Last modified: December 11, 2018

Fishing Piers Southern California

Venice Fishing Pier

History Note. Although the most famous pier in Venice was Abbot Kinney’s original Venice Pleasure Pier, the life of that pier ended in 1946. That pier and the other pleasure piers that had made Venice and Ocean Park the Coney Island of the West were all at an end by the mid 60s. The result was a change to the area, some saying for the better, some saying for the worse. There was no disagreement on the issue of fishing since the previous piers had provided recreation access that was no longer available.

Eventually sentiment and consensus for a fishing pier emerged and luckily it coincided with conditions in Sacramento conducive for a pier. The Wildlife Conservation Board’s program for piers had begun in 1959 and by 1963 money to build or reconstruct nine piers had occurred. The Venice fishing pier would be next.

The new pier would cost approximately $890,000 and be financed jointly by the California Wildlife Conservation Board and the Los Angeles City Recreation Department.

In March of 1964 construction began on the new pier and less than a year later the new Venice Fishing Pier emerged. The grand opening was on Saturday, February 27, 1965 and dignitaries included California Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, members of the Wildlife Conservation Board, and assorted other county and city officials. The Venice High School orchestra provided music and everyone reported having a good time.

The pier itself was built entirely of concrete and reached 1,310 feet out into the Pacific where it ended with a circular end 120 feet in diameter. It was 16 feet wide and came equipped with individual fishing stations that extended out from each side of the pier at 84-foot intervals. Each station contained benches and lights and the pier included a fish-cleaning platform and restrooms. Apparently the pier was popular as an estimated 10,000 anglers used the pier that weekend. The pier quickly became a destination for local anglers and most days would see anglers happily heading out to the pier; life was good.

However, the good life would change in the early 80s when Venice became yet another of the piers that were damaged by ferocious El Niño storms. In 1985 the pier was closed and remained closed for more than a decade. Although Los Angeles officials had originally predicted that it could be reopened by 1993, they were wrong! And though money was finally funded to repair the damage it was found that the structure itself was unsafe. The following story describes the situation well:

Tide Running Against Old Venice Pier

Plain as a hunk of concrete can be, the Venice Pier has always lacked the flair of its wooden, turn-of-the-century predecessor, which offered such eye-catchers as the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, the Bamboo Dragon Slide and the galleon-shaped Ship Cafe. Didn’t actress Sarah Bernhardt once personally compliment the Ship’s chef on his ragout of spring lamb? The Divine Sarah would have been hard-pressed to find that dish at the modern-day pier’s hamburger stand.

In fact, before the 1,200-foot-long structure was closed for safety reasons 15 months ago, its biggest attractions were a video arcade and a couple of pay telescopes—much to the surprise of tourists expecting a taste of offbeat Venice.       “They’d come out here and think they were going to see the guy juggling chain saws or something,” recalled lifeguard Jon Moryl. “They didn’t realize this was another side of Venice.”

What this side was, in the words of resident Frank Maddocks, was a “place where a family could bring the kids out, catch some fish and spend the whole day. It was a place where senior citizens could chat and look at the view.”

No more. Closed after the discovery that chipping concrete was falling from its base, the 23-year-old fishing pier has been targeted for demolition by the city Department of Recreation and Parks.

Maddocks heads a group—Pier Pressure—trying to save the spot. The county Department of Beaches and Harbors, which formerly operated the pier, turned it back to the city last October because, spokesman Larry Charness said, “The revenues were minimal and the liabilities tremendous.” One daunting factor was the $3.26-million settlement paid by the county last year to a jogger struck and paralyzed by a 150-pound chunk of concrete that fell from the 68-year-old Manhattan Beach Pier. While the cracked portions of the structure had to be wrapped in chain-link fencing and adjacent stretches of sand were fenced off, the Manhattan Beach Pier remains open.

The Venice Pier was similarly wrapped, but Joel Breitbart of Recreation and Parks said engineers have concluded that “nothing we can do would make it structurally sound, regardless of how much money we spent.” Demolition doesn’t come cheap. It’s listed as a $500,000 item in the department’s capital improvements budget proposal.

