Pier under construction, before concrete roadway. / Photo courtesy of Leonard Teyssier
Pier contractor Leonard Teyssier, 50 years after building the pier. / Photo by Karen Scanlon
Pier advocate Chuck Bahde 50 years later. / Photo by Karen Scanlon
People gather for the OB Pier’s Opening Day, July 2, 1966. / Photo by Steve Rowell
OB Pier under construction, café in place, north pier underway. / Photo by Steve Rowell
Teyssier-designed, 80-ton crawler crane is lifted to pier, June 1965. / Photo courtesy of Leonard Teyssier
Mission Bay Bridge connecting communities of Mission Beach and Ocean Beach, 1915 to 1951. / Photo courtesy of Ocean Beach Historical Society
Pier’s concrete roadway. / Photo courtesy of Leonard Teyssier
Aerial view of Del Monte Avenue steel pier, Always in a stage of construction, and never finished. / Photo courtesy of Ocean Beach Historical Society
For 50 years, people have walked the Ocean Beach Fishing Pier 30 feet above the Pacific for purpose and pleasure (mostly fishing). But the ocean view and dramatic sunsets make the pier a destination for hundreds of visitors annually. On July 2, Ocean Beach will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its iconic pier.
Opening day festivities, on July 2, 1966, were celebrated amid a mighty commotion. Fanfare included a 40-minute parade down Voltaire Street led by grand marshal Mayor Frank Curran. Marching were the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Band and Color Guard, local dignitaries, bands about town, floats, beauty queens and representative service clubs. The Naval Training Center drill team, the San Diego High Steppers and the House of Scotland Junior Pipe Band joined in the pageantry.
Newspapers noted that Gov. Pat Brown cut the ribbon and cast the first line. Carl Schroder, 85, and Councilman Ivor de Kirby served as masters of ceremonies.
There were barbecues and sandcastle contests, angling and fishing competitions, band concerts, and a dance — each culminating with a fireworks display on July Fourth.
At the time, 16-year-old OB resident and surfer Steve Rowell shot pictures of the opening day hoopla using a borrowed camera. Today, we view his revealing images with grateful nostalgia, including pictures of his favorite local band, The Insites, at the microphones and a crowd of some 7,000 celebrating the new pier.
Before the big Pier
Where there’s water, there’s fishing. Early native peoples devised clever means of taking fish from the bay and ocean using spears, arrows and nets. Generations of fishermen have since cast lines from shore. But the deeper water, where fish are more plentiful, required a boat or pier.
Before there was an Ocean Beach Fishing Pier, an old fishing bridge linked the fledgling communities of Mission Beach and Ocean Beach. Built over layers of sand dunes in 1915, the 50-foot-wide roadway boasted two lanes for automobile traffic, a streetcar line and a sidewalk on either side for foot traffic and fishing.
According to author Ruth Varney Held, in her book “Beach Town,” “perch, flounder, sea trout, bass, halibut and maybe sculpin” were caught.
The old bridge, loved as it was, died a quiet death bit by weary bit. What remained was completely demolished in January of 1951, making way for modern routes to San Diego’s seaside communities.
The people of Ocean Beach wanted a pier
In the mid-1940s (by best estimate), a steel pier at the foot of Del Monte Avenue began to take shape and, though somewhat usable, seemed to always be in a stage of construction. Then World War II gobbled the steel needed to finish the pier. Some of its pilings remain visible in the surf today.
There were other earlier and shorter docks or piers, including one about a block long (as noted in Held’s “Beach Town”), slightly north of the old 1913 Wonderland Amusement Park, according to OB resident Larry Toniiharu de Garcia. “There’s nothing left of it, only remnants in an old photo, but I remember talking to my friend Jimmy Lincoln about that pier. He’s gone now.”
Another pier, or docklike structure, extended from Ocean Village into the inlet between Ocean and Mission beaches.
As it was, no pier served the growing desires of the people in Ocean Beach. “The community was dying for a place to fish in the ocean,” says Isabel Clark, Ocean Beach MainStreet Association programs director. “In the early 1960s, an elderly OB resident who envisioned a pier, Carl Schroder, got things moving. He would become known as the father of the OB Pier.
Schroder took his cause to the president of Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, Chuck Bahde: “Now look here, Chuck; my heart is in this pier, has been for a long, long time, but I’m too old to do this sort of thing. I want you to do me a favor: Get a pier built.”
Bahde was a mover and shaker on the Peninsula. An industrial designer and promoter of community goodwill, he picked up the pier notion and drove it to the politicians.
“Bob Wilson was a good friend of mine,” Bahde says. “I wanted to see what hoops we’d have to jump through with the city, state and federal government for funding the pier. And I had to be careful, ’cause I knew people got nervous about urban renewal when federal dollars come in.”
So, with abundant support of his community, Bahde went to Sacramento and managed to secure funding from the State of California. The City of San Diego promised to match civic donations.
