VENTURA — The sea-battered Ventura Pier, built back when this beach-side town was more accessible by water than roadway, reopened Saturday after a seven-month, $2.2-million renovation to bolster the historic monument against the weight of the Pacific.
Balmy weather drew about 2,500 locals to the beach to admire the pier's new octagon-shaped end, steel-reinforced pilings and dozens of aesthetic changes that make the structure more inviting.
City officials, who want the pier to draw more tourists and locals to the downtown area, hope the new pilings and an elevated deck will save the structure from the brutal winter swells that have nearly destroyed it nine times in the last 128 years.
They point to a decorative gate that replaced the old chain-link fence, a 50-foot flagpole, wooden benches, colorful pennants and information panels that describe the structure's history. Floodlights will light up the surf at night.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 13, 2000 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 5 Zones Desk 1 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction
Ventura Pier--The original name of the Ventura Pier was misstated in an April 2 article. The correct name was the Ventura Wharf.
The new deck at the pier's end is the perfect place for events and the pier's history is already a tourist attraction, said Janice Wagar, the city's marketing manager.
"A man from Dearborn, Mich., brought a group of 22 people to Ventura just to see the pier," Wagar said. "When we hear stories like that, we think, 'Wow. It's working.' It's not just the pier, though. It's the beaches and the renovated downtown. There's a lot to do in Ventura."
On Saturday, locals in sandals and tank tops walked their dogs along the wooden planks, while others cast fishing lines off the side, shared bags of free popcorn or ate ice cream. At the end of the pier, seven men in suits played jazz as women in period costumes smiled behind their feather fans.
The original structure, named the Hueneme Wharf, was completed in 1872, marking a new boom era for the dusty towns of Ventura County by giving farmers better shipping access. It served as the gateway for California travelers who reached the area by steamboat, rather than risk their lives on a mountain stagecoach.
The pier is also the focal point for some of the Pacific Ocean's most powerful winter waves.
"Under certain conditions, wave energy will converge right at the pier," said meteorologist Rey Strange, a city consultant. An underwater ridge, he said, focuses waves directly toward the pier. The landmark has bowed to that pressure several times over the years.
For decades, the pier has endured severe weather and violent waves, including a 1937 storm that destroyed about 700 feet.
After a 1986 storm, the pier was so damaged that state officials kept it closed until the city assumed ownership in 1993, said City Engineer Rick Raives.
The storm of December 1995 consumed 400 feet of the structure and yanked the pilings out to sea.
"That really made us go back to the drawing board and look at what we should be doing out there," Raives said.
Using insurance money and state grants, the city replaced about 500 feet of the 1,615-foot pier with steel, making it 10 times stronger than when it stood on wood pilings, Raives said.
A grass-roots group known as Pier Into the Future raised nearly $800,000 to maintain the structure.
The group's founders--longtime Ventura residents Dan and Edna Mills--organized about 16 local resident who have sold T-shirts, posters, magnets and other memorabilia.
Even pieces of the pier were up for grabs. Fund-raisers offered each plank for about $125. About 3,700 buyers received a special title as proof of ownership.
Considering the pier's precarious location, however, Ventura City Manager Donna Linderos said she is skeptical the most recent renovation will be the last. Weather patterns are too unpredictable, she said.
"It has a much better chance of surviving," she said. "But it's nature, guys."