Ironically, last month’s storm, which damaged the Huntington Beach and Redondo Beach piers, hardly mussed up the Venice Pier, located off Washington Boulevard. “If it’s condemnable after surviving that storm, everything along the coast is condemnable,” said Mike Ballard, whose family ran a bait shop at the seaward end of the pier for 20 years. Ballard calls the Venice Pier, with conscious irony, “The Pier That’s Still Standing.”

How could the 23-year-old structure fall into such disrepair while 60- and 70-year-old counterparts up and down the coast survive? That’s the question asked by Jack Leighton, an investment management consultant who misses taking walks over the water. “There ought to be some sort of committee to investigate what went wrong,” he said, “and I’d like to be a part of it.”

Attempts to reach the pier’s designer, Daniel, Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall, a Los Angeles-based architectural and engineering firm, over the last week were not successful. However, Breitbart of Recreation and Parks says comparisons of piers are meaningless because the surf and climatic “conditions are different for each.” The Venice Pier’s problems stem from water that seeped through its concrete, rusting the steel reinforcing bars inside and causing them to expand and pop out pieces of concrete.

Nevertheless, Ted Anvick, a structural engineer who is helping renovate the 77-year-old Santa Monica Pier, believes its Venice neighbor could be reinforced and strengthened too. “There are techniques to prevent (concrete) corrosion,” he explained. “We know that the reinforcing steel can be coated with epoxy or galvanized (coated with zinc).”

Cathy Connelly, a public relations woman working without charge for Pier Pressure, was encouraged by Anvick’s appraisal. She suggested renovating the pier, perhaps with the help of sponsors, a not unprecedented arrangement at the beach. County lifeguards drive trucks that bear the logo, “Nissan, Official Truck, Los Angeles County Beaches.”

Pier Pressure’s strategy is to work with City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, generate support with petition drives, and raise funds through the sale of T-shirts with a pier logo designed by cartoonist Ron Overmeyer. “We’re still trying to determine what the people want,” Galanter spokesman Rick Ruiz said cautiously. (Recreation and Parks’ demolition request requires approval from the City Council and Mayor Tom Bradley.) Local merchants are divided because the fishermen aren’t viewed as big spenders. Some residents complain about parking problems.

—Steve Harvey, Los Angeles Times, February 5, 1988

The need for community support—and agreement—would be a key.

Venice Pier’s Future Lies in Hands of Residents

The deteriorating Venice Pier, scheduled for demolition, will get a reprieve while the city attempts to determine whether there is community support to repair or replace the structure,according to Joel Breitbart of the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department.

The state Coastal Conservancy, which funds restoration of coastal recreation facilities and wildlife habitats, recently offered to pay half of the $100,000 cost for a study on saving the pier, which has been closed for nearly two years.

Although the parks department has received $500,000 in its new budget to demolish the pier, Breitbart said the city will not raze the structure until the conservancy has conducted a public meeting on the pier’s future. The meeting will be held sometime this year.

The 1,200-foot-long concrete pier was closed in November, 1986, after pieces of concrete fell off. County officials who were then managing the pier discovered that the steel frame of the pier deck was corroding. They determined that the pier could not be saved and that the $4.5 million needed to replace it was too much.

If the public meeting determines that there is support for the pier’s repair or replacement, Breitbart said it would be worthwhile for the city to match the conservancy’s $50,000 offer to pay for the study. If the study finds that the base of the pier is still intact, it may be possible to replace the damaged concrete deck for less than it would cost to build a new pier, Breitbart said.

But he emphasized that the city will not commit itself to helping to pay for the study until it can determine whether the community is interested. “We feel the first question that has to be answered is: Does the community still think the pier is something worth keeping?” Breitbart said. “If yes . . . should it be the same length, should it be the same width, should there be any kind of commercial establishment on the pier?”

So far, Breitbart said, the only contact from the community has come from members of Pier Pressure, a small group of Venice business people and residents who are trying to rally support for saving the 24-year-old structure. The group hopes to raise $16,000 to pay for a survey that will be mailed to 30,000 Venice residents, said spokeswoman Cathy Connelly.

Los Angeles Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who represents Venice, is also waiting to hear from residents before she takes a position, said her deputy, Rick Ruiz. Galanter “is 100% behind giving the community a chance to have their voice heard on the pier,” Ruiz said.

