Since it was dedicated in 1927, the iconic landmark at 4500 Ocean Blvd. has had numerous owners, two names, a ballroom, a carnival, and 270 more feet.
Today, it is home to a public fishing pier, as well as the private Crystal Pier Hotel, which is a collection of 32 cottages situated on the pier's front half. Current ownership has been split between Allen family members and the city of San Diego since 1961.
Crystal Pier is a no-permit-necessary fishing zone, a sought-after vacation destination and one of the best places to watch San Diego sunsets.
Pier hotel owner Willis Allen said his family originally acquired the pier in 1961 when his father “traded a ranch in Murrieta (Riverside County) for the pier. And it's been in our family ever since.”
What Crystal Pier does for Pacific Beach and the city is easy to explain.
“Hundreds of thousands of people walk on it every year,” noted Allen about the pier and its bait shop and other retail spaces.
Pointing out Crystal Pier is actually “the mainstay of PB and really the center of town where things are happening,” Allen said the structure “has always been just kind of the gateway to PB.”
Allen and his family are aware they are the custodians of a piece of history.
“What we're most proud of is keeping the cottages up,” said Allen, who gave kudos to his hotel's longtime general manager, Jim Bostian, who's led the business' operation for nearly 50 years.
“My staff is just a big family, and you wouldn't believe the postcards and letters we've gotten over the years from guests thanking [the staff] for the great time they had, and letting us know they were coming back with their families,” he said.
Allen said the city benefits from transit occupancy taxes from the pier, as do nearby restaurants and businesses from the patronage of lodgers staying on the pier.
“The pier is like a magnet bringing people together,” said Allen.
Visitors who've stayed at Crystal Pier Hotel have raved about its vintage looks and the way the pier moves with the waves “rocking them to sleep like a baby at night.”
The pier’s history began in 1924 with a local Realtor named Earl Taylor and a man named Ernest Pickering. Taylor needed an attraction to make Pacific Beach more desirable to homebuyers. Pickering owned a pier in Santa Monica.
Together they managed to open Pickering’s Pleasure Pier, as it was called at the time, in July of 1927. The Cape Cod-style cottages were added in 1930. However, during the next 10 years, pier ownership was thrown around as disputes with the city continued to arise.
Attempts at opening a midway, ballroom, and carnival on the pier each lasted a mere three months before closing. The reopening of Pickering’s Pleasure Pier as Crystal Pier in 1936 lessened the prior difficulties.
In 1987, a total of 270 feet of the pier was destroyed during a storm.
Despite the Crystal Pier’s long struggle, though, it remains known as a “beach lover’s haven.”
In honor of its 90th anniversary, Randals Sandals at 955 Turquoise St. in North PB dedicated a mural on the outside of the store to the Crystal Pier and its timeless beauty.
Opened: July 1927 as Pickering’s Pleasure Pier.
Size: 872 feet long.
Worst damage: In 1987, 240 feet of pier was ripped off during a storm.
Fishing: A fishing license is not required to fish at Crystal Pier (since 2009).
Hotel: Guests can sleep over the ocean in the hotel’s cottages on the pier.
Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset, unless staying at the hotel.