San Francisco Chronicle
The iconic pier at S. F.’s Aquatic Park is closed — perhaps forever
Nov. 21, 2022
The decrepit state of the once-majestic Municipal Pier
in San Francisco’s Aquatic Park has been obvious for at least a decade. Now, the 1,400-foot-long promenade is closed to the public — perhaps forever.
The rugged concrete structure was fenced off in late October so that the National Park Service could assess the seismic stability of the pier, which opened in 1934 and is part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. A sign on the fence says the popular 60-foot-wide pier is “closed until further notice” pending further inspection, but a two-sentence note on the park’s website declares it to be “unsafe for public use.”
The decision was made following a visual survey after a 5.1 earthquake in San Jose
last month. There’s no indication that the earthquake weakened the pier’s stability, but park officials said it emphasized the potential danger if people were on it during a natural disaster.
“There’s been incremental deterioration over time, we know that,” said Dale Dualan, the maritime park’s public information officer. “The earthquake added to the urgency” of making a decision over whether or not to declare the pier off-limits.
The abrupt closure frustrates people like Fran Hegeler, who swims in the Aquatic Park cove most mornings and has spent four years working to rally support and funding to rebuild the pier and upgrade the larger park, a popular destination at the west end of Fisherman’s Wharf.
“People use it and love the pier more than you’d know,” said Hegeler, one of several park supporters who in August toured aides to senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla through the spacious park that slopes down from Beach Street toward the bay and was built by the federal government during the Great Depression.
“They fish, they bicycle, they take their dogs down there,” Hegeler said of the pier’s varied users. “The west side is battered, but that’s because it has done its job for almost 100 years.”
Also frustrated is Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who helped line up funds for a structural survey back in 2008 that revealed the pier’s sorry state
. At the time, the estimated cost to rebuild it was $40 million. The current figure: $150 million.
“It’s a federal asset that always seems to be last in line,” Peskin said Monday. “It’s not the city of San Francisco’s property. All we can do is make noise.”
One reason the current state of affairs alarms supporters is that the pier isn’t simply an arcing promenade that, in Peskin’s words, “pops you right into the middle of the bay.” It’s also a breakwater that muffles the impact of tidal surges into the cove. That makes swimming and rowing more pleasurable — but also protects two historic 19th century ships that are moored in the cove and are among the maritime park’s attractions.
Dualan said the fenced-off status won’t necessarily move the pier up the priority list of the National Park Service. But he emphasized that the maritime park is no happier about its condition than are local residents.
“It’s definitely a high priority for us,” Dualan said. “This is a historic park, and the pier is a historic asset.”
John King is The San Francisco Chronicle’s urban design critic. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @johnkingsfchron
Brian P — This is a real shame. The Muni Pier is one of the greatest vantage points from which to view the city. And as mentioned in the article, it provides benefits that go beyond the aesthetic. $150M isn't nothing, but in the overall scheme of things it's not a lot to pay for the preservation of historic infrastructure whose upkeep has been negligently ignored for decades.
B4bet — What a great example of our failure to follow the mandate of the common good. Many of our great grandparents put their resources into building structures like this to the highest standards of the time for their benefit and ours. The pier lasted long past expectations despite our chronic neglect. Did we think we could keep doing this forever without basic maintenance or improvements? That's the magical thinking of irresponsible children. Shameful.
San Francisco Voter 1 — What a great example of our failure to follow the mandate of the common good. Many of our great grandparents put their resources into building structures like this to the highest standards of the time for their benefit and ours. The pier lasted long past expectations despite our chronic neglect. Did we think we could keep doing this forever without basic maintenance or improvements? That's the magical thinking of irresponsible children. Shameful.
Skatter — Yet, somehow, the Romans built their ports using concrete that got stronger in salt water. Without the use of rebar. Their concrete is still standing after 2000 years.
Gone2PotHill — There are rust proof and resistant alternatives to traditional black steel rebar. They costs more, but some kinds basically last as long as the concrete.
