Last modified: August 5, 2018

Fishing Piers Southern California

Shoreline Aquatic Park Piers — Long Beach

Special Recommendation. Because of elevated levels of DDT and PCB in tested fish, the Cal OEHHA recommends the following regarding fish caught in Long Beach Harbor. “Anglers should eat no white croaker, and no more than one meal every two weeks of queenfish, black croaker and surfperch.”

 Potpourri — Perhaps more than you may want to know about the Long Beach Shoreline Piers

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — I always enjoy visiting aquariums and close to these piers is the best aquarium in southern California—the Aquarium of the Pacific. More than 12,000 fish and assorted other creatures are located in four recreated environments—Baja California, cold-water northern Pacific, tropical coral reefs and SoCal kelp forests. If visiting for a few days don’t miss it. Of course it’s a SoCal attraction so it’s almost always busy; visit early on the weekends (get there at the opening 9 A.M. bell) or mid-afternoon (around 2 P.M.) on weekdays. Visit www.aquariumofpacific.orgfor more information.

<*}}}}}}}}}>< — CA F&G Bulletin #96 from 1953 states: “Located on the north shore of San Pedro Bay 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles… On the Long Beach harbor there are unloading docks for market fish and several fish canneries. Over the past 20 years the average landings have been 69,000,000 pounds per year with a peak of 138,000,000 pounds in 1945. The leading species handled have been sardines, yellowfin tuna, skipjack, mackerel, yellowtail, albacore, anchovy, bluefin tuna and abalone. The city has had, throughout the years, several pleasure piers for anglers. At Belmont Shore there is now a modern pier. In 1952 there were 22 party boats and 64 charter boats out of Long Beach. Five fishing barges were anchored offshore.”

<*}}}}}}}}}>< Although I don’t have many records of the fish from the early day Long Beach piers, a Pacific moonfish (Vomer declivifrons) was recorded as being taken a short ways off the Rainbow Pier on March 18, 1959.

History Note. As mentioned, and although it’s sometimes hard to imagine today, the waterfront area of Long Beach was a fairly typical oceanfront resort at the turn of the century. The Long Beach Land and Water Company had taken over W.E. Wilmore’s failed real estate venue called Wilmore City in the early 1880s. They renamed the area Long Beach, improved the water system, instituted a horse-car line, connected the town with the Wilmington line of the Southern Pacific, built a hotel—and built a pier. Long Beach quickly became a popular destination for those seeking fun and sun in a seaside setting.

The pier built by the water company would be the first of many in the city. It was the Magnolia Avenue Pier, built in 1885 for the princely sum of $4,000. The pier was 700-foot-long, 32-feet-wide and included an underwater light for night fishing. The pier, according to records, quickly proved very popular with the fisherman who caught yellowtail, barracuda and halibut from its deck. A 632-pound jewfish (giant sea bass), caught by William Schilling and his son, was reported from the pier but it’s unclear if the fish was actually caught on the pier or on a boat from the pier.

Magnolia Avenue Pier

Unfortunately it began to weaken after only five years of use, was declared unsafe, and the shore end of the pier was removed in 1892. Most of the rest of the pier was destroyed by waves in 1900.

Ironically, in 1951 a new “Magnolia Ave. Pleasure Pier” was built. However, it was simply a 480-foot-long pier/boat launch for small boaters. It was built at a cost of $74, 305. The U.S. Navy acquired the site in 1955 as a landing site and eventually built a pier and seven docks. However, the city of Long Beach reacquired the site (1958-1960) and filled it in by dredging and reclamation between 1960 and 1964.

Next in line was the original Pine Avenue Pier, the first municipally owned pier on the Pacific Coast. The pier was also the first purchase made by the citizens of Long Beach and perhaps prevented citizens from disincorporating the city (since there was a huge argument over taxes and the lack of services which people felt should have been provided by the taxes). The pier seemed to unite the people and provide a reason for the city government to continue. The Long Beach Eye editorial proclaimed, “we are for the people and the people want a wharf,” and the $15,000 bond issue for the pier passed easily.

