Last modified: August 23, 2019

Fishing Piers Southern California

Sycamore Cove Pier aka Big Sycamore Canyon Pier — Gone But Not Forgotten

Sycamore Cove Beach (9000 Pacific Coast Highway) is located three miles east of Point Mugu and four miles up the coast northwest from the south corner of Ventura County. It sits at the mouth of the Big Sycamore Canyon and today is the site of the headquarters for Point Mugu State Park. Visitors will see a sandy beach and the ocean beyond (along with some BBQ grills and restrooms).

There is little to bring memory of what was once a thriving little community, the mobile home park (Big Sycamore Beach Resort), or the short lived (at least as envisioned) “Sycamore Fishing Village” with its cabin lounge, sun room (for the ladies), dining room, and fishing barge—Sanwan.    

Nor does one see the large campground or the small store that sold the traditional bait and tackle along with the various knick-knacks and doo-dads that are common to beachfront stores. And one certainly doesn’t see the tanks for fresh fish and lobster or the large pots of boiling water to cook those lobsters.

In addition, little gives evidence of the commercial skiff fishermen who used the site to bring in their catch—mostly halibut, rockfish and lobsters. Some of the fish would be sold to the local restaurant and fish market while records indicate some of the fresh fish was simply sold to passing cars and trucks.            

Lastly, one does not see the fairly small, 400-foot-long “pleasure” fishing pier, the pier that provided many hours of sport for young and old, resident and visitor. Surfperch, croakers or the occasionally larger shark and ray would have been the mainstay fish and all would have been welcomed by the anglers on the pier.

Occasionally a gnarly old piling may be seen sticking its head up through the sand as though pleading for remembrance but most pilings are gone, removed by the ceaseless waves and pounding surf over the years.  

All of it is now history—and remembrance to those who were able to experience the area before it was closed and demolished in the early ‘70s.

History: Based upon newspaper accounts the pier was first envisioned in 1938 but not built and opened until 1940. Undoubtedly, the opening reflected the increased use of the coast highway (Roosevelt Highway) between Santa Monica and Oxnard, a highway stalled for years by the Ringe Ranch owners in Malibu and not opened until late 1929.

Ventura Fishing Pier Permit Sought

Ventura, July 25.—Supervisors today received an application for construction of a $10,000 pleasure fishing pier at Big Sycamore Canyon on Roosevelt Highway. The petition was filed by E. L. Grimshaw of Beverly Hills, owner of a Santa Monica café, who announced plans for a $75,000 pleasure mecca at the shore end of the pier. Due to legal technicality, the board will not be able to give its approval until an official hearing notice has been published four times in a newspaper of general circulation. —Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1938

Step up and meet Bert Smith the general manager and foreman on the construction of the Big Sycamore Canyon pier. For ten years, he was with the United States Steel Corporation, the last nine years as superintendent of bridge construction… compared to river bridges, the pier located south of Oxnard on the Roosevelt Highway is just small fry. He believes the new fishing pier will be completed and ready for operation by May 21. In all there will be 109 pilings driven; the pier will be 600 feet long, 14 feet wide, and will rest 23 above the water.—Strolling Around The Town, Oxnard Press-Courier, May 6, 1940

Work Started on $100,000 Project

Construction work on a $100,000 fishing pier and resort at Sycamore, 19 miles north of Malibu on Roosevelt Highway, has been started, according to announcement by R. E. Golding and E. L. Grimshaw, operators of Los Flores Inn. —Los Angeles Times, May 12, 1940

Construction of the 400-foot-long pier would be quick and within two months the operation was open for business. 

The new pier at Sycamore on the coast road about 20 miles north of Malibu Colony is open for business with a yacht-like barge furnishing excellent accommodations for the fishermen. —Angling Angles, Slim Thompson, Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1940

However, Mother Nature has a way of thwarting the best-laid plans of men and just five months later a winter storm would destroy part of the pier and damage on shore structures.

Northward near Oxnard the end of the new 400-foot Sycamore Canyon pier was washed away with damage estimated by pier manager J. H. Fulghum at $12,000.A new store and pumping equipment were torn away and smashed against the beach by heavy breakers. —Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1940

As for the Sanwan? It too would soon be history.

Wind and Rain Lash Southland — Boats Driven Ashore

The yacht Sanwan, once owned by actor Frank Morgan, was tossed onto the beach at Santa Barbara. —Los Angeles Times, February 12, 1941

But life at the site continued and during the ‘40s the mobile home park aka trailer court would be built between the highway and the foot of the pier.

