The PierPride Foundation is gearing up to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the San Clemente Pier, a municipal structure that has been ingrained in the city’s identity since its construction in 1928.
PierPride, which formed in 2015 to complement the city’s maintenance of the pier with other improvements, will host its annual Yacht Rock Cruise on Thursday, May 18, featuring food and live entertainment.
Eileen Kawas, PierPride president, spoke about how special the pier is to San Clemente, given that it sees two million visitors annually.
“Everybody has a memory of the pier; everybody can tell you something momentous that happened in their life (there),” Kawas said. “It’s just incredible.”
Lori Donchak, PierPride co-founder and its current secretary, added that it is the “crown jewel” of San Clemente, with the Beach Trail and surrounding retail making the area more special.
“I think that it is a key destination in the city,” said Donchak. “It’s a place (where) the community comes together, whether it’s for fireworks, or Junior Lifeguards, or a marriage proposal.”
Adding to visitors’ experiences related to the pier is important to Kawas, as she realizes San Clemente has a special asset.
“Not every town gets to have a pier, and I think we’re very lucky that we have our own pier,” she said. “It’s upon all of us to make sure that that pier is here for future generations.”
After the flow of funding from California’s Redevelopment Agencies dried up with its dissolution in 2012, Donchak and Jim Nielsen, a fellow resident and active member of the community, had the idea of assisting the city with enhancing the visitor experience.
During PierPride’s existence, the organization has renovated the restrooms and Snack Shack, helped install new lighting to illuminate the American flag, and it annually hosts pier jumping events, to name a few highlights.
Currently, the nonprofit is looking to expand available bicycle parking at the base of the pier, according to Kawas.
“These are things that the community has asked for,” she said. “We’ve run questionnaires and surveys … 95% of the participants have said that in the last five years, they have seen an improvement in the pier.”
Donchak noted that over the years, PierPride has received support from stakeholders including the state, County of Orange, the city, local entities such as Rainbow Sandals, and individual donors.
Another larger project that could potentially materialize is building what is called the Pier Plaza, a reimagining of how the entrance to the area from Avenida Victoria used to look decades before.
“It’s basically creating a plaza at the base of the pier on the inland side … by the underpass,” Donchak said. “It’s a big project, and if we do it correctly, it’ll be ready for the (pier’s) 100th birthday. That’s the dream.”
Donchak added that the project is expected to be included in the city’s Fiscal Year 2023-2024 budget discussions, for which the design and engineering would cost an estimated $150,000. Construction costs are yet to be determined.
For Kawas, her colleagues’ commitment to the community and the pier makes her job easier, and she finds working with them easy.
At the Yacht Rock Cruise, 100 guests will be treated to live music from the Bunch of Guys Band as they ride in a two-hour loop from the Dana Wharf to the San Clemente Pier and back.
Kawas called the annual event the most fun that PierPride sponsors, adding that the cruise provides a rare opportunity.
“Not many people get to take a look at the pier from the water,” she said. “Either you’re on the land or the shore, looking at the pier, or you’re on the pier itself. So, it’s a unique perspective.”
Donchak added her own positive take on the upcoming event.
“Cheers to the pier on its 95th birthday,” said Donchak.
Information about the Yacht Rock Cruise and how to purchase tickets can be found at pierpride.org.