Marilyn Schabot stepped out of the art shop where she worked and gazed out across the Pillar Point Harbor — her eyes falling on the rickety Romeo Pier, uncharacteristically surrounded by a barge and a large construction crane.
“If you grew up in the area or the other side of the hill,” Schabot said, “you remember all this.”
With demolition crews now dismantling the old pier, there will soon be nothing left but memories — and countless photographs and paintings of the photogenic structure — which some love and others refer to as an “eye sore.”
“I think if they appreciated the photographs that everybody’s taken of it,” Schabot said of the critics, “they would see it in a different light.”
With the pier in its final weeks of existence, there is much debate in Princeton By the Sea and nearby Half Moon Bay about its continued presence in the Pillar Point Harbor. Some like Schabot see it as a treasure worth saving — a wooden icon from the 1940s and a holdover from the golden age of commercial fishing.
But the Pillar Point Harbor District views it as a growing environmental hazard that needs to be removed. During the last couple years pieces of the pier have fallen into the harbor causing a navigational hazard for boats.
“Safety is really the paramount thing we’re dealing with it,” said Cary Smith, Deputy Harbor Master with the Pillar Point Harbor Patrol. ”It’s to the point where it’s more of a danger than a historic thing that could be saved.
The pier was built in the 1940s by the Romeo family. It was used throughout the decades to process salmon, crab and tuna — it was even an early predecessor of the Star-Kist Tuna company. Smith said the pier closed in 2000 after falling out of use and became a photographic backdrop in the picturesque harbor.
“It has been a great icon,” Smith said, “a famous painting spot, photograph spot — but it’s starting to fall down.”
Some in the area had pushed for the harbor district to save the pier and perhaps find another use for it. The back and forth went on for years until the decision was finally made to tear it down. The demolition project is slated to cost $2.3 million.
“It’s just a shame it wasn’t maintained,” said fisherman Tom Mattusch, “that it wasn’t turned into some kind of office, some type of marine science laboratory. There were so many things that were possibility.”
The pier harkens back to a booming period of commercial fishing when the coast was lined with many similar piers. One by one, the aging piers have been demolished after falling into disrepair.
“It’s amazing how many piers and wharfs are no longer in existence,” Smith said, “because we’ve had different modes and means of off-loading sea-going vessels.”
The demolition is expected to take several more weeks. Schabot said the pier’s final throes of life have generated waves of emotion in the coastal community. She’s among people who grew-up in the area and remember the pier from childhood.
“I’m really sorry to see it go,” Schabot said. “Granted it was old and dilapidated and falling apart but that’s all a part of it all.”