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Main Street Branch Library: Part 7 -- The Huntington Beach Pier

The Huntington Beach Pier

Photo #24 -- The Original Pier, ca. 1902 -- 1912

The First Wooden Pier, as it looked on April 7, 1906

Accounts differ as to the exact date the first pier was built, but sometime between 1902 and 1904, the first Huntington Beach pier was constructed of wood.  It was an important feature in the plan to attract tourists to the new town, even though the city was not officially incorporated until 1909.  It was built by the Huntington Beach Company (AKA Standard Oil), and measured 1000 feet long.


"Wharf" Stand and Pier, early 1900's

After its completion, there was some controversy over whether to officially call the structure a “wharf” or a “pier”.  Although many early photos of the pier include the word “wharf” within their captions or inscriptions, the word “pier” won in the end. 

Besides strolling and fishing off the pier, people enjoyed many different activities while visiting the beach.  In 1904, the original Huntington Beach Pavilion was built at the base of the pier, and was used as a shelter for outdoor musical concerts and dancing on the oceanfront.  There was also a children’s beach play area situated next to the pier, as well as a wooden boardwalk extending along the beach, but in 1910 it was replaced by the popular saltwater plunge, which was built in that same location. (See photo, next slide)

 Children’s Beach Playground at the Pier, 1910.

In 1910, the chamber of commerce realized that exposure to the salt water and sun had weakened the wooden pier, and that it would soon need to be replaced.  They appointed a special committee the study the problem.   At first, the HB Company wanted a new wooden pier built at 23rd and PCH, (then Ocean Avenue) instead of at Main Street.  Early resident and County Board of Supervisors member Thomas Talbert remembered this to be one of the worst fights in the early history of Huntington Beach.  Luckily, in 1911, the HB Township’s Board of Trustees approved a bond of $70,000 to build a new, reinforced concrete pier at the corner of Main and Ocean Avenue.  As if to reinforce their decision, in the winter of 1912, a large portion of the wooden pier plunged into the ocean during a severe storm.  Since there were already plans to replace the pier, residents were not all too concerned.

Photo #25 -- Original Concrete Pier, 1914-1988

 Destruction of the pier during a winter storm in January of 1988.  

On February 16, 1912, a rally event was organized by the local YMCA in order to raise money to build the new pier.  They posted signs that read “New $70,000 Pier to be erected here at once.  Bonds already voted.”  Even though the bond was approved in 1911, it would be 1914 before the pier was actually finished.  Learning from the past damage caused by the storms, the engineers decided to take extra steps in order to fortify every single piling used in the pier.  Each one was sized and then left to season for months along the bluff above the beach.  Next, they were individually fitted and driven into the ocean floor.  The result was an impressive reinforced concrete pleasure pier, measuring 1350 feet long. (See photo, next slide.)

The New Concrete Pier, as it looked in 1914

The original cornerstone for the concrete pier dedication in 1914

The formal dedication of the new concrete pier took place on Saturday, June 20, 1914, and was officiated by the Santa Ana Elks Lodge No. 794.  The Long Beach Municipal Band provided the music, and a beautiful cornerstone was laid. (See picture, above)

Following is a program of the day’s events:

Saturday afternoon:

  • 50 and 75 yard foot races for boys and girls under 14, a 3-legged race, sack race and a 75 yard ladies competition.  First place for the kids was $1, second place was 50 cents.
  • A baseball game between Garden Grove and Pacific Electric Company teams that charged a .25 cent admission.
  • A diving/swimming exposition provided by the Los Angeles Athletic Club
  • A Japanese fencing and sword dance exhibition
  • A special surfing demonstration by local legend George Freeth.

Saturday Evening at 8:00 PM:

  • “Ocean Illumination Show”
  • Carnival Dance on the new Pier

This new pier also played a big part in the many beach activities enjoyed by visitors, including fishing, new children’s swing sets and outdoor concerts at the beach in a new Bandshell and stage that were built around 1914.  Later on, there was a carousel set up at the foot of the pier, in what is now Pier Plaza. (See photo.)

Fishing off the Pier, 1936. The Sunshine Cafe can be seen at the end.

In 1930, the pier was lengthened by 500 feet, and soon after, the Sunshine Café (AKA the Sun Parlor) was built at the pier’s end.  Unfortunately, during the 1933 earthquake, the end of the pier with the café was shook loose from the rest of the structure.  Due to the ensuing hasty pave-over “repairs” done, in 1939, the violent waves of a rare hurricane easily tore off almost 300 feet off the end of the pier, taking the café along with it.  Even though the café was rebuilt in 1940, it was quickly snatched up in 1941 by the Navy and used as a lookout post for enemy submarines.

Neptune's Locker, tiny pub on the pier, 1951-1988

Around 1940, ornate “zigzag moderne” shops popped up on each side of the main thoroughfare to sell souvenirs or snacks, adding to the appeal of the pier. This style of architecture was an offshoot of the Art Deco design popular in France.  It featured buildings with facades and decorative geometric designs.  Such a building was used to house a small but popular pub called "Neptune's Locker", which served cold beer and sandwiches -- plus an awesome view of the sunset.  After the pier was closed in 1988, the beautiful building disappeared during the construction of the current pier, which was built in 1992.


Tram Ride along the Pier, 1940's

Another popular eating establishment, the “Pier Café”, was set up at the other end of the pier next to the train tracks, and served food such as hamburgers, jumbo shrimp, fish dinners and hot dogs.  This café was one of the stops along the route of a tram service that ran visitors out to the pier.  This service ran throughout the 1930’s until well into the 1980’s.  The Pier Café was located on the opposite side of the pier where the current Duke’s Restaurant is now located, and the Sunshine Café was in the same spot as the recently closed Ruby’s Diner at the pier’s end.  

After the war was over, the popular Sunshine Café happily resumed business, until it changed hands in 1977 and became the “End Café”.  In 1983, the cafe was badly damaged by another large storm, and ended up at the bottom of the ocean.  In September 1985, the rehabilitated pier reopened with a new two story "End Cafe", but that, plus another 250 feet of the pier, was washed away by yet another storm on January 17, 1988.  Witnesses to the disaster remember the café floating away in the ocean like a houseboat.   The pier was eventually declared unsafe, and it was closed on July 12, 1988.  Despite the closure of the pier, it was still recognized for architectural and engineering excellence and was placed on the U.S.  National Register of Historic places on August 24, 1989.

Photo #26 -- New Pier Dedication, 1992

In July 1990, the city gave a construction bid for the new pier to Riedel International. A local citizens’ organization, the P.I.E.R. (Persons Interested in Expediting Reconstruction) Group was formed to raise money for the reconstruction.  They were able to raise over $100,000 by selling t-shirts and other items with the P.I.E.R. group logo on them.  Huntington Beach’s sister city in Anjo, Japan, donated another $92,000.  When enough money had been collected, construction of the new pier began in October of 1990 In addition to preserving the architectural style of the original 1914 concrete design, the pier was built with epoxy-coated reinforced steel to withstand the elements, including wave impact and earthquakes.  Finally, on July 18, 1992, during the “Pierfest ‘92” ceremony, ribbon was cut at the base of the pier in front of a crowd of around 300,000 people.  Souvenir and bait shops now line four parts of the pier that extend out from the main thoroughfare.  The new pier is both 13 feet higher and 20 feet longer than the previous one, measuring 1856 feet long.

View of now-closed Ruby’s Diner at base of Pier.

Ruby's Diner at the Pier, 1993-2021

In keeping with the tradition of having an eating establishment at the end of the Pier, the popular restaurant Ruby’s Diner was opened the next year (1993), and proved to be a popular dining destination for both tourists and local residents alike who were craving a chocolate milkshake and hamburger.  In February of 2021, after the owner of the chain filed for bankruptcy in 2018, the doors of Ruby’s Diner were permanently closed.  Although a replacement has not yet been made public, there are tentative plans to open a seafood restaurant. So far, however, the lack of a place to eat at the Pier has not deterred visitors from making the trek to the end.  Fishing is still a popular pastime for some pier visitors, in addition to watching the surfers tackle the majestic and ever-present waves in the ocean waters outside Surf City, USA.

Huntington Beach Public Library
7111 Talbert Ave. Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Phone 714-842-4481