The 1,700-foot-long pier opened on May 27,1893, with a celebration that included a barbecue, speeches, and the running of a special midnight tourist train by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Several thousand people visited that first day including many anglers (whose catch was not recorded). The Los Angeles Times reported the event the next day, “Long Beach Wharf—The Only Wharf Free From Taint of Monopoly” (which reflected the fights and the political dirty deeds common among the railroads and politicians during those days). Evidently the only disappointment was the failure of the steamer Rosalieto provide free hourly excursions (because of an accident).

The new pier drew a considerable number of tourists as it provided a home for vendors and entertainment such as a merry-go-round. Buildings sprung up around the pier including a beautiful pavilion that was built at the foot of the pier in 1897. The pavilion was designed for concerts and nightly dances (although dances were limited to Tuesday and Saturday nights after local ministers complained that public money was being used for purposes which they considered morally offensive). Another attraction was the “Spit and Argue Club” which took place down near the shore end of the pier. Anyone could express his views on any subject, crowds were almost always present, and educated and uneducated debate ruled the day. People would bring their source books—including encyclopedias and the Bible—and soon the gathering acquired another name—the “University By The Sea.”

No matter the heavy and diverse use of the Pine Avenue Pier, its days were numbered. It was discovered that the structure of the less-than-ten-year-old pier had been weakened by wood eating teredos (shipworms). Long Beach, a now popular seaside resort and quickly growing town, would need a new pier. In 1903 a bond issue was passed for a new pier

One year later, in 1904, a new steel and concrete, 1,800-foot-long, double-decked pier was built. From the street to the pavilion the width was forty feet wide, the next 1,000 feet saw a width of thirty-two feet, and the final 300 feet of the pier saw a 100-foot width. At the end, the pier sat in water thirty-two feet deep (with the lower deck about 12 feet above the low tide level). It opened on November 12, 1904 and was called at various times the Long Beach Municipal Pier, the New Pine Avenue Pier, and the Long Beach Pleasure Pier.

Long Beach and the Pine Avenue Pier — 1908

Whatever its name, it promised fun. A promenade for pleasure seekers as well as landing places for ships and pleasure craft were planned, the famous Sun Parlor was constructed out at the end of the pier, and early pictures show anglers jamming the lower level rails with their long bamboo poles. The city directory proudly proclaimed, “The main interest for the tourist and visitor is the opportunity it affords for an unrivaled marine promenade above the roaring breakers and out over the ocean billows for 1,800 feet.”

Fishing from the Pine Avenue Pier

Over the years the municipal pier was to suffer the damage that is common to all piers. In 1910 a high tide washed out 80 feet of the pier. On March 11, 1912, the newspaper reported that the “mad fury of a sixty mile gale tears out the south end of the pier,” the next day it recorded that a “gale is raging offshore, yet the pier still stands.” On May 25 the paper reported that the pier is closed due to piling damage from a storm. On September 14, 1921, a report was given that “the Pine Avenue Pier is condemned,” but in 1929 a new report stated that ground breaking for the W.L. Poterfield building marks the beginning of the end for the pier. But, the pier would survive for five more years courtesy of a new pier—the Rainbow Pier.

The Rainbow Pier

As the Pacific Electric tracks neared their Long Beach terminus, citizens of the seaside resort rushed preparations for the crowds and new way of life the trolleys were expected to bring. The most notable preparations included added safety precautions on the seashore for inlanders who were not accustomed to the rolling surf and city ordinances which sought to protect the dignity of Pine Avenue, the town’s main street, by making it illegal to stroll on the sidewalks either in “beach costume” or carrying fishing poles… The mention of Long Beach always had inspired a tongue-in-cheek attitude among the more sophisticated inlanders. Santa Monica made no secret of being a roaring resort, where one could enjoy the seashore with a glass of beer and revel in non-Victorian activities. Long Beach, with its strict ban on liquor and Sunday closing of most stores, was regarded as the seaside resort for the more conservative elements.

Ride the Big Red Cars, Spencer Crump, 1970, and Long Beach Press, June 26, 1902

With the extension of the Pacific Electric Railway into the area in 1902 both tourism and the city’s population boomed (it was the nation’s fastest growing city during the decade 1900-1910). Visitors found a wide, sandy, and long beach, a pleasure pier, and soon, next to the municipal pier, the “Pike” was developed, an amusement area that stretched almost a mile from Pine Avenue to Ocean Boulevard. The “Pike” would become famous throughout southern California. Attractions included the Looff Carousel, the Walk of a Thousand Lights, and in 1907 a small roller coaster that was simply called The Roller Coaster or The Figure Eight. Eventually the “Pike” itself would gain the nickname “Walk of a Million Lights.”

By 1912 there were several plans to build new roller coasters and new amusement piers. Most of the piers were never finished but E.R. Campbell constructed one in 1915. Known first as the Campbell Pier, it was later known as the Neptune Pier and finally as the Silver Spray Pier. The pier contained a number of what today seem fairly silly attractions—Monkey Dome, Pig Slide, High Brow Pigs, Snake Farm, Hit-the-Coon, skeeball, the Silver Spray Dance Hall and the Mill Chutes roller coaster.

In 1914 the Jackrabbit Racer roller coaster replaced the earlier coaster; it was the largest roller coaster on the West Coast and second largest in America (one at Riverview Park in Chicago was larger). Then, on Memorial Day 1930 a new roller coaster, the Cyclone Racer, opened. It was the world’s longest, fastest and steepest double track roller coaster and it became the final character in the story of the Long Beach coasters. It would last for 38 years, provide an estimated 25 million rides, and finally close on September 15, 1968.

Long Beach Pike — 1907

Long Beach Pike — 1910

Long Beach Pike — 1930

Long Beach Pike — 1937

Along the strand, at the foot of Pine Ave., the city’s main street, is the Pike, a raucous amusement area, with roller coasters, side shows, hot dog stands, and similar attractions; staid townspeople rather frown upon it as rowdy and noisy, but they overlook this for the sweet music played by tourists’ and children’s dimes and quarters as they clink at the change booths.  —Workers of the Writer’s Program of the Work Projects Administrationin Southern California, Los Angeles, A Guide to the City and Its Environs, 1951

Sportfishing too was available from the pier. Ed Ries, in Pacific Coast Sportfishing,reported that several boats operated from the Pine Street Pier after about 1914 although handlines and jackpoles were more commonly used than rod and reel. Apparently large inshore runs of albacore occurred during the World War I years and handline trolling was popular, Boats that operated from the pier included the Tillikum, Moonlight, Paul G., Waterwitch, G.W., and Music. By the ‘20s, when live bait began to be carried by the boats, the albacore had decided to move offshore and few were even caught during most of the decade.

The ‘20s also saw the local introduction to barge fishing with the James McKenna(1925 to postwar) and Blue Sea(1928). The ‘30s, perhaps the heyday of barge fishing, saw several additional barges. The Shamrockand Bountywere available most of the decade while the Melrose operated for a few mid-‘30 years in Long Beach waters before moving down to San Clemente. The Samaroperated 1937-38; it would be converted to a floating machine shop in WWII.

A new chapter in the story of the downtown shoreline and piers occurred on July 25, 1931 when 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 “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. At night, multicolored lights reflecting on the lagoon created a rainbow effect.

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.

In 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.

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; 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.

One Response

  1. Thanks for the info! one thing though, the “mystery sculpin” you mentioned on page 1 is actually a combtooth blenny. I thought it would be hard to hook one of those, especially since they are primarily herbivores.

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