History becomes a little fuzzier for the ‘50s and ‘60s, at least until the later years. Much of what we know comes from “A Cursory Historical Investigation, Alexander D. Bevil, California State Parks, 2010.”

According to the report, “the Trailer Court is no longer extant in the 1967 update of the 1949 quad map.” [However, pictures taken from the air, and dated 1969, seem to show the pier and various onshore structures, including the mobile home park, largely unchanged in 1969.]

The report continued  “the earliest California State Parks documentary reference to an ocean pier at the foot of Big Sycamore Canyon is on Point Mugu State Recreation Area Ownership Map dated January 1968. A note stated that the ‘Location of the Pier {is] Shown on 7 Record Survey 56…’ The pier appears to be approximately 500 feet long.” 

On June 19, 1968, the State of California acquired 6,438 acres of Rancho Guadalasca from William Broome and soon reclassified the State Recreation Area land as a State Park (Point Mugu State Park).

“The original owner of the parcel of land on which the pier stood was the Sycamore properties… The State Public Works Department, acting for the State of California, acquired the property through condemnation.”

Finally, the state in its infinite wisdom leveled the buildings. “A February 15, 1972 Development Plan Narrative for Pt. Mugu indicated that the Department of General Services ‘is clearing the former mobile home and trailer facilities’ at ‘Big Sycamore Beach.” Aerial photographs dated 1972 seem to show the pier and park still in existence but it isn’t clear what months the pictures were taken.

There was no mention of the pier in the final paragraphs of that report nor a mention of the pier in the January 1977 General Plan. It is probably safe to say 1972 would have been the last year of the pier.

Those Who Remember: Notes to kenjonesfishing.com

Jay Hudson, September 7, 2014   I visited here in late forties. It was a campground and small store of sorts; I enjoyed fishing off pier and rocks at east end of beach. Good times with family.

Dave Schenk, August 12, 2017 I lived here in a trailer park as a child in the late 50′s and early 60′s. It was our own private paradise.

Peggy, September 9, 2017 I lived at the Big Sycamore Maintenance Station, now called CalTrans; it was located across the road from the trailer park. I lived from 1964-1974. It was an incredible place to grow up. There was a novelty store that sold all kinds of knick-knacks and the store had fresh caught fish and lobster tanks. They had huge pots of boiling water to cook the fresh seafood. On the northern side of these tanks was a small fast food cafe. My sister would cook hamburgers for the people that didn’t want lobster or crab.

Matthew Lucas, October 19, 2018 I used to go to that store as a kid in the 60′s. We called it the bait store. Loved looking at the sharks in the concrete sea tanks! My grandpa bought us ice creams. Great memories! My grandparents lived in a mobile home park on this property in the 1960′s. We would go fishing off the pier and collect sea glass stones and shells. We would all walk down to the sand dune and slide down on cardboard. Wonderful childhood memories there.

Roger Woody, January 31, 2019 As a child, I fished often from this pier. My father, Ray Woody and his partner Joe built the mobile home park they named “Big Sycamore Beach Resort”. We moved here from Santa Monica in 1953. My father also built the Cove House in 1955 where our family lived until I graduated high school in 1961.

Neil, February 18, 2019

Our grandparents had a place here when we were kids in the sixties. Sheriff John Rovick, a local television personality, was a neighbor. We once used one of the old pier pilings in a large bonfire and Joe the manager rode up in his Jeep and put out the fire. Good times and memories.

Author’s Note. The site is apparently a good one for movies. The movie After The Sunset was partially filmed at Sycamore Cove Beach in 2004. The lifeguard headquarters played the part of the beach house while the pier seen in the film was constructed just for the film. The film included Pierce Brosnan (Max) and Salma Hayek (Lola) among others. In one scene Max and Stan go fishing for sharks and are successful. Afterwards they drunkenly sing the same song sung by a drunken Quint, Hooper, and Brody in Jaws (1975). So, the question for the day is if you have to be drunk to sing that song or does it somehow sound better if you are in a drunken stupor?

 “A twisted rock formation on the far side of the cove marks the location for the climax of Charlie’s Angels in which Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu hang from a helicopter… Sycamore Cove is also a good spot for a family outing, as seen in Junior, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny Devito, Emma Thompson, and Paula Reed celebrate their offspring’s birthdays.”

—Harry Medved with Bruce Akiyama, Hollywood Escapes, 2006

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *