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JAUNTS : Ventura Pier Tour Offers Voyage Back Through Time : Sailing ships loaded with Christmas trees once docked there. Later, the first oil tankers arrived.


It's hard to picture, but in the early days of the historic Ventura Pier, lumber schooners loaded with timber would tie up at the wharf. Later, oil tankers would dock there.

The pier, a third-of-a-mile long, is the longest wooden wharf in the state. On Saturday, you can take a two-hour walking tour of the pier and learn why its commercial days ended and how it became a recreational attraction.

Offered by the city, the tour includes a stroll out to the end of the pier and back, followed by a walk to the nearby Cafe Bella in downtown Ventura for refreshments.

The event begins at 1 p.m. at the entrance to the pier. The cost is $6 for adults, and $4 for children and seniors.

If you haven't taken a jaunt out to the end of the pier in the last year, the tour is also a chance to see firsthand the $3.5-million restoration it underwent in 1993. You can also get a close-up look at the sculpture known as "Wavespout," a curious 6-foot-tall fountain that spurts seawater.

It's all a far cry from the pier's beginnings in 1872, according to city historian Richard Senate, who will lead the tour. The fledgling city of San Buenaventura was isolated in those days, before the arrival of the railroad. Coming and going by sea was the only sensible way, but ships had to anchor offshore, relying on small barges to ferry passengers and cargo ashore.

So local businessmen--Joseph Wolfson and his father-in-law, Juan Camarillo--had the pier built for $45,000. Soon, vessels were landing there with lumber to build up the town and leaving with loads of lima beans and other local produce, along with cattle, sheep and hogs.

"The pier became irrelevant when the railroad arrived," Senate said. "Oil saved it." By the 1890s, oil was the city's main export. Oil storage tanks were built next to the wharf, and the world's first oil tanker was based here. Unfortunately, it burned in 1899 in a spectacular fire while docked at the pier. Firefighters hosed the wharf and it escaped serious damage.

In 1936, when an oil barge departed from the wharf, the pier's commercial years came to an end. The city bought it in 1940 for $7,000, then gave it to the state in 1949. The city took it back in 1990 when the state considered demolishing it because of high maintenance costs.

Almost from the time it was built, the pier has had its share of disasters. Damage from storms caused it to be rebuilt several times. During a storm in December 1914, it was cut in half when huge swells shoved the steamer Coos Bay against it. The ship was loaded with Christmas toys.

There are many bright spots in the pier's history. One of them, according to Senate, is the tradition of the Christmas tree schooners. Sailing down from Washington during the years between 1890 and 1920, they docked at the pier, bringing not only trees for the holidays but loads of apples.

"Apples became synonymous with Christmas," Senate said.


* WHAT: Walking tour of the Ventura Pier

* WHEN: Saturday, 1 to 3 p.m.

* WHERE: Meet at the entrance to the pier, near Harbor Boulevard and California Street in Ventura.

* COST: $6 for adults; $4 for children and seniors.

* FYI: Preregistration is advised but not necessary. 658-4726.

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