Last modified: November 13, 2018

Fishing Piers Southern California

Seal Beach Pier

<*}}}}}}}}}>< If the pier and surrounding beach area looks familiar to you, it may be because both were main settings for “Sunset Beach,” the NBC soap opera that ran in the late ‘90s. The saucy show didn’t seem to reflect the “small town” character of Seal Beach but most local citizens didn’t seem to mind. They were proud of the attention their town received and didn’t object to the money the movie company poured into the city’s coffers. Although some locals worried that a mob of curious fans might descend on their city, others pointed out that didn’t happen in the past when the area was used for films. Back in the ’20s, when Cecil B. DeMille filmed the original silent version of “The Ten Commandments,” the local shoreline was used as the site for the parting of the Red Sea. If movie fans didn’t invade the beach to see “Moses” surely they wouldn’t invade the area for this show. Of course the actresses in “The Ten Commandments” were dressed a little more conservatively than the vixens in the TV show. By the way, the romantic Sunset Beach Pier (where, according to legend two people would meet and fall in love) was of course the Seal Beach Pier.

The pier and adjacent downtown area by the way seem to show up in many movies. In a scene in “As Good As It Gets” Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt walk along a pier supposedly set in Chesapeake Bay. It actually is the Seal Beach Pier spruced up by the addition of several thousand lights.

In “American Pie 2,” Seal Beach is portrayed as Grand Harbor, Michigan. Both the town and pier are seen frequently in the movie. In one scene, where the boys cruise down the main street, you can see such local landmarks as O’Malley’s Irish Pub, Walt’s Wharf Restaurant, and the pier.

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — In an interesting discussion one day on the Orange County Register message board (in response to an article on anglers catching thresher sharks from the Huntington Beach Pier), the following item was posted by Monta Erikson: “My grandfather caught sharks off Seal Beach Pier—1943-era. Food rationing during WWII—this helped feed his extended families working in the defense plants. Shovelnose most frequently.” So, the catchin’ and eatin’ of sharks is not a new story.

<*}}}}}}}}}>< Fish Bulletin #96 put out by the California Department of Fish Game in 1953 states: “There is a sport-fishing pier but no fish-cleaning sheds or canneries. Small amounts of commercially caught fish are landed here but the average has been about two tons per year… The catches have been barracuda, lobster, rockfish, and rock bass… In 1952 three party boats and one or two charter boats operated out of Seal Beach. One Sportfishing barge is anchored off the town.

<*}}}}}}}}}>< 2012 saw a new danger arise to the fishing on the pier—local anglers asking that fishing be restricted. As usual, it was because anglers appeared to be making too much of a mess on the pier. However, nowhere in the story does it mention that the pier was restored in part with money from the Wildlife Conservation Board or that an agreement was made at the time to keep it open as a public fishing pier.

Should Seal Beach Restrict Fishing on the Pier?

Fishermen have been casting their lines off the Seal Beach Pier for the better part of a century, but on Tuesday a city official said she wants the city to consider curtailing the practice to keep the landmark clean.

City Councilwoman Ellery Deaton asked city staff to research potential Seal Beach Pier fishing limits – including the possibility of creating specific fishing times, specific areas for fishing or issuing citations for anglers who break the rules – for a future council meeting discussion. “The fishing is out of control on the pier,” Deaton said. “I think maybe it’s time to get it on an agenda.”

Deaton said when she talks to her constituents they say the fishermen are causing a problem, especially by cutting their bait on the benches. “They leave their trash,” Deaton said. “They leave their fish. They leave their bait.”

In a brief interview with Patch after the meeting, Deaton said, “I don’t want to end fishing out there. I want all of us to be able to enjoy the pier.” Visitors “should be able to use a bench to sit down on and not have to sit on fish guts,” Deaton added during a later interview. City Manager Jill Ingram said that if the item were added to a future agenda, it probably wouldn’t be discussed until 2013.

Seal Beach resident Laura Ellsworth, chair of the Seal Beach Pier bench renovation project, agrees with Deaton. Ellsworth is concerned that fishermen would continue to use the wood on the benches as cutting boards, damaging the work that volunteers recently fixed. “As we are restoring, we are finding fish guts all over the wood and the backrest,” Ellsworth said.

Graham Day, store manager of Norm’s Bait and Tackle, said any proposed fishing restrictions would be a bad idea because it “deters people from coming into our city to spend money.” He added: “I think they should just let it be. I don’t think they need to restrict it.”

As for the benches? “The benches aren’t anything fancy anyway,” Day said, but added that if the city doesn’t want people to use them as cutting boards they should put signs up. “I don’t really fish off the pier much myself,” Day said. “But I service hundreds of people every day that do.”

