I don’t recall if it was hooked in the mouth or not. Pretty sure I still have it somewhere. Also caught a weird animal/plant-like creature off Aliso Pier way back when. It was circular flat (looked a lot like a sand dollar but wasn’t) felt rubbery, was dark in color with some green luminescent spots I think (this was many years ago). Don’t know what it was but it had nearly swallowed my hook. Never seen one since. –abe

Date: July 13, 2002
To: PFIC Message Board
From: frozendog
Subject: Re: What's the most unusual and ugly thing you’ve caught!

Was unfortunate enough to catch a Pacific Lamprey off the Aliso Beach Pier one night. Funky eel-shaped bundle of slime tied up in a knot in my line. Released to scare other fisherfolks. I still miss that pier.

Pier Fishing In California Fish Reports

November 1997—Barbara, at the Seaside Cafe on the foot of the pier, for the 4,372 straight month (slight exaggeration), reports the same old thing—mackerel and jacksmelt together with a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

March 1998—Stacee, at the Seaside Cafe at the front of the pier, says the pier is locked shut. She wasn't sure when the pier would reopen. Anyone know what the problem is?

April 1998—The pier is closed and probably needs to be rebuilt.

May 1998—The pier is closed and probably needs to be rebuilt. Orange County officials are considering their options and trying to figure out where the money will come from.

January 1999—It appears the pier will not be reopened.

Author’s Note. Nothing better portrays the feelings of a pier than the reminisces of someone who grew up on a pier. The following was submitted for the book “Growin' Up A Pier Rat” but also perfectly describes why Aliso was special.

Sentimental journey—Aliso Pier by dompfa ben (Ben Acker).

I've always been one to stay up late. Mom eventually stopped scolding me for being up past my bedtime, when she would discover me reading in the living room at 2:00 A.M. or sitting quietly on the porch in the middle of the night, listening intently to the subtle sounds of the neighborhood and the not-too-distant 210 freeway. Time I got to spend alone with the deafening silence, devoid of the clamor raised by my five younger brothers, was highly valued, and it helped me appreciate the noise, and the laughter, and the arguments that surround siblings.

I took a few moments to enjoy some quiet tonight (it's still early by my standards, but what the heck) and my thoughts drifted to my favorite pier of all time: Aliso Pier. It was shorter and higher than many other piers we fished as kids, but it was a special place for us. Some of my most fond memories of fishing with my dad and brothers were enjoyed at Aliso. And of course, the working power outlet on every light pole afforded us the opportunity to experiment with using shop-lights to attract baitfish, utilize heaters to keep us warm on chilly South Laguna nights, and even play Super Mario Bros. while we waited for sculpin to bite.

Aliso was where we first “discovered” that you don't need an 8 foot rod with 30 lb. test to catch 1 lb. sculpin—you could use a trout rod and it would be more fun. It was where I first learned that zebra perch existed, though to this day, I've never seen them referenced in any fish identification book.

Aliso was where I caught my first halibut, and where I learned how to make bait with a Sabiki—including big walleye perch that would school under the pier. The kelp beds off the end held calicos, sand bass, blue perch, and sheephead. The diamond shaped end of the pier had a spot along the inside rail that would almost always yield sculpin after sculpin, fishing straight down along the piling with a hunk of squid. In all my years of fishing, I can't remember a more reliably productive spot to fish. Five feet either way along the rail would remain untouched...but right there—guaranteed fish. We hardly winced when we'd unknowingly got poked by a sculpin, and our hands would swell up and hurt for a while. I guess we figured getting poked by fish spines hurts for a bit...but it was nothing that a 7-Eleven hot chocolate and a bag of popcorn couldn't fix.

I caught my first lobster on the rocks north of Aliso when I was around 11 years old. It was a short, snagged accidentally and released just as accidentally. I had never realized we had lobsters in SoCal until then. It wasn't for a few more years that I even considered targeting them from piers with hoop nets.

Aliso was well known for its powerful shorebreak and its questionably toxic creek. It seems both led to the demise of the pier, and the concrete and steel structure was demolished in the late 90's, after being damaged by the ocean. Purists and residents seem to like the unobstructed view of the beach as it is without the pier now, and engineers furthered their cause by stating the area is too turbulent to build a pier that isn't made of wood.

So it seems, that Aliso pier will live only in my memories, and then, only when I get a little quiet time to myself. I truly miss the place, as much as I miss family and friends that have moved on, too.

