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‘The last straw’: SF swimmers, officials urge feds to save historic pier

Swimmers, fishermen and other supporters of Aquatic Park Pier rallied the federal government to rebuild the historic asset on Saturday, Dec. 3, in San Francisco. | Annie Gaus/The Standard

A crowd of swimmers, boaters and fishermen gathered on Saturday to rally the federal government to rebuild Aquatic Park Pier, a historic landmark adjoining Fisherman’s Wharf that was closed indefinitely after the National Park Service deemed it structurally unsound.

Joined by Supervisor Catherine Stefani, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, state Sen. Scott Wiener and others, the crowd—some braving the chilly, drizzly weather in costumes and swimwear—urged the federal government to prioritize rebuilding the pier, which acts as both a recreational space and a critical piece of infrastructure. 

“This is the last straw before the pier dies a final death,” said Fran Hegeler of the Aquatic Park & Pier Project, adding that Saturday’s rally would be the first of several “pier pressure” events until the city secures a funding commitment to repair the crumbling pier

Built in the early 1930s, Aquatic Park Pier created a protected cove where San Franciscans could safely swim and paddle. The curved pier, part of a national historic district that includes the San Francisco Maritime Museum, serves as a ​​breakwater, partially absorbing tides and pacifying the water in the cove. 

Since then, the pier and cove have become a major draw for tourists, fishermen, boaters and brave souls who swim in the chilly bay waters. The pier draws about 4.2 million visitors per year, said Peskin. 

Last month, the National Park Service closed Aquatic Park Pier permanently after an earthquake rendered it structurally unsound. 

“This is a national asset,” said Peskin before taking a plunge in the bay.  “It s our imperative to make noise. […] This is not our thing; this is the federal government’s thing.” 

According to the National Park Service, the pier cannot be repaired and must be replaced entirely—a project that’s expected to cost more than $100 million. 

As part of the Great American Outdoors Act, a $9 billion federal bill passed in 2020, the National Park Service has proposed using about $100 million to rehabilitate the nearby Hyde Street Pier and National Historic Landmark Eureka Ferryboat.

No funding to rebuild Aquatic Park Pier has been secured so far, although Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) has requested $15 million to get started on its restoration. 

According to the National Park Service, if the pier collapses, the tidal forces of the bay could endanger the Aquatic Park promenade and the historic ships docked in the area, both popular tourist attractions. 

“It protects the beach; it protects the northern waterfront from flooding. And look at it—it’s beautiful,” said Stefani.