Lifeguard Jeff White, who watches the empty pier during the day from a small booth at its entrance, said the pier used to attract 500 people a day during the summer. “I can’t tell you how many people a day ask me to let them out on the pier,” he said.

Two former regulars, Julius Polsky and Theodore (Ted) Rubenstein, are buddies who met four years ago on the pier, their favorite fishing spot. “We had a good place here,” Polsky said. Most of the 25 to 100 regulars “got to know each other during the last 10 years. It was a really nice gathering.” The two retired men—Polsky owned a tire store and Rubenstein managed a liquor store—do not consider themselves community activists. But they say that they gathered more than 400 signatures on a petition during a recent 10-day period asking the city of Los Angeles to reopen the pier immediately.

The city is not likely to grant their request. Breitbart said any use of the pier would expose the city to risks.

—Jay Goldman, Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1988

It was a long process but finally in 1993 voters passed a $10,000,000 bond issue to renovate both the pier and the Ocean Front Walk. Reconstruction began in 1996 and included replacement of the decking on the inner 600-foot-section, repair to the outer 600 feet, and replacement of all handrails. Although most pilings were retained, “cathodic protection” was given them to insure longer life. Pier fishing structures were upgraded and ADA compliant fishing stations were added. According to the engineers the estimated life for the renovated pier would be 70 years.

What in many ways was a new pier officially opened in November of 1997 after the $4.5 million restoration. Anglers headed out to the pier and once again life was good. Apparently though anglers had actually begun fishing the pier prior to the grand opening; an article in the Los Angeles Times dated October 23 reported that the fish helped celebrate the opening by “biting like crazy.” That year was a warm-water El Niño year and the same “good fishing” results were true at most SoCal piers.

Of course, life for an oceanfront pier is always risky—and always open to the whims of Mother Nature. Christmas Eve 2005 brought little joy to local pier rats, instead they saw headlines in the Los Angeles Times that reported new damage to the pier.

Deadly High Waves Batter Coast—Venice Pier is closed because of possible damage

Huge waves dragged a concrete public bathroom off the Venice Pier and into the sea amid a week of pounding surf that also beat up on sea life. The restroom, which held the beach’s foghorn, was knocked off its pilings early Wednesday. “Never in my life have I seen waves this big,” said Jon Kirk Mukri, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, which oversees the structure.

The restroom was near the middle of the fishing pier in a section that extends out to the north overlooking Malibu. Workers will probably need to inspect the underwater portion of the damaged pilings, but they may have to wait up to two weeks for the waves to dissipate. The National Weather Service said the high surf, caused by storms about 1,100 miles out in the Pacific, is expected to ebb throughout the weekend before kicking up again next week.

—Hector Becerra and Steve Hymon, Los Angeles Times, December 24, 2005

The pier was quickly closed with entry blocked by a chained metal gate. Officials announced they would have to send a group of divers down to see if there was damage to the pilings or if sand had been eroded from the pilings. Initial results sounded gloomy and once again doubts emerged about the future of the pier. Eventually though it was determined that the ocean floor and the sand around the pilings were stable and the pier would be safe to open.

The pier, now minus its restrooms, would reopen six months later on May 25, 2006. In 2008 work took place on the pier once again when most of the wooden railings were replaced. The problem was TERMITE damage, the first time I have heard of that problem on a pier.

Today the local citizens are once again able to stroll the pier, enjoy the ocean breeze, and even fish if that is their pleasure. Life is good.

Amenities include a large fish cleaning sink

Venice Fishing Pier Facts 

Hours: Open from 6 a.m. to midnight.

Facilities: The pier includes lights, benches, fish-cleaning stations and restrooms at the end of the pier. Parking is available at the foot of the pier for $6 but arrive early if you expect a spot. Weekend days, especially summer and fall, are very, very busy. Some (actually fairly limited) metered parking is available on nearby streets and the city itself heavily promotes taking a shuttle to the beach. Some frozen bait is available just up the street at Nick’s Liquor store.

Handicapped Facilities: Handicapped parking and restrooms. The pier’s surface is cement and the rail height is 41 inches although several handicapped sections have a 28″ railing. Posted for handicapped.

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