Since taking a pounding from ferocious surf late last year, the Venice Fishing Pier has stood forlorn and empty, its entry blocked by a chained metal gate. Impatient anglers and joggers gaze through the bars of the gate and ask when -- or if -- the structure will ever reopen.
City engineers shut the structure in December, just hours before towering surf pounded away a portion of the pier, sending the public bathrooms plunging into the ocean and putting the structure’s future in peril.
The city is expected to approve the hiring of specially trained divers with engineering backgrounds to assess damage to the pier and determine whether the sand below is still deep enough to support the pier’s pilings.
“What we need to figure out is whether there has been any erosion of the ocean floor beneath the pier,” said Mike Shull, superintendent of planning and development for the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, which owns the pier. If it has eroded, he said, “that could be a problem.”
An earlier examination was not encouraging. On Jan. 24, county lifeguard divers and city engineers conducted a preliminary inspection and observed several significant cracks and evidence that sections of concrete were breaking away. But Shull said the part of the pier that sheered off did not appear to cause major damage to the main structure.
For such a benign place, the Venice pier has had a tumultuous history -- one that has often left pier devotees out in the cold.
Built in 1965 at the end of Washington Boulevard, the pier was closed in 1986 after chunks of concrete fell perilously close to beachgoers below. Engineers wrapped the reinforced concrete-and-steel pier in chain link to keep it from falling apart.
The pier was targeted for demolition -- a decision influenced by the $3.26-million settlement paid by Los Angeles County in 1987 to a jogger who was struck and paralyzed by a 150-pound chunk of concrete that fell from the aging Manhattan Beach Pier.
But the Venice structure won a reprieve, in part thanks to the efforts of Pier Pressure, a small group of Venice business people and residents.
It then stood idle for more than a decade until, in 1997, it finally reopened after a $4.5-million restoration. Anglers had several blissful years of fishing -- until December’s storms.
Since then, fishermen and strollers have visited the popular destination every day, hoping against hope that the iron gate blocking the entrance to the 1,200-foot-long pier would have once again swung open. Instead, disappointed visitors have been greeted by warnings: “DO NOT ENTER” and “PROHIBIDA LA ENTRADA.”
“My husband came here every weekend to fish for 24 years,” said a wistful Leonora Reyes, who recalls accompanying him while pregnant with their daughter. “Now he goes no place.”
Local residents say they miss the ritual of running out to the pier’s end or dangling their fishing rods over the sides.
“Numerous people walk the pier on a daily basis, and it’s one of the only places where people can fish,” said Mark Van Gessel, who lives nearby. “The closure of the pier is a major loss to the people of Los Angeles.”
Battered piers are nothing new to Southland beachgoers. Over the years, piers have endured closures after being damaged by El Nino storms, fires and the daily ravages of the sea. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent to maintain and repair Southern California’s 20 or so publicly owned piers.
Venice’s facility has operated in the shadow of more notable attractions. In the 1960s, the big draw was the nautical-themed Pacific Ocean Park Pier, with its Sea Serpent roller-coaster. That pier, located in Santa Monica but associated with the Venice Beach scene, closed in 1967 after falling on hard times.
In the late 1980s, Santa Monica Pier, the coast’s most famous pier, underwent a $30-million repair and renovation that more than doubled its commercial development. It continues to be a huge draw for local residents and tourists.
Venice Fishing Pier, with its low-key fishing and pay telescopes, has always been “like a stepchild,” said Stacy Peralta, a filmmaker and one of the original “Z-Boys” who revolutionized skateboarding in Venice’s “Dogtown” in the 1970s.
“The big connection in the area was the POP Pier, which had so many more attractions,” Peralta said. “If you wanted to fish, the Santa Monica Pier had so many more options.”
Even so, the Venice pier has its fans.
“It’s a significant place for the people who live here and for the people who come here,” said Steve Klein of Santa Monica, out for a brisk walk in a T-shirt and shorts Wednesday morning. “It’s important to the city.”
Mariya Albukh and Yelene Milyevskaya -- friends sharing a burgundy umbrella to shield themselves from the morning sun -- said they came often to stroll the length of the pier. “We walk, we enjoy,” Milyevskaya said. With the pier closed, they ventured onto the sand, watching a group of young men splashing in the chilly surf.
About 10:30 a.m., a man in a blue T-shirt banged his fist down on the gate’s chain, causing the doors to fling open. He strode onto the pier but was quickly stopped and sent on his way by lifeguard Dan Murphy, perched in the lifeguard tower above.
Shull, with the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks, reiterated that it was too soon to tell what the divers would find.
“This section of the pier [that collapsed] was on its own,” Shull said. “Why that was designed that way, I don’t know. But that’s part of the reason it was such a clean break.”
Meanwhile, he said, engineers have recommended that the pier remain closed until the follow-up inspections have been conducted. He said the city hopes to start them in the next couple of weeks, with formal recommendations expected in about two months.