Here is the text of the city code regarding fishing in the city.

9.05.065 Fishing

  1. Each person fishing from the city beach or city pier shall have due regard for the safety of persons on the beach or in the water.
  2. No person fishing from the city pier shall cast the line overhead or across the deck of the pier.
  3. No person shall use or possess more than 2 fishing poles on the city pier for the purpose of fishing from the pier.
  4. No person shall use or possess a bow and arrow, crossbow and arrow or similar device for the purpose of fishing from the city beach, city pier or other city property.

Also according to Code 9.05.010 C, city lifeguards have the power to restrict or prohibit fishing on the city beach.

—John Crandall, Los Alamitos-Seal Beach Patch, November 14, 2012

<*}}}}}}}}}><Tis unbelievably sad! For years Ruby’s Diner set out at the end of the pier offering up good food and drinks for tourists, locals, and the anglers on the pier. Then needed repairs and disputes with the city led to the restaurant’s closure. Soon the end was fenced off and the city began years of unsuccessful attempts to find a new restaurant. Everyone had different people to bame but the bottom line is that the end still sits empty and anglers still cannot use the end section of the pier. Doesn’t say much for the city. 

Ruby’s — 2011

Seal Beach Pier — End Section — 2014

Seal Beach Pier — End Section — 2018


History Note. Like many, if not most, of the coastal cities in Orange County and Los Angeles County, Seal Beach experienced much of its growth as a result of the efforts of local real estate developers, in this case Philip A. Stanton and his Bayside Land Company. Stanton, who had been an early promoter of the nearby Huntington Beach area before selling his share of that land, took a sleepy little burg called Bay City and developed it into one of the leading resort centers in the area. Prior to Stanton’s entrance into the scene the immediate area had little population even though it had long been a favorite spot for summertime vacations.

German Burghers who had settled Anaheim (“Ana” for the Santa Ana River and the German “heim” meaning home) had developed Anaheim Landing in the nearby bay in the 1860s as a port from which to ship out their produce. They also discovered that the local beaches made a great spot to escape the hotter climate of their inland city—even though only a dozen or so miles away. However, year-round settlement was limited. In fact, J.C. Ord, considered one of the fathers of Seal Beach, was the lone resident in 1901.

Bay City grew at a slow rate in the early 1900s but began to grow more rapidly after the Pacific Electric Railway entered the town in 1904. Easier access in and out of the area provided impetus for the development of hotels, bathhouses and dance halls. It also gave purpose for the development of a pier (since every beachside resort needed a pier). In 1906 the original Seal Beach Pier (Bay City Pier?) was built; at 1,865 feet it was (at the time) the longest pier south of San Francisco.

Pleasure Pier At Bay City — Contract Let for Extensive Improvement at Attractive Coast Resort

Another new pleasure pier is about to be added to those providing enjoyment for Southern California and coast resort visitors. Contracts have already been let to Mr. Mercerenu for building a 1500-foot pier at Bay City. This will be the longest pleasure pier in Southern California, the one at Long Beach alone excepted, and Mr. P. A. Stanton, the agent for Bay City, says it will be completed by June 1. Grading and side-walking of all streets in Bay City not so improved is now in progress. The proposed new hotel of sixteen rooms, and a large dining room together with several storerooms on the ground floor, will be constructed at the corner of Main and Central avenue. —Los Angeles Herald, March 4, 1906

Bay City — The Safe Beach

Bath House and Restaurant at Anaheim Landing — Two Fine Still Water Bays

A Mile of Magnificent Ocean Frontage — The Best Street Work to Be Found at Any Beach Town in Southern California

Longest Pleasure Pier in Southern California With One Exception to Be Built at Once

Lots from $500 to $1000. Easy Terms

P.A. Stanton, 316 West Third Street, Office at Bay City Open

Every Day Including Sunday

Los Angeles Herald, April 29, 1906

Although Stanton had hoped his town would become the “The Coney Island of the Pacific,” and the “playground of Southern California,” (sentiments echoed by many developers of the day, i.e., those in Long Beach and the Redondo Beach-Santa Monica corridor) it would take nearly a decade for his dream to reach fruition. Real growth and true development as a resort center would not take place until 1915-16 after the city incorporated (as Seal Beach).

A new figure now entered the mix. Frank Burt, manager of the concessions at the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, moved south following the closing of the Exposition and helped found the Jewel City Amusement Company. With Stanton’s cooperation, a new pier was built to replace the original pier.