With funding of $2.5 million in place, only three bids were considered for construction of the pier. Not your usual structural enterprise!
Enter pier contractor Leonard Teyssier
Leonard Teyssier sits at the dining table of his La Jolla home leafing through a folder of photos and newspaper clippings. He’s a genteel fellow. He served in the U.S. Navy then attended San Diego State University. In 1950, he formed a construction company with his father on Highland Avenue in National City. “I wanted to build big projects like my dad had done with Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado,” he said.
Among many notable enterprises of Teyssier & Teyssier Inc. are a 40,000-square-foot Scripps Lab on the waterfront at La Playa (which has since been razed), All Hallows Catholic Church at Mt. Soledad and the 200,000-square-foot luxury apartments Le Rondelet in Point Loma, which he designed. Also, Teyssier raised the first outside glass elevator, installed at downtown’s El Cortez Hotel.
The company contracted a number of structures with the U.S. Navy, including a tracking station on San Clemente Island, and a massive building for spray-painting five converted airplanes at once.
But no triumph was quite so unusual as the Ocean Beach Fishing Pier.
“We simply designed equipment to handle problems.” — Leonard Teyssier
“Typically,” Teyssier smiles, “a pier is built in quiet bay waters using barges and heavy cranes. It’s fairly simple to build that way. But we had to build in rough surf and start at the shore and work our way out. It was so unconventional that we had to design our own tools and equipment.” There were private mental moments during which he wondered if he could actually do the job.
Teyssier schemed an 80-ton crawler crane. This monster was mounted on an undercarriage with a set of tracks, called crawlers, to provide stability and mobility. The approved weight load of 120 pounds per square foot was critically calculated since the base between piles was 30 feet long and equipment would span pile head to pile head without overloading the deck.
Piles, or pairs of hexagonal prestressed concrete beams, were drilled vertically into 30-inch diameter holes into bedrock under the surf. Each pile was set in 12 feet of concrete for durability of the pier. Platforms were created with concrete sections between piles.
To span the deck, Teyssier and his crew constructed steel beam sections 24 inches deep, pile to pile, so they could “walk” the crane on steel deck. The crane would sit on the most recently completed bay and reach out to prepare the next bay.
“We maintained the alignment of the pier to go straight out Niagara Street by setting a point on top of Narragansett Street a half mile away using a surveying instrument. It gave us alignment forward. Get out of alignment by a half mile, we’d look crooked pretty soon,” Teyssier chuckles.
In midconstruction during the winter of 1965-66, an earthquake in Japan sent a tsunami to San Diego. Massive waves washed out three of the hammerhead piles and nearly took the crane.
“I was in San Francisco at the time,” Teyssier recalls. “The city shut down the job, and my crew was wondering what to do. I caught a plane home and met them next morning. The inspector told us we couldn’t go out on the pier, but I knew if we didn’t go down and secure loose elements, we’d lose that pier. I told the inspector to write us a check for a million dollars or let us go out and inspect.”
The pier design was modified with a “humpback” to accommodate large waves. Reaching 1,971 feet across the water, the pier end splits north and south, each 500 feet, forming a “T.”
However, Teyssier explains that during construction, the citizens of Ocean Beach organized a committee to raise an additional $100,000 to extend the south pier. “Word came to me that they had that much money, and they didn’t ask how much pier that would get them. This was the most difficult part of the job, because it was in deep water, 30 or so feet, and the longest reach surface to floor. But you can bet I gave them their money’s worth!”
Teyssier’s expression changes to a melancholy stare. “Once in a while,” he says, “I go out to the pier. I look at it and think about the people that liked it so much they raised money for a longer pier. I appreciate being the one permitted to build that marvelous addition, to actually build the whole thing for the people of Ocean Beach. It’s nice to be recognized today as the one who did!”
Walking on water: No license required
No fees and no license are required to fish from the pier. But initially, people complained that they weren’t catching fish. So Chuck Bahde went down to San Isidro and arranged for some old flattened cars to be dumped below the pier.
“As I remember,” he says, “a couple of loaded pick-up trucks drove onto the pier, and a crane lowered the compressed cars to the water. They sank quickly.” This would create a fish habitat and increase the population. It worked!
People have loved the pier 24/7 all year round. Seasonally, the number of people fishing varies, and so do the types of fish the ocean yields inshore, including topsmelt, mackerel, bass, perch, bonito, scorpionfish and halibut.
OB resident and noted photographer Steve Rowell says, “In an El Nino, you can barely find a spot on the pier railings, ’cause the southern species of fish come up. Last year, three months of 90-degree weather and 75 degrees in the ocean, people were bringing up big game fish.”
Midspan there’s a bait and tackle shop for renting poles and a café to fill your bellies. Local restaurateur Tom Ham operated the first café, then called The Sea Dawg. Today’s WOW Café manager, Chuck Fischer, will feed this year’s anniversary pier visitors.
