San Francisco’s waterfront is a world-class view possible from many spots in the city. One of the most spectacular is the 360-degree scene from the Aquatic Park Pier. The panorama embraces an arc of iconic landmarks, from the Bay Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the islands in between Marin County and the East Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and out to the Pacific. To call the view an embarrassment of riches would hardly be an overstatement.
The pier forms the cove that shelters the sandy beach and other sites of the Aquatic Park National Historic Landmark District. For decades, the 1,400-foot-long pier has exhilarated residents and visitors from around the world — more than 4 million people visit the park annually. For many, a stroll on the pier is an unforgettable part of the experience.
Today, the future of this waterfront treasure is at risk. It is still possible to safely stroll, bike, fish, and jog on the pier. But rapidly rusting ramparts and crumbling cement on the seawall have necessitated closing a large portion to the public. Unless significant funding can be generated to replace this centerpiece of what is arguably America’s most sublime waterfront, it will become just a memory.
The good news is the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and the National Park Service (NPS), the two entities overseeing the pier, are impassioned to rebuild it for generations to come. But this is no modest venture.
According to the most recent Army Corps of Engineers structural survey, the estimated cost ranges from $65 to $85 million — an “extremely challenging goal,” according to Kevin Hendricks, superintendent of the San Francisco Maritime Historical Park. However daunting, he and his colleagues feel it can be accomplished. Surrendering the pier to the annals of history is, quite simply, unacceptable.
Beyond the gifts of unfolding beauty and as a sanctuary from the urban drumbeat, the pier serves a paramount practical function. Constructed by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, it was completed in 1934. The engineers who conceived it knew that without its cradling presence, the surrounding area (later to be designated the Aquatic Park National Historic Landmark District) would be in jeopardy. Ocean currents, storms, and waves triggered by ships would pose chronic problems of stability and even basic safety.
Thus, since its inception, the pier has functioned as a necessary breakwater, protecting the entire enclave. Its loss would mean the demise of invaluable waterfront landmarks in Aquatic Park: The largest U.S. collection of historic ships at the Hyde Street Pier; the elegant Art Deco Maritime Museum; the Dolphin Swim Club; the small beach and swimmer’s cove; and the Sea Scout base, home of the Maritime Summer Camp where children learn marine ecology and sailing arts.
A recently launched nonprofit, Save Aquatic Park Pier Committee (SAPP), is committed to the mission of generating funds to rebuild. The citizen-led grassroots initiative, working closely with the NPS and the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association, will engage government officials, local business and civic groups, philanthropic organizations, and the public. Spearheading the collaboration is Keith Breitbach, a San Francisco-based political media consultant.
Describing the pier as a patient “on life support,” Breitbach envisions the urgent project as “a powerful example of an impassioned collaboration that will unite our richly multicultural Bay Area to preserve the best of our past for future generations.” For Breitbach’s SAPP, the economic and civic opportunities involved in the reemergence of the pier are simply too vast to let this chance slip away.
There is a natural tendency to overlook how precious things are before they are gone. But now the city has the chance to overcome such sadness. A pier-less waterfront would be too poignant a destiny for a landmark that is peerless in the world.