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Play Commemorates Activists Who Saved Santa Monica Pier
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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

September 13, 2016 -- Next time you find yourself enjoying the iconic Santa Monica Pier -- colorful, quirky and today a major tourist destination -- think about this:

If an unlikely combination of beach lovers, surfers, local businesses and regular citizens hadn’t managed to create a voice strong enough to save the landmark in 1973, the Pier would have been torn down, clearing the path for an island luxury resort championed by the then City Council ("SPECIAL REPORT: The Road to the Sea," September 28, 2003).

Image of proposed island
Renderring of proposed island and causeway (Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

“Save the Pier!,” a one-hour play staged on the Pier itself from September 23rd to September 25th, is a “love letter” to the citizen warriors who created a force so formidable it toppled the plans of its powerful foes, said Carolyn Yost, the producer.

“It was a beginning,” she said. “People didn’t realize they could be organized and make a difference.”

Yost said the battle marked the start of the preservation movement in Santa Monica, as well as helping to lay the groundwork for an uprising by tenants over soaring rents that led to rent control in 1978.

The play, which is free, starts at 7:30 p.m. each of the three nights at the west end of the Pier. Written by James Harris, “Save the Pier” debuted last year and its producers hope to keep staging it annually from now on, she said.

Harris is also deputy director for the Santa Monica Pier Corporation. The play is directed by Paul Sand, a long-time Santa Monica resident and Tony Award winning actor.

“Save the Pier” tells a story that dates back to 1973, when the Santa Monica City Council released plans to demolish the deteriorating wooden structure and build a 35-acre island in Santa Monica Bay to host a resort hotel.

"Save the Pier!" traces two groups that worked independently rallying residents to halt the council’s talk of a man-made island in the bay connected to land by a causeway.

By that time, pier amusement parks in general were declining in popularity, which historians tie to the emergence of theme parks such as Disneyland. The Santa Monica Pier was sold by Walter Newcomb to the City in the 1970s.

The “Save Our Pier Forever” campaign was born, and grabbed widespread attention and outcry.

One group was led by Jack Sikking, who had left his Hollywood life heading The Troubadour to manage Al's Kitchen on the Pier. He rallied his staff and guests to join the fight, Yost said.

The other pro-Pier group was led by Diana Cherman, head of the Santa Monica Pier Citizen's Committee, who started a petition and personally solicited signatures from Paul Newman and Robert Redford, who were on the Pier filming “The Sting.”

Instead of tearing down the Pier, the council established the Pier Restoration Corporation to take charge of rehabilitation efforts. More than a third of the structure was destroyed by two major El Nino storms in 1983. The rebuild cost an estimated $42 million, officials said.

In 2009, the Pier celebrated its 100th birthday. It is the oldest pier used for pleasure on the West Coast.


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