Perhaps the best, or at least most readily observable, measure of a community’s vitality is the activity that occurs in its public spaces.

In Santa Monica, our Farmers’ Markets are bustling, our beaches regularly draw thousands, and Main Street, the Promenade and our more than two dozen parks are full of life on any given day.

But perhaps the best, if not the most fun, indicator that our community is thriving is the Twilight Concert Series every Thursday in the summer at the Santa Monica Pier.

For more than 30 years this Santa Monica tradition has brought friends, families, neighbors and visitors together in celebration of summer at our community’s most recognizable public space: the Pier.

In those three decades the annual summer concert series has become as closely identified with the Pier as the Ferris wheel and the blue “Yacht Harbor” sign.

Thursday nights in the summer at the Pier have come to mean being able listen to the likes of OK Go, Patti Smith and Mavis Staples for free. The summer Pier concerts have also given our community a chance to hear up-and-coming talent or favorite local bands like Ozomatli, Bone Daddys, and Los Lobos.

But more than that, for over 30 years the summer concert series has transformed the Pier for one night every week during the summer into a community gathering place where people from all over the city, the region, the country and the world can come together and, for free, enjoy a gorgeous sunset, our ocean breezes, a festive atmosphere and great music.

It is the fact that this summer tradition has become so entwined with the Pier’s identity that makes the Twilight Concert Series’ ongoing success a cause for celebration.

Watching the crowds gather at the Pier every Thursday, it is easy to forget that only a few decades ago the future of the Pier was anything but certain.

Ravaged by time and neglect, the now-iconic Santa Monica Pier was nearly lost to history. But, in the early 1970s, Santa Monicans voted overwhelmingly to save the Pier for future generations.

In the winter of 1983, a third of the Pier fell into the sea during a major storm, bringing the community together to revitalize the beloved landmark.

Working with the city, members of the community, many of whom fought to save the Pier in the early 1970s, planned ways to breathe new life into the quarter mile of wooden planks and concrete pilings. Out of those months of community collaboration with city officials came many great ideas, including one that would become a new Santa Monica tradition: free summer concerts.

Today, it is hard to imagine Santa Monica without the Pier, just as it is hard to imagine summer without the concerts at the Pier and the vitality with which these concerts imbue our city’s most famous public space.

Craig Hamilton, Jason Islas, Barry Snell, Ernie Powell, Scott Schonfeld, Cynthia Rose, and Leslie Lambert for Santa Monica Forward. Read previous columns at www.santamonicaforward.org/news.

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