Saturday is the anniversary of “9-9-09,” when the Pier opened as the first concrete pier on the United States’ western coast
It’s been seen in countless movies, used by millions of visitors each year, and has provided countless memories over its 114 years. Still, the Santa Monica Pier continues to give to its city, celebrating its 114th birthday with a bevy of exciting activities.
Saturday is the anniversary of “9-9-09,” when the Pier opened as the first concrete pier on the United States’ western coast. Originally conceived as a public utility, with the less-than-ideal usage as a sewage disposal system, the Pier evolved into the international icon it remains today.
“It’s been 114 very interesting years,” Santa Monica Pier Executive Director Jim Harris said. “The storybook on the Pier is so full of ups and downs, and it’s such a wonderful existence to know … the Pier has survived those 114 years, and it’s thriving today better than it ever has. It’s aged very gracefully.”
In 1941, the Pier’s business community installed the famous “Santa Monica Yacht Harbor” signage, seven years after construction finished on the Pier’s yacht harbor. Shortly after, the harbor was used by the United States Navy in World War II, a delivery point for large hauls of fish to be sent off to feed the troops.
After a down period in the 1960s, Santa Monica residents rallied to “Save the Pier” and defeat several plans to demolish the location, cresting in “Proposition 1” in 1975 that was passed by voters to preserve the Pier into perpetuity. The ‘60s period was not all gloom, however, as legendary figures like Jane Fonda and Joan Baez frequented the area, helping create a warmer atmosphere amidst the Pier’s then-struggling reputation.
One more significant downturn came from storms in 1983 that destroyed over one-third of the Pier, but again, the community rallied to create a sturdier, more viable spot for residents and tourists alike.
When Harris first started working on the Pier in 1989, there were about 2 million visitors per year, a number that has grown to approximately 12 million since. Noting that himself and the Pier “grew up together,” Harris knows the importance of the location to Santa Monica.
“The Pier is a great outdoor venue that is available year-round, which, if you look worldwide, that’s pretty rare … other areas have the ocean and beach, other areas have Piers, but there is no Pier quite like ours,” he said. “Ours has so many ways to entertain and please people.”
Visitors during the Pier’s birthday week came from across the globe, echoing Harris’ sentiment that “if the sun is out, the Pier is busy.” Jordan Asquith from Sydney, Australia, commended the bustling nature of the Pier during his first trip to the U.S.
“I just like how busy it is … you see a lot of interesting characters, a lot of people doing their own thing and I can really appreciate that,” Asquith said.
The sheer size of the 1,600-foot-long entertainment experience was also surprising to visitors, including Richard and Dell Johnson from Buffalo, New York, who came for the amusement and attractions after seeing the Pier in “plenty of movies.”
“I didn’t think it was going to be so big, I really didn’t,” Richard stated. “I thought it was gonna be a lot smaller. And you have so many things to do.”
Attractions on the Pier include rides at Pacific Park, games at the Playland Arcade, and educational opportunities such as the Heal the Bay Aquarium under the Pier.
To mark the birthday occasion, the Pier will be showcasing transportation that was just burgeoning in 1909, holding the third annual Santa Monica Classic Car Show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Presented by Pico Youth & Family Center, all proceeds from the event benefit youth services and after-school programming in Santa Monica and Los Angeles County. Over 200 classic cars will be on display, dating back to the 1930s.
On Sunday morning, the Santa Monica Classic runs have a finish line at the Pier, with options for a 5K, 10K and Kid Run. Presented by Asics, the event aids The McCourt Foundation, which supports research for preventative treatments with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and ALS.
The upcoming weeks are what Harris calls “Santa Monicans’ Summer,” when the majority of tourists have departed but the summer-type weather remains for locals. In that spirit, September features the return of “Locals’ Night,” which has activities such as an “instrument petting zoo” for children and Salsa dance lessons for adults. In October, the Pier will have the “Wellness & Waves” yoga series return, giving residents a chance to practice mindfulness in the ocean environment.
Antoinette Damico contributed to this report.