Recently, my dad and I drove that old route from Newport to San Clemente Pier. It was bittersweet, remembering all of the different places we'd stop along the way at different times—for bait, fried chicken, cheap tacos, warm drinks, or a bag of ice to keep our catch fresh. On this particular trip, Dad went in to the same old 7-Eleven while I filled up my gas tank (a role reversal that didn't go unnoticed by me—ten years previous, I made the run inside while Dad filled up HIS van). Dad came out, half-laughing, that the same old fellow that ran the store when we were kids is still there. The gentleman actually remembered my dad, the guy with the six boys who would come in all hours of the night, in the dead of winter, smelling a bit of bait, laying out cash to buy half a dozen hot chocolates, and generally looking happier and prouder than any Dad on earth.
He still is. Aliso pier is gone, but Dad's still fishing with his boys.

We're all just drinking coffee now, instead of hot chocolate.

History Note. Laguna Beach had two earlier piers. The first was built at Arch Beach (just north of Arch Rock) in 1887 by Hubbard Goff and Nate Brooks. Back then, there were two separate towns, Arch Beach and Laguna Beach, and the then impassable Bluebird Canyon separated them. Later, Arch Beach was renamed Wood's Cove, a site where the actress Bette Davis owned a home for several years.

In 1896 the 16 registered voters of Laguna Beach decided they needed their own pier. A site was selected just south of Heisler Point and the citizens went to work. They felled the trees, blasted rock and set the pilings into cement. The pier they built lasted until 1911 when it was rebuilt and lengthened by the Derkum brothers. Each winter it would receive damage and each spring the brothers would haul down new eucalyptus logs to replace damaged pilings. The pier withstood the elements until 1939 when a storm with 65 M.P.H. winds finally destroyed it.

Date: March 31, 2005
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Snookie
Subject: Re: Anybody fish the old pier that was in Laguna Beach?

Milton did when 9. He fished the old pier at the base of “Las Brisas” (which first opened as the Victor Hugo Inn in 1938).

The pier's pilings were made from railroad rails. The shack on the pier sold some tackle and bait. As a child Milton caught small mackerel and octopus which his mother cooked for breakfast as he brought them home. There was a barge out farther and a shore boat that took the fishermen from the pier to the barge. The shore boat stayed at the barge between runs. Yellowtail on cane poles was a common catch when in season. When they'd catch a yellowtail on the cane pole they would throw the pole into the water and wait for it to come up with the fish on it. Of course the can pole didn't have a reel. It only had a line attached to the pole tip. Then they would get into the shore boat and go to where the cane pole was floating on the surface and retrieve the pole and the fish. Sometimes the pole would be a mile away. On the pier Milton used an old-fashioned reel and long rod. For bait he used mostly mussels. Besides the mackerel the other catch was perch. When he was about 14 years old there was a sportfishing boat that left each day from the pier.

To get to Laguna in the days when Milton was going you didn't have the roads. They would come down through the Irvine Ranch then through Laguna Canyon to Laguna Beach. If you wanted to go back to L.A. area, they would have to go through 30 to 40 fences that had to be unlocked and then relocked.

Things were hard in those days, but no one knew it at the time. Snookie

Date: September 5, 2007
To: PFIC Message Board
From: dom949
Subject: Thousand Step Beach pier, Laguna Beach?

Ken, Wondering what info you have on a defunct pier south of Point Place in Laguna Beach (thousand step beach). I was there today and remnants of a pier still remain, where it ends in the sand...at high tide it would be partially still over water. I didn't have a camera otherwise I would have taken a photo. You can kinda detect a structure on google maps, satellite view. It doesn't look like a pier from the ariel view, but it is obvious from the ground. The beams looked like 30 - 40' high where a couple were still standing but everything out to sea looks removed. Some type of wood building is at the beginning of the pier.

I looked in your book and it is south of the old Aliso Beach pier, and not the old Arch Beach pier and nor near Heisler Point where another pier once existed according to your book.

Perhaps this was some private pier? It would have been quite large given what is left of the structure. Anyone have any info on this old pier?


