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Dear Matthew Alice:

The recent storms have uncovered what appear to be nine pilings just south of the Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach. Could they be the remains of another pier?

Eddie Conn
Pacific Beach

Crystal Pier

Garnet Avenue at Ocean Boulevard, Pacific Beach

Lemons came first, then there was the Crystal Pier. Pacific Beach was “born” in the land boom of the late 1880s, but nearly died in the bust that soon followed. Lemons were going to be its salvation; much of the town was planted in lemon trees, and the fruit spread the community’s name far and wide. But Sicily soon discovered the lemon market in the U.S., and its cheaper lemons drove Pacific Beach out of the industry. That old standby, real estate, was the next step to economic recovery, and in the 1920s, a builder in Los Angeles named Ernest Pickering suggested a pier — Pickering’s Pleasure Pier — as an attraction to lure buyers to the beachfront lots. Pickering ran on hard times, though, and it fell to Neil Nettleship to actually build the structure. When the pier opened in 1927 it was quite an attraction, and foremost among its splendors was the ballroom at the end. Its style was vaguely Aztec, its stucco and wood walls enclosed a dance floor that was cushioned with cork, and a large crystal sphere that hung from the ceiling (thus the pier’s moniker). Nettleship declared that “couples seventy and eighty years old could dance all evening without getting tired” on the cork-padded floor, and the room was peopled with influential citizens as well as the hoi polloi.

But troubles were not long in coming. The room swayed with the movement of the tide, so all the lights and fixtures were steadied with concealed piano wire to calm those dancers prone to seasickness. Much more serious, though, was the fiasco concerning the pilings. The contract for the pier’s supports called for treating the pilings with creosote to prevent damage by little sea creatures called marine borers. But the construction company used creosol instead, and the cheap substitute proved useless in repelling the borers. The pilings were almost immediately infested, and the structure was declared unsafe about three months after it opened. After lengthy legal battles the ballroom was razed and the pier was reconstructed, reopening in 1936 as a fishing pier. The pilings that once supported the ill-fated ballroom are now visible only during very low tides.

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