Last modified: March 19, 2020

Fishing Piers Southern California

Rainbow Pier — Long Beach — Gone But Not Forgotten

Every March sees the Fred Hall Show in Long Beach, a huge event filled with a plethora of booths and vendors offering merchandise and dreams that should be able to fill the cravings of every visiting angler. The sheer size of the show can be somewhat overwhelming   and by the time a person leaves they’re probably more than a little tired. Few have the time or interest to wonder about the history of the area itself—as I do.

The setting, for me, is especially interesting given the contrast today with what was seen a hundred years ago. Today, if you stand at the corner of Pine Avenue and Ocean Avenue and look seaward, you will see the side of the large Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center (where the show is held), a pavilion-like steeple at the Shoreline Village, and weird robot-like gantry cranes (which look like something out of the Star Wars movie) off in the distance where the container ships load and unload.
The Rainbow Pier in the 1930s
The wide beachfront area that once characterized Long Beach has been replaced by landfill, while roads lead westward to the Shoreline Aquatic Park and Village, and to the restaurant and shopping area adjacent to the Aquarium dubbed the “Pike” area (complete with lights that simulate a roller coaster). A small freshwater lagoon, adjacent to the convention center is dubbed the Rainbow Lagoon Park.   The names Pike and Rainbow give nod to the time a century ago when the “Pike” at Long Beach was one of the largest amusement areas on the West Coast and the “Rainbow Pier” was one of the largest piers.  From its inception Long Beach had felt piers were a necessity both to attract visitors and new residents. The Magnolia Avenue Pier was built in 1885 but unfortunately was short lived, lasting only until 1892.
The Magnolia Ave Pier, 1890
It was followed by the first Pine Avenue Pier, which was also short lived, surviving a single decade, 1893 to 1903.
The original Pine Avenue Pier about 1897
A new pier would be needed following storm damage and soon after, in 1904, a new, magnificent, double-decked Pine Ave Pier (the Municipal Pier) would be created and it would hang on, just barely, until 1934 when it was finally demolished.
The 2nd Pine Avenue Pier in 1916
Another pier, down shore from the main pier, would open on Christmas Day 1915. It was dubbed the Grand Avenue or Belmont Heights Pier (although called the Devil’s Gate Pier by most of the locals).
The Devil’s Gate Pier aka Belmont Pier
By the 1960s it needed replacement and in 1967 a new Belmont Pier, today called the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier was opened. That’s another story.  Perhaps the most interesting pier was the Rainbow Pier. By the 1930s and the advent of the Great Depression, the Pike amusement area was starting to see decline while the Pine Avenue Pier, a pier that had seen repeated damage, was in need of repair.  However, a new chapter in the story of the downtown shoreline area took place.
Long Beach and the Rainbow Pier
On July 25, 1931 the Rainbow Pier was officially opened just to the south of the Pine Avenue Pier. The 3,800-foot, horseshoe-shaped pier, curved offshore from Linden Avenue to Pine Avenue, or a distance of 1,350 feet over the Pacific. It was one of the most impressive piers ever built along the coast (even if angling was only a small part of the pier’s life) and became a “must see” attraction for visitors to Long Beach.
The Rainbow Lagoon
The “Pier Without Peer” had a 36-foot-wide roadway built on top of 330,000 tons of rock and supposedly 75,000 people could stand on the pier at one time. Inside the horseshoe was located the Rainbow Lagoon which quickly became one of the best places to swim in the southland, and onshore was built a Municipal Auditorium.
The Rainbow Pier and adjacent Pine Avenue Pier
At night, multicolored lights reflecting on the lagoon created a rainbow effect. (During WWII the lights were first blacked out on the ocean side of the pier. Soon after, all of the lights were turned off and cars were stopped from going onto the pier. Apparently after the war ended white lights were installed but eventually colored lights replaced them once again.) The Rainbow Pier had first been proposed back in 1910 by businessman S.J. Abrams as a grandiose double-decked Horseshoe Pier. It was to include a “capacious” sun parlor at the outermost point, a public bathing place, a wide space for automobiles, nine landing piers for boats, space on the lower deck for pedestrians and fishermen, and a separate concrete fishing pier extending from the southwest corner. Many of his ideas were later adopted by the city, but it took nearly twenty years and a $2.8 million bond issue in 1928 (for the pier and auditorium) before the pier was built. 1933 a part of the Pine Avenue Pier was resurfaced, new pilings were installed, and it became a spur which connected out from the seaward end of the Rainbow Pier. But the final day for the Pine Avenue Pier was close at hand. A storm in September of 1934 finally destroyed the pier. 
The Rainbow Pier but no adjacent Pine Street Pier
As for the fishing from the Rainbow Pier, it was fairly undistinguished. It was noted for many large bat rays and a variety of sharks, including angel sharks, but the catch for most sport fish was similar to other area piers with one exception. Due undoubtedly to the rocks under the pier, it offered up better than average fishing for some rocky habitat species such as perch. One unusual catch, supposedly a record at the time, was a 7-pound, 3-ounce spotfin croaker taken in 1961 by C. J. Yochelson. It was believed to be a world record for two-pound test line. For a period of time, fishing barges did offer fishing not too far offshore from the Rainbow Pier. In the ‘40s one could fish from the schooner “Bounty.” The ‘50s would see a different barge, the “Rainbow Barge.” Damage did occasionally occur to the pier (although it showed little damage from many storms that damaged other piers). Most of the pier’s damage was not from storms but from aging pilings. As example, for most of its life cars had been permitted to drive on the Rainbow Pier but in 1946 the pier was closed to traffic due to piling damage. (At the same time some proposed filling in the Rainbow Lagoon and turning it into a parking lot.) By August of that year four (expensive) proposals had been made for rehabilitating the pier. In time, traffic would be allowed back onto the pier. In August 1948 work began on fixing the pier, work that included replacing many pilings. Shortly thereafter new plans were announced for turning the lagoon into a seaside park with bathing areas, a band shell, a grandstand for aquatic events and other features.   Unfortunately what man can create, man and Mother Nature can also destroy. The area began to sink, apparently as a result of local oil wells, and tidal action deposited sand inside the lagoon. As a result of these two changes, the lagoon area was filled with dirt in 1955. In addition, thousands of dollars were required annually for the upkeep of the pier pilings. By the mid ‘60s, it was apparent that a major rebuild would be necessary, an expense the city was not willing to pay. Instead, a decision was made to demolish the pier. March 20, 1966, was the last day of the Rainbow Pier and in its place came a 113-acre landfill that reached, at some points, a quarter-mile seaward. 
The Long Beach Convention Center and Rainbow Lagoon Park
Today one sees a marina, shopping area, and (if one circles the outside road) several small finger piers that still allow one to fish
What had been dubbed “The Peerless Pier” would now be only history — gone but not forgotten.

4 Responses

  1. I lived in Torey Pines Apartment 3rd floor 1931-the earthquake ’33. We looked out over the pier and its long curve and the Pacific Fleet ( USS Lexington, USS Saratoga) and spent many Sundays visiting the Naval ships. Thank you for the news of the Rain Bow and stirring up many happy memories.

  2. My sister and I have many happy memories of Rainbow Pier when we were kids. Mom and Dad drove us around the pier in the early evening when the multi-colored street lights on both sides of the pier came on, making us girls ooh and aah at all the colors! For us, this was a very special ride and would beg daddy to go around again. So sorry the pier was torn down, but I guess it was prime real estate and wasn’t a money maker.

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