Editor’s Note: With El Nino storms again lashing Southern California piers, we figured readers would enjoy stepping again on the ones built in Laguna Beach. Even in 2011 when the late Andy Hedden revisited them, all were long gone.
You stroll on them to gain an unhindered vista of the shore. You fish from them, but most times all you catch is a cold. Sometimes you even jump off of them. Hard to believe that over the years at least seven piers jutted from Laguna’s coastline, all gone and some forgotten but an integral part of our history and landscape.
The best known in modern times was Aliso Pier, built in 1971. This edifice stretched out over the Pacific from Aliso Beach with a diamond shaped promontory that allowed a commanding view of Laguna not since replaced. The pier was constructed entirely of concrete. It was built before South Laguna was annexed in 1987 and was a county project. It was an architectural icon to locals, visitors, lovers and surfers. For the surfer brave of heart, a rite of passage was to throw your board over the railing and then jump in after it; it proved you had the right stuff and saved you a long paddle out to the break. The pier suffered heavy damage in 1983 by one of the first documented El Nino storms, It suffered more battering in 1986 in a subsequent, though milder El Nino. The California Coastal Commission approved a $1million reconstruction project, according to a January 1988 Los Angeles Times article. But another storm in 1997 damaged half of the 35-foot-high concrete pilings, compromising its structural integrity. That put the final wave in the pier and it was demolished in 1999.
Going back much further, arguably the most historic Laguna pier stretched out from Heisler Point on the north end of Main Beach. This venerable structure had two incarnations. The first was built in 1896 after the 16 registered voters in Laguna unanimously decided a pier was a necessary element of the burgeoning hamlet, according to Ken Jones, at Pier Fishing.com. Citizens lent a hand to build the pier and it was primarily constructed of railroad ties. That structure lasted until 1911, when it was destroyed by wind and weather. A second pier was built by the Derkum brothers and lengthened to 1150 feet, now going out over Bird Rock. For pilings they used Eucalyptus logs they felled themselves from Laguna Canyon. It suffered damage every year due to wind and weather, but the brothers would haul down new Eucalyptus logs from the Canyon to make repairs. There was a small shack there that sold bait and tackle. Fishermen used cane poles with no reels, just a line with a hook at the end. They would throw the poles into the water and wait for a bite, then watch as the poles were yanked out to sea. Then they’d race to shore boats and chase the poles, sometimes as far as a mile offshore. That pier was ultimately destroyed in Laguna’s only official hurricane in 1939, boasting gales of 65 miles per hour. The powers that be decided not to replace it. Some of the pilings still jut up out of the rocks.
Another long lost stretch of oceanic planking is the Arch Beach Pier, which yawned out over what was later named Woods Cove. Earlier than the Heisler Point pier, it was built in 1887 by Hubbard Goff and Nate Brooks, two of the Laguna’s founding fathers. At that time,
Laguna was a divided colony, not politically, but geographically. Two separate towns made
up Laguna – Laguna Beach and Arch Beach. Coast Highway was impassible beyond Bluebird Canyon. Boats would moor to an iron ring embedded into a rock off the cove, stretch a line to the end of the pier, and haul up provisions to the end of the pier. The mussel encrusted skeleton of the ring on the rock, aptly named Ring Rock, is still there. For intrepid Woods Cove regulars, a great treat is making the hundred yard swim out to the rock, wait for the right tide and time, and hopping on top. A delicate and risky perch, but well worth the view.
Small but mighty, there was once a pier off of Treasure Island Trailer Park, now the Montage Resort. Built in the late ‘50s, it was 115 feet long and had a motorized winch that could lower small boats into the deep, crystal clear waters below. This was a great fishing spot, but at the time private property, exclusively for use by the trailer park residents. That being said, intrepid anglers would regularly make the trespassing trek down from Victoria Beach or up from Aliso Beach to take advantage of the plentiful catch. The pier was demolished in 1999, a year before Aliso Pier disappeared.
Other, more obscure piers include a temporary one built in the mid ‘60s off central Main Beach. It was constructed to lay new sewer lines. When the job was done, it was demolished, now long gone and almost completely forgotten. Most unique, and very little known was the pier at Thousand Steps Beach. It was built in the mid-‘60s by a resident, without permits or permission. At low tide with low sand, remnants of that structure are also still visible.
Today there is not a single pier in Laguna Beach, just the ghosts of pilings past.
Andy Hedden was a lifelong Laguna resident.