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
Plaques that sit near the front of the pier give evidence of the pier’s history and resiliency. One says, “Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, 1938, Project No. Calif. 1723-F.” It represents the rebuilding necessitated by the storms and hurricane-related wave damage of 1935.
Unfortunately, one year later would see California’s only recorded hurricane, the 1939 chubasco (sometimes called the Long Beach Tropical Storm “El Condonazo” or “The Lash of St. Francis”) moved up from Central America to Baja before hitting Southern California. The hurricane ripped the recently finished new pier in half but luckily this time the pier was quickly repaired, at a cost of $110,000. It was just a year later that the pier was reopened. These two repair projects, in 1935-38 and 1939, were just two of many to be seen at the pier—although more than 40 years would see relative peace.
When open, the pier remained a well-used resource by many, especially fishermen. By the 1940s, and continuing for many years, anglers at the pier were offered the choice of pier fishing, fishing from barges, or fishing from live bait boats.
Barracuda Plentiful but Fast and Fighty in Offshore Waters
Piers were crowded with surf anglers yesterday and boats going out from Long Beach and Seal Beach were well loaded. Captain Jack E. Tubbs, Seal Beach pier manager, is putting his live bait barge in service several days earlier than he had planned. The vessel, called the “Homer,” a low built schooner, will have its inaugural Saturday. It will be anchored on Seal Beach reef, about a mile and a quarter from Seal Beach pier, docking place for the water taxis which give shuttle service hourly. In addition Captain Tubbs has six live bait boats in operation. —Long Beach Independent, April 9, 1940
New Seal Beach Pier
Three Live Bait Boats And Barge
Boat “Bearcat” Daily 3 A.M. — Boat “Lets Go” Daily 5 A.M.
Boat “Moose II” Daily 7 A.M. — Barge “Homer”
Boats Hourly 9 A.M. to 4 P.M. — Live Bait for Pier Fishing
Café, Fish Market and Tackle Store — Outer End of Pier
For Further Information Call Long Beach 339-76
—Long Beach Independent, April 28, 1940
Halibut on Piers — If you can’t find the barracuda, stay on the pier and let ‘em come to you. It was that sort of a day Wednesday, when many boaters came home empty handed. Pier fisherman posted some fine scores. On Seal Beach pier, John Kurt of Leisure World checked in a 7-½ pound halibut, Steve Praee one at 6-1/2 pounds, and Reuben Flores, Pico Rivera, a 5 ¼-pound flounder. There were about three dozen flatties spotted on the pier and many barracuda than rab about 2 ½-pounds. —Lew Allison, Ocean Roundup, Long Beach Press Telegram, May 16, 1963
Just Fishin’ — Captain Jack Tubbs’ island boat from Seal Beach Pier took out a party of Los Angeles newspaper people Wednesday and brought them back happy with good catches of barracuda, yellowtail and sea bass. Continued good halibut fishing was reported from the barge Homer, off Seal Beach… Surf fishing was a trifle slow, corbina and spotfin being the chief catches, and halibut and herring off the piers. —Long Beach Independent, June 28, 1940
Advertisement in the Long Beach Independent, July 19, 1948
Rod and Reel — Barge fishing is slated to become part of the Seal Beach operation this week as the 300 foot “C-Coaster” will go into commission. The big flatboat will be anchored off the end of the Seal Beach Pier, starting today and before towing it out to its permanent location on the “Omaha” banks, at the edge of the Horseshoe Kelp, open house will be held for all visitors. —Jack Adams, The News (Van Nuys), July 9, 1963
The killer storms spawned by the 1983 El Niño devastated many California piers and included Seal Beach as one of their victims. Two separate storms in January and March tore away several sections of the pier and initially many questioned if the pier would ever be rebuilt.
Rebuilding the pier — 1984
No problemo! An energetic band of local citizens soon rallied around a rebuilding project. Forming a “Save Our Pier” group, the members raised money from both private and public sponsors and got their pier rebuilt, at a cost of $2.3 million. The pier reopened in September 1984. Today, plaques honoring Emily Frazier, Daisy Funk and Joyce Risner, the ladies who co-founded the group, as well as various other individuals, businesses and groups that contributed time and money to the effort, are visible on the pier.
The reopening of the pier would also see the reopening of a Sportfishing landing on the pier — Big Fish Sportfishing. Eventually the pier would also become one of the home bases for one of California’s last fishing barges—the Annie B. Used in conjunction with the landing at the Belmont Pier, and sitting inside the breakwater, the barge would provide low-cost fishing into the mid ’90s.
Nevertheless, additional incidents have somewhat routinely closed the pier. On May 15, 1992, the week before Memorial Day, an electrical fire (which started in the lifeguard tower on the pier) destroyed 100 feet of the pier and the lifeguard station. Temporary measures were taken and the pier reopened a week later. A few months later, the Lander’s (or Big Bear) earthquake cracked some of the pier’s support pilings. Then, on May 21, 1994, falling barbecue coals ignited a natural gas line under the pier. The new blaze blocked the mid-pier section and trapped about 150 people out at the end of the pier. Although a few panicked, many simply continued to drink their coffee and finish their snacks out at Ruby’s Diner, and the majority just kept right on fishing, reeling in the mackerel, and listening to the radio tell about the fire at the pier as they watched the smoke bellow inshore from their position. All were soon evacuated.