Santa Monica Pier was nearly lost by a storm 41 years ago

The iconic Santa Monica Pier — the traditional western endpoint for many Route 66 travelers — nearly was destroyed by a severe storm and some bad decisions by a contractor 41 years ago.

That factoid was revealed during a Santa Monica Daily News story about walking tours offered at the 115-year-old pier:

Back in the winter of 1982, when the concept of an El Niño was first being realized, storms swept away the remains of a protective breakwater that surrounded the Pier. This itself was all that remained after the attempt to develop a small boat harbor completed in August 1934 and with that last line of defense against the elements gone, it was more vulnerable than ever. Unfortunately, the following winter of 1983 was even more severe. Reported swells of over 20-feet repeatedly battered the seaborne structure and caused significant damage. When the storm eventually passed, most of the lower deck of the Pier had been destroyed.

The City of Santa Monica began repairs on Tuesday, March 1, 1983 and all seemed to be going swimmingly until another storm rolled in, that very evening. On its own, it might not have caused too much additional damage, but its effects were enormously exacerbated by human error. A large crane that was being used as part of the repairs was not secured properly before the storm and the boom was not stowed. Consequently, it was dragged into the water and acted like a battering ram, repeatedly smashing against the load-bearing pilings.

A 400-foot section of the western most end of the Pier was ripped away, ultimately taking with it two giant cranes, a boat derrick, three cars and a pickup truck. Between one-third and half of the structure was destroyed. There’s a metal strip that can be seen stretching the width of the Pier on the wooden decking about half way down and that roughly marks where the destruction ended/began.

A perusal of newspaper archives revealed this photo from the Los Angeles Times in March 1983 of the damage to the pier:

According to contemporary accounts of the storms, they tore away half of the 1,500-foot-long pier, which had been condemned in January due to damage. Total damage was estimated at $6 million.

One guy took shards of the wrecked wood, mounted them on cardboard with a photo of the pier and sold them for $3.95 each. He estimated he collected enough splinters for 150,000 or 200,000 souvenirs.

If you’re interested in the walking tours of the pier, they’re held each Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. For more information or to book it, go here.

The Santa Monica Pier is the home of the frequently photographed “Route 66 – End of the Trail” sign that serves as a traditional, if not actual, endpoint for many Route 66 travelers. The sign, shepherded by 66-to-Cali owner Dan Rice, was installed in 2009.

The actual western endpoint of Route 66 is a few blocks east at Olympic and Lincoln boulevards. It once was a boring intersection, but that has markedly improved when a Mel’s Drive-In restaurant opened there a few years ago.

(Image of the Santa Monica Pier at sunset by AMaleki via Flickr)

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