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New Beginning at End of Pier : Huge Restaurant Will Replace Old-Time, Homey Eatery Swept Away in Storm of 1988

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With white, foamy waves rolling to the shore before them, Norman Dolan and his friend Adolph Lanci sat on a concrete bench on the Huntington Beach Pier one bright day last week, stared into the sea and waxed nostalgic.

About when radio--not television--was king. When trains were the major mode of transportation. When a notebook was just that, and not a computer.

When the Huntington Beach Pier was a quaint walkway on whose end sat a rustic, homey little eatery called the End Cafe.

Their beloved landmark, which has experienced so many defining moments in its 82-year history, is about to undergo yet another change. On June 12, Ruby’s Surf City Diner is scheduled to open, a huge teal-and-cream, red-tile-roofed building that will replace the cafe Dolan, Lanci, other old-timers and tourists used to frequent.

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“I miss those days when it was just a small pier, when everyone who walked here knew everyone,” said Dolan, a 68-year-old retired optometrist who has lived in Huntington Beach for about 40 years. “Well, times change and I guess this pier has to change with them.”

The original pier, a concrete structure with graceful arches, was built in 1914. Fierce winter storms and raging ocean waters washed away about 250 feet from the pier’s tip in 1988, carrying off the End Cafe. Time and tides had eroded the pier’s underpinnings. City officials declared it unsafe and shut it down.

Construction workers tore it down two years later for rebuilding.

With great fanfare, city officials reopened the $12.5-million, state-of-the-art pier in July 1992. The 1,856-foot pier is 13 feet higher than the old one, whose squared end was replaced with a diamond shape to deflect waves.

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But one thing still missing was the familiar End Cafe, whose owner died a few years ago.

When Ruby’s Surf City Diner opens, the pier once again will be complete--for some.

“I think it’s great that there will be a place for breakfast and lunch,” said Roger Dalot, who had been surfing all morning and was ending his day with a walk on the pier.

“I like this new pier,” said the 48-year-old Huntington Beach resident. “There’s not much to this downtown without it.”

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But not all are pleased with the final touch.

“Look at it,” said 45-year-old Huntington Beach resident Kevin Kelly, cocking his head in the direction of the restaurant even as he hooked his fishing line. “All you see is that . . . that . . . thing. It just looks like a big block house.

“Why couldn’t they keep it on a smaller scale?” asked Kelly, who has lived in the city and fished off its pier for more than 30 years.

Many who came to the pier on a pleasant, cloudless afternoon last week were less annoyed by the dominating structure. They fished, leaned against the railings, walked leisurely down the gently swaying path, sat on concrete benches or just gazed out into the dazzling, hypnotic ocean.

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“I’ve seen a lot of beaches and a lot of piers in the world,” said Jan Stuurman, a 57-year-old businessman from the Netherlands, who came to watch the surfers catch the waves. “And this is one of the nicest. It’s quite beautiful and peaceful here.”

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For Terre Mosich, 35, a brisk walk on the pier as she pushed her baby stroller is the perfect way to relieve stress. “You just start your day fresh when you get home after spending time here,” she said. “They like it too,” she added, pointing at her gurgling, 19-month-old twin daughters.

Several steps away, Dolan and Lanci stood up, stretched and took one slow, sweeping glance at the pier. Yes, a lot has changed since they first came here as young men, both said.

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But, no matter the changes, the 69-year-old Lanci said, “it’s still a place where we can come to walk, to relax, to think or just remember.”


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