B4bet — But if the concrete had been maintained wouldn't that have protected the steel? When I saw those rebars exposed and rusting I knew the structure was in t rouble. Same with the old Laguna Honda buildings. They're just letting them rot.
Chipman — Isn't this the responsibility of the Feds?
Candelstickian — 'm glad I walked out on the pier a few months ago, not suspecting that it was my last time. However, it was in such disrepair that it's become an eyesore - a testament to the state of San Francisco. Yes, a lot of people use it! Tourists and locals. There were probably hundreds of people walking on it and fishing off it the day I was there. I guess our democracy fails on stuff like this. SF and the Feds can't get it together to repair or replace this public asset. Yet they find plenty of money for stuff that keeps them in power when they need to.
Malcomketterin — Same thing in Berzerkeley.
AutoUnion — As of the beginning of the Covid Pandemic the National Park Service, as a part of the Department of the Interior, had a $20 billion dollar and growing maintenance deficit. That is to say it would take $20 billion plus dollars to bring regular and preventative maintenance of the national assets the Park Service is legally required and obligated to maintain, protect, and preserve to the ongoing status of repair, preservation, and maintenance one would expect, for example, of an airliner, a dam, or even high voltage power line or natural gas pipeline owned by PG&E.
I do not know how much the preservation and restoration departments and their budgets were and are currently in deficit, but I do know they too were and are grossly underfunded and grossly understaffed to the point that many historical structures and building sites such as forts and national monuments like, say, both the mausoleum for the late President U.S. Grant and his wife and Castle Clinton where people buy their tickets for the boat ride to the Statue of Liberty in New York City are differentiated by their level of decay and their annual rate of decay.
Shoestring budgets are often all the local Park Ranger Staff, especially those lucky enough to have a historical preservation crew assigned to them for a short amount of time, have to triage the decades of wilful neglect their respective sites endure.
The neglect of treasures like Aquatic Park Pier is a legacy of every Administration since Reagan, Bush, and Clinton.
Brian P — Grant's Tomb has in fact been restored. But it took quite a fight to get it done.
Seb_brown — Like so many things in this town, it's been left to fall into disrepair. It's incredibly short-sighted when you consider the tourism money that flows to see such sites. A bit of vision would see it repaired into a parkland pier.
Do_Not_Reply — It was never a tourist draw. The cost of repairs are just too high.
Chipman — There îs no repairing that type of structure, the only solution is to build it.
AutoUnion — Go to Castle Clinton National Monument in NYC and you we see that tourists really don't care. They are just here for the boat ride to that thing on the island.
Ddatu — Would a Chronicle reporter ever break down $150,000,000 to show what it goes for? Union labor, check. Fair trade concrete, check. Organic sandwiches for inspectors, check. But that still doesn't add up to $150M, just like a single bathroom doesn't add up to $1.7M. I know that most reporters, sadly, have the math skill of the kid who can't make change for your french fries, but really, take on the challenge. Bring in forensic accountants if you must. It would be good, informative journalism.
San Francisco Voter 1 — Building a concrete pier into the San Francisco Bay is much more complicated than it appears at first glance. The piers have to be drilled into bedrock because the sands which line the Bay are constantly shifting. There are many labor and environmental regulations which run up the costs. Nothing can be built in the Bay without being reviewed by multiple governments from local to federal. The process takes years. The environmental impact of each component must be evaluated and alternate solutions (e.g. a floating pier) have to be considered. It was a lot easier to build this pier 80 years ago than it is today. There are "cost saving" procedures to follow, affirmative action, etc., etc., etc. Remember how long it took to replace the Bay Bridge after the Loma Prieta earthquake? Years and millions of dollars, and endless debates about what to do and how to do it. Replacing the pier creates aw lot of local jobs. It can't be exported or imported!
Do_Not_Reply — Very sad news. I spent many a weekend fishing off that pier.
Choppercat — How about they have a giant waiver form that every visitor signs to gain entry that declares visiting the pier could endanger their lives when a building crushing earthquake comes. What would it be like if government Quit trying to protect us from natural disasters, and let everyone decide for themselves if they accept the odds of the pier falling out from under them? A little personal responsibility anyone?