Philippines native Bo Reyes declares, “I like this pier; lots of room and easy access. I’ve been fishing from this place since 1974. Fishing is a good hobby, and if you catch anything, you’ve got something good to eat.”
Clairemont resident Gina Yale has fished from the pier by putting a green pea on her hook for bait. “Yes, some fish will bite a pea!” she says.
Chief pier engineer Greer Ferver, himself a fisherman, designed the width of the railings along the pier to allow surface for cutting bait. More important, the open railings Tessier shaped were intended to wash away in storm and high surf, lessening tension on the structure of the pier itself. Over the years, those railings have been replaced more than once.
Grandstanding the World Surfing Championships
Three months after opening day, the OB Pier was used for grandstanding at the 1966 World Surfing Championships when 200 surfers from 11 countries converged at Shelter Island to compete at Mission and Ocean beaches. Celebrated guests included Hawaii’s legendary surfers Kimo McVay and the mighty “Duke” Kahanomoku.
Interestingly, when Chuck Bahde and community leader Billy Riley and her Peninsula Chamber of Commerce committee applied to the City of San Diego to host the event, city officials uttered distaste for the whole affair. Five years earlier, surfers had misbehaved during a similar bash in La Jolla, and the city was forced to consider the future of surfing in San Diego generally.
Australian surfer Nat Young won the 1966 World Surfing Championships. It should be noted that surfers and spectators observed impeccable manners and gave the sport of surfing the facelift it needed.
50 Years on the OB Pier
Ocean Beach Pier was closed for a hefty 14-month, $2 million renovation in 1990 and ’91. Pier users were not happy with the extended closure. Councilman Ron Roberts presided over the opening ceremony, and fishing resumed.
Art shows, marriage proposals, memorials and other life celebrations are part of the pier’s history. The San Diego Junior Lifeguard Program has kids ages 7 to 17 jump from the pier as part of its ocean and wave education. You nonlifeguards can register to jump, too!
Surfrider Foundation does a paddle for clean water around the longest cement pier on the West Coast every September. And OB Town Council hosts a pancake breakfast on the pier as a holiday fundraiser for food and toys.
“This year’s OB Street Fair and Chili Cook-Off, on June 25, has a special area celebrating the pier’s 50th anniversary,” says MainStreet’s Isabel Clark.
Don’t miss the OB Pier 50th Anniversary Art Show at Teeter, 5032 Niagara Ave., June 30 through July 31. Opening reception is Thursday, June 30 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Finally, the OB Pier Anniversary Walk takes place July 2, commemorating 50 years, and on July Fourth, as always, fireworks to be sent skyward from the pier.
‘Father of the OB Pier’ lives his dream
Contractor Leonard Teyssier says he rarely missed dinner with his family of eight children during the year and a half of building the OB Pier. “Standard procedure was that when I came in the door, we all sat down together at the dinner table. But one day I got home at 2. When I walked in, everybody sat down.”
Teyssier laughed out loud, content.
Schroder, father of the OB Pier, lived to celebrate a masterpiece for Ocean Beach. “I was so happy Carl was able to see the pier,” Chuck Bahde remembered. “He hugged me when it was all done. He thought, “I could do it, and I did!”
OB Pier celebration
The Ocean Beach Pier’s 50th Anniversary celebration will take place 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 2 at the pier, which opened on July 2, 1966. Special activities on the pier include:
• Pick up a free OB Pier postcard west of the Walking On Water Cafe on the pier. Supplies are limited – first come, first served.
• Have your postcard (or any other mail) marked with a Special Pictorial Cancellation by the United States Postal Service. They will have a temporary philatelic station (the “OB Pier 50th Anniversary Station”) west of the Walking On Water Cafe on the pier and our custom-designed postmark to mark all mail sent through them that day. Postage stamps will be available for purchase.
• OB Pier 50th Anniversary commemorative merchandise will be available for purchase west of the Walking On Water Cafe on the pier.
• Enjoy an historical display exploring the pier’s rich history and fun props to use while snapping a quick photo in front of a life-size backdrop of the pier opening in 1966 west of the Walking On Water Cafe on the pier.
• Free shuttles will be available to transport visitors from the pier entrance at the foot of Niagara Avenue to the end of the pier.
• A short ceremony honoring the pier with elected officials will take place 11 a.m. just outside the pier entry gates at the foot of Niagara Avenue. The Ocean Beach Community Foundation will be unveiling a new plaque at that location.
• The two gentlemen featured in our OB Pier oral history video – Leonard Teyssier, the contractor who built the pier, and Chuck Bahde, who served on Peninsulans Inc., which commissioned the pier – will be on hand from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. to meet community members and answer questions about the pier. They will be west of the Walking On Water Cafe on the pier.