The Ocean Beach Pier – Past, Present, and Future

by on July 27, 2021 · 0 comments

in History, Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

The Ocean Beach Pier was the main subject of the Point Loma – Ocean Beach Democratic Club meeting Sunday, July 25.  The club invited local OB historian and author Kathy Blavatt, mayor Gloria’s representative Kohta Zaiser, and this writer to provide information on the pier – past, present, and future.


Before the pier presentations, Carolyn Chase from the all-volunteer Parks and Recreation Coalition (PARCS) gave an update on her group’s efforts to influence the city’s Parks Master Plan.  In a nutshell, it has been frustrating trying to get the city to listen to these park advocates.

A detailed account of what this group is doing was in a January 2021 OB Rag story. The group made a detailed presentation at the Midway-Pacific Highway Planning Group’s January meeting.

The main issue the group is fighting is the city’s decision to go to a points system for parks, replacing the traditional design standard of 2.6 acres of park per 1,000 residents. This design standard is common all across the country.  The point system is relatively new and seems designed to ensure that the city will not have to designate additional park acreage in the future.

The point system is based on “amenities.”  By adding amenities that are worth points, like informative signage, the acreage requirement can shrink or even disappear.  As recounted in the January 25 OB Rag story, PARC described an extreme example showing that the new point system gave a 10 square foot interpretative sign the same point value as a one-acre of park. That’s a sign two feet by ten feet equated with 43,560 square feet.

The other problem with the point system is that it will be used in places the city feels would be difficult to add park land, to avoid the problem. Who decides what is too difficult? The acreage requirement is good because it keeps the pressure on the city to satisfy it.  It’s human nature to take the easiest path, if there is one, and the point system will be one.

There is no doubt, the under-served neighborhoods in the city will be poorly served by the point system. And, those are the neighborhoods that have the hardest time fighting city hall.

For more information on the work this group is doing or to provide a public comment, Chase provided an email address,  This is not an email address to a website for the PARC group, they do not have one. (The website is Chase’s personal site apparently created in 2005, when Chase ran for the District 2 city council seat.)

Anyone wishing more information will need to use the email address. Having seen their presentation in January and how well it was done, this writer had expected the group would have a website by now to showcase their effort. It is an all-volunteer group with no funding, perhaps a tech-savvy volunteer could help them out.

OB Pier

When the discussion moved on to the pier, Kathy Blavatt was up first, providing history on, and pictures of, the pier and OB.  Blavatt was a contributor to Ocean Beach, a history book by the Ocean Beach Historical Society, and wrote Ocean Beach Where Land And Water Meet. Blavatt’s account covered the waterfront of OB including the older buildings that were once there, the saltwater pool, and Wonderland Amusement Park.

It is ironic that Wonderland was mentioned.  OB had an early demonstration of what the ocean could easily do to when man build. The ocean put an end to the giant amusement park barely two and a half years after it opened. Wonderland was a perfect example of what happens when the builder has ignored, or is ignorant of, the surrounding environment. The Dog Beach area was a poor choice.

Blavatt had pictures of the partially finished steel pier off of Del Monte Street, OB’s first pier.  It was planned to be 2,000 feet long, constructed of railroad ties, but only about 300 feet were completed. World War II put an end to it as the steel was no longer available for a project like this and it was dismantled.

Blavatt moved on to some information about the current pier, including that OB ponied up private money to extend the southerly part of the pier’s “T.” She showed pictures and accounts of when the pier opened as well.

For a full account of Blavatt’s presentation, and to see the historic pictures she talks about, go here  (She begins at 12:19 in the recording.)

Mayor Gloria’s representative, Kohta Zaiser, spoke next. Zaiser gave the same presentation that he had made to the OB Town Council during its Special Meeting about the pier May 26. An account of that can be seen here .

This writer then spoke after Zaiser concluded his presentation. I first recapped of how I got on to the pier story and obtained the pier report, which is detailed in the OB Rag pier story from April.  This was followed by information on the pier’s history regarding repairs and engineering investigations starting in 1987 and continuing to today.

I then focused on the main pier issues beginning with the faulty engineering.  The reason the pier is low in one spot and then rises seaward was due to an engineering change when they realized the pier was too low.  That low spot is a problem.

The biggest problem is that the low area, Bent 19, is very frequently bathed in seawater and the pier materials were never intended for that, which is why there is so much deterioration in that area. This is also where the railing has been torn off many times over the years.

The changed design created another stress area as the piles at the low spot have to absorb the energy during big surf with little help from the piles east of that spot. What should have happened did not.  The pier should have been redesigned to the east also and raised from the beginning of the pier or at least farther landward.  This would have been a costly operation, removing and redoing new work is the least desirable path in construction.  This may be why it was not done.

Another problem was the big “T” at the end of the pier.  When the surf is large it hits the T, more or less at once, and it all pushes landward together putting great strain on the piles just east of the T. These are where the bad piles are located that have caused the T to be closed.

I also mentioned that a dedicated maintenance program for the pier, involving finding and dealing with cracks, could have given the pier a much longer life. This kind of maintenance is commonplace and is well worth the expenditure compared to the cost of damage that goes completely unattended.

I then discussed what should be done and stated that I believe there are only two options, either remove the pier completely and not rebuild, or build a new pier. The rehabilitation option that the consulting engineers included as an option not economical.

Rehabbing an existing structure of any kind always results in additional unforeseen costs. Any estimate is a guess because the full extent of the problems cannot be known until work begins.  It is similar to dry rot or termite damage, things have to be torn up to see what really needs to be done.

Additionally, there is a diminishing return where the cost of labor to rehab old material is more expensive than using new material.  Cobbling new materials onto to old material is difficult and results in an uneven final product. Marrying up concrete of today with wizened old concrete is just a bad idea.

After a long career spent in the construction industry, the wisdom of using new materials is second nature. I have witnessed rehabilitation projects and they are difficult and always cost more than originally thought.  Doing this makes sense for preserving historical buildings and structures with an aesthetic and cultural value or if there is no other way.  The pier does not fall into either category.

I also suggested that a new pier could be placed at the Del Monte location, where the original pier was started.  This would free up the surf break from the reef west of Niagara.  There were some questions about that idea, mainly having to do with access and what the merchants might think.  Access might be possible along the waterfront, but, if not, it is only a couple of blocks from where the pier is now.

Siting a new pier would depend on a host of factors not the least of which would be permitting and environmental issues. It may be that building a new pier in the same location would be the easiest considering such hurdles. It may be that the folks who fish would prefer Del Monte because the pier would be fully over a reef. It may be that the merchants feel it needs to be where it now sits. Lots to consider.

Ralph Teyssier, the son of the man whose construction company built the pier, attended the meeting and provided additional technical information about concrete, its properties, and how it reacts to salt water. As Teyssier explained there have been great advances in concrete mix designs in the past 50 years. Teyssier is a civil and a structural engineer who was inspired to go into engineering watching the pier being built as a young boy.

Teyssier also believes a new pier is the way to go.  He said the bays between the piers could be expanded from 30 feet to 60 feet, which the surfing community would really like. He believed siting the pier at the same location might be an economical benefit.

And lastly, there is a committee being set up specifically for the pier that appears to be guided by the District 2 council office. It is not clear if the committee is fully set up but questions should be directed to Teddy Martinez at

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