When the modern pier was constructed in 1970-71, an interesting method of construction was utilized. Precast pilings were floated into place and set by Spider I, an eight-legged machine that moved by retracting and relocating four legs at a time. Designers seemed to think of everything, they even used steel and exotic African woods in the railings to resist scarring. However, the best laid plans of mice and men... The pier was damaged by the El Niño storms of ‘83 that necessitated repair, and then, in 1986, damage from new storms, coupled with corrosion of its steel reinforcements, caused longitudinal cracks that led to the closing of the diamond shaped end and new repairs. Damage from storms in 1988 once again necessitated repair to the pier's structure, this time in 1989. Repairs included the reinforcement of the end section and coating with an epoxy-cement mix designed to be longer lasting than normal cement. It obviously wasn't enough! The county said it might redo the parking lot, build more volleyball courts, or perhaps let a restaurant be built on the site. None will have the same affect on the area as the pier.

Why the name Aliso Beach? Aliso is the Spanish name for alder trees, which are found along the adjacent Aliso Creek.

Box and highlight --
The Disappearing Pier

Day after day, South Laguna residents watched the sun rise and set into the Pacific from the Aliso Pier. People kissed on it, walked dogs on it and contemplated life on it.

But next week, the pier—now largely demolished—will be gone, and county officials are skeptical that it will ever return.

Last year's El Nino storms dealt the final blow to the concrete pier that has been a recreational landmark and fishing hole for South Laguna residents since 1970...

Since demolition began last fall, workers have used cranes to disassemble the pier and pull its pilings from the sea floor...

The loss of the pier...has saddened some.

“It used to be that the beach was different from all the others,” said 14-year-old Nikki Lawrence of Aliso Viejo. “Now it's just going to be a regular old beach.” Lawrence said she used to fish off the pier using a stick and a string.

“I feel like I've lost part of my life,” said 87-year-old South Laguna resident Evelyn Kettle, who used to walk on the pier frequently—a doctor-prescribed remedy for symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

For Ian Levinson, 30, the pier was useful in other ways.

“It was a really good place to take a date,” he said. “Now I'll just have to sit in the sand to watch sunsets.”

But not everyone will miss the pier.

“I say 'Good riddance,'” said Charles Arthur, 80, from a counter seat at nearby Ruby's restaurant. “I think piers are unnecessary and too costly to maintain. They always go bad.”

Indeed this one had.

Last March, after a series of El Nino storms, the county closed the pier to the public when engineering reports found it unstable...

By last spring, the pier's concrete had chipped away in some areas, several pilings were cracked and steel reinforcements were rusted and exposed. “It had just taken a beating from the ocean,” Sibley said...

Even if officials solve the funding hurdle for rebuilding, they wonder if another beach—with gentler surf—would prove a better location.

County Supervisor Tom Wilson said he hopes to keep a pier in his district and will have his office begin researching the feasibility of bringing one back.

“If the interest is there,” he said, “I'll be instrumental in getting one put up...

We're sorry to see it go. It was a beautiful pier,” Sibley said.

—Allison Cohen,
Los Angeles Times, January 31, 1999


When I posted this article in a discussion about the pier in 2005 I got an immediate response from several people of which this was most poignant. And, the responses to this response are also pretty interesting. Warning, never tick off a pier rat.

Date: February 1, 2005
To: PFIC Message Board
From: dompfa ben
Subject: Alsio Pier

Charles Arthur = curmudgeon defined

To wit: “I say 'Good riddance,’” said Charles Arthur, 80, from a counter seat at nearby Ruby's restaurant. "I think piers are unnecessary and too costly to maintain. They always go bad.”

The dangers and limitations of dabbling in hyperbole are so well illustrated in this quote, that to elaborate on it would be an exercise in superfluity. However, verbosity has always been a hobby of mine. Perhaps he was misquoted, or hopefully, his words were taken out of context (no offense to Ms. Cohen implied...)

But it makes you wonder: What monstrous, magical fish did Mr. Arthur lose at Aliso pier, that so severely damaged his soul, and sent him into such a horrible state of mind?

I could write a fictional present for Mr. Arthur, now a stodgy 86 years old (Editor's note: Not all octogenarians are stodgy), rife with assumptions of Laguna-localism, miserly behavior, and a sad, lonely life. But it's much more fun to think that he used to be a fisherman, whose soul left his body just as the line parted between his rod, and a pier-hooked yellowtail that was never to be. Besides, the turgid old crab would probably sue me for libel. Blood from a turnip, sir... Smile

Then again, one must leave such comments in the distant past, where other asinine antisocial positions once flourished, but have now been dismissed by the truly enlightened, or those who navigate the path thereto. The countless memories my brothers and I shared at Aliso Pier more than make up for the misgivings of such a killjoy, whose heart likely bears more cracks and scars than the pier he so despised.