The new pier became the center of the “Jewel City” amusement area. The Jewel Cafe to the north, and a Bathhouse and Dance Pavilion to the south, flanked the pier at its shore side end. According to reports the cafe’s opening night saw a “banquet from the sea” for 500 people. Dishes included albacore, barracuda, clam chowder and oyster cocktails. The huge Bathhouse contained 1,000 dressing rooms that opened directly onto the beach; their motto was “A beach without an undertow.” To the south of the pier set the Derby, the racer roller coaster brought down from San Francisco. A final touch was added by the addition of the “Scintillator” lights, also brought down from San Francisco, fifty-two huge lamps which projected changing rainbows of light onto the water for nighttime bathing.

At its height during the 1920s, as many as 20,000 visitors came to Seal Beach and its “Joy Zone” each week, many if not most arriving on the Pacific Electric’s big Red Cars.

 Jewell City Cafe

Pier fishing and barge fishing were, of course, two of the main attractions of the pier itself. Fishing was considered good at the pier but when it slowed down anglers would simply switch to the angling found in the deeper waters by the barge. The first barge at Seal Beach, the James McKenna, began operating in 1925. Additional barges would begin operation in 1939, the F.S. Loop and the Homer.

By the ’30s the city itself was well established but the affects and challenges of the Great Depression, including less discretionary money for amusement, would lead to the decline of the amusement area and its eventual closure in 1937. Although the joy in the “Joy Zone” would seem to have been at an end, the city itself seems to have developed quite a reputation for “sin”—including illegal “speakeasies,” gambling and prostitution. Apparently the area was still joyful for some.

Meanwhile “Mother Nature” and simple old age would affect the pier. Although the pier survived the 1933 earthquake intact, two hurricanes had tremendous impact on the pier. In 1935 huge waves, caused in part by a hurricane in the Philippines, ripped into and partially destroyed the pier. The center portion was lost which left the outer end isolated. Although there would be a four-year closure, a new pier would emerge from the splintered remains.

Seal Beach Pier Rescue May Speed Replacement

Collapse of a section of the privately owned Seal Beach pier Tuesday night, which marooned sixteen persons on the structure until Coast Guardsmen ferried them to a cutter, will result in hastening the construction of a municipal pier and breakwater closer to the entrance to Alamitos Bay, officials declared last night. The project, calling for an expenditure of $82,000, has been approved by Federal Public Works officials and plans have been completed.

Stub pilings near the outer end of the pier prevented Cutter 254 from getting alongside the pier end in the rescue. The cutter anchored 230 feet off the pier and played its searchlight in the rescue operation. In a bos’n’s chair, the marooned women were lowered to the dory, which made eight trips between the pier and the cutter. The damaged pier is the property of the Bayside Land Company, which developed Seal Beach. Company officials have not determined the future policy of the concern as to repair or improvement to the structure. —Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1935

Pier Dispute Pact Sought

SEAL BEACH, Feb. 6 — An effort to reach a friendly settlement in litigation pending between the city of Seal Beach and the Bayside Land Company over the old wharf will be sought Tuesday. The council has sent an invitation to P.A. Stanton, president of the land company, asking him to attend a special meeting of the council at 10 a.m. Condemnation proceedings against the pier are now in the courts and will be heard February 11. Councilmen are seeking to make a settlement prior to that hearing. The tottering old pier is declared hazardous to navigation and unsafe for the use of fishermen. The council has had plans and specifications drawn up for the construction of a new pier. —Los Angeles Times, February 7, 1938

           Seal Beach to Vote on Pier Bond Issue

SEAL BEACH (March 7) —Voters will pass on a $101,500 bond issue for construction of a new pier at the city election, April 12, The City Council will meet Thursday to complete plans for the election. The city has made application to the State Division of Lands for permit to construct the pier. It is expected that the grant will be made as soon as the case against the Bayside Land Company is settled in Superior Court in Santa Ana. It also is expected that the case will be settled satisfactorily for the city, officials believe. The issue will be placed on the spring ballot to save the expense of a special election. The old wooden pier was built in 1916 and has been declared unsafe for years. —Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1938

10 Responses

  1. Was there Monday April 8 and it was still closed

  2. 6/9/2019
    Can one still fish off the pier while their working on it?

  3. My aunt lives by the pier, and I was talking with her today. She just told me that they opened the end of the pier. I’m probably gonna try for some Bonito or Sardines this summer. Pretty exciting.

  4. When they first opened up the end good fishing was reported. Hoping it continues.

    Good luck, Ken

  5. Thanks very interesting ! I visited Seal beach once and hope to do more!

  6. Your story is very informative in terms of local fish !

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