Godspeed, Charles Arthur. Don't let the door hitcha.

Posted by Kaleo

WOW, remind me *never* to p***-off the DOMPFA!! He'll fillet your rhetorical okole and serve it to you with a side of fire-seared ego-whupping!

Ai ma kai, ai a`e au la, ai a`o ka uwapo,
Ka `ulua e mâ`alo, hukihuki mai
—Telephone Hula, Hattie K. Hiram

trans,—
I went down to the pier
An ulua was being hauled in
Caught My First Bonito From There...

Posted by corbinaman1

I went to school in Laguna with Ian Levinson as well who is mentioned in that article. His family owned Tortilla Flats restaurant although the one in Laguna has since closed down.

Aliso Pier, Final Chapter...R.I.P.

When wrecking crews demolished the Aliso Pier in the wake of several damaging El Niño storms, residents in South Laguna took comfort in the promises from county officials that they would eventually rebuild the landmark fishing pier.

But two years later, efforts to construct a new pier have stalled, with many beach denizens as well as county leaders concluding that the beach is actually better without one.

For those who live on the bluffs above the beach, the now-uninterrupted view of the ocean cove is more pleasing than the decidedly minimalist 660-foot concrete pier with its distinctive diamond-shaped end.

And that's just as well, because the county has found that rebuilding the structure would be difficult, if not impossible.

A pier at that location is simply a bad idea, engineers have told county officials. The unusual landscape beneath the water's surface causes waves to surge from different directions, putting extreme stress on any structure built in the zone.

The wave action would prohibit the type of concrete and steel structure originally there, according to Supervisor Tom Wilson, who represents the area.

Twice in its 28 years, the pier had to be repaired after El Niño storms caused extensive damage. History would just repeat itself, Wilson said, if another concrete and steel pier was built.

The only way to ensure that a pier would last, he said, is to use wood.

But that would require massive sequoia trees, about 100 feet tall, as pilings in the ocean floor. Unlike concrete and steel, wood pilings bend and therefore have a better chance of withstanding the pounding of waves.

But the prospect of cutting down a small forest of sequoias for a pier is unappealing, not to mention cost-prohibitive, Wilson said. Anyway, the supervisor said, “even people who live there say it's a beautiful place without the pier.”

Both Wilson and Bob Hamilton, the interim manager of county harbors, beaches and parks, said that community interest in rebuilding the pier has declined and that many homeowners in the area say they prefer the beach as it is.

Kelly Nalley, 41, of Scottsdale, Ariz., remembers visiting the pier every year with her family as a youngster. As much as she misses it, she admits she thought it was a little out of place.

After getting over the shock of seeing no pier, she concluded that it's “pretty nice to have the view unobstructed.”

Aliso Pier was built in 1971 as the centerpiece of a 4.2-acre public beach development that included a parking lot off South Coast Highway.

The 660-foot structure was one of the shorter and higher piers in Orange County. The deck rose 35 feet from the water, held up by dozens of concrete pilings with steel rods at their centers.

In 1983 and 1986, El Niño storms extensively damaged the pier. By 1987, the cracking of the concrete had become such a problem that the county closed the pier for more than two years for a $1.2-million reconstruction project.

But the 1997 storms caused the most damage, cracking or dislodging one-quarter of the pier pilings. In the wake of the rains, the pier was closed. Within a few months, the county decided to tear it down.

Initial estimates had put the cost of rebuilding the pier at $5 million, and some officials had questioned whether the county had the money for such a project.

On a recent afternoon, beach-goers like Nalley said they liked the beach's new look. But others mourned the loss of the pier.

“Now that it's gone, it's really sad,” said Debbie Monicatti, 52, of Aliso Viejo. "You don't have the opportunity to interact with the water, and a pier lets you do that if you're not a surfer or a swimmer."

Surfers Sean Pettit, 24, of Mission Viejo and Marcus Hirth, 26, of San Clemente bemoaned the pier's demise as they stood on the beach deciding if the waves were good enough to ride.

The pier “was great for surfing,” Pettit said. "It was my favorite beach until they took away the pier."

And what's left of the pier—the building on the edge of the beach that houses the concession stand and restrooms--may soon be removed as well.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has rejected the county's request for funds for a new pier. But officials hope FEMA will provide the $400,000 needed to demolish the building and construct a new restroom and snack area.

If they get the money, the last piece of the original pier development will be history as well.
—Stanley Allison
Los Angeles Times, March 20, 2001

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