Click for the answers to the most frequently asked questions (FAQs).
What is National Park Service role & involvement? I thought it was a City pier?
Although the City of San Francisco, with the assistance of the federal Works Progress Administration, built Aquatic Park Pier in the 1930s, the Pier is now the responsibility of the NPS. In 1972, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area was established, and between 1977 and 1978 acquired nearby resources related to maritime history, including Aquatic Park. When San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (SAFR) was established in 1988, it included the maritime museum, historic vessels, Aquatic Park District, and associated historic structures. SAFR accepted management responsibility for the Pier in 2004.
Why is the National Park Service trying to fix the pier?
It is the National Park Service mission to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. Cultural resources, such as Aquatic Park Pier, must be managed in accordance with Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. The Standards are principles which promote historic preservation practices to protect our nation’s irreplaceable cultural resources.
Why has the pier been allowed to reach this dire condition?
Because of its location between the Golden Gate and San Francisco’s northern shoreline, the Pier is regularly buffeted by northwesterly wave action, and often stands against the severe wave, swell and surge energy generated by winter storms. Sustained exposure to the marine environment (salt air) has also resulted in corrosion to its reinforcing steel members. Like all piers, repair work is very expensive. Although some maintenance and repair work has been done over the years, park budgets could never cover the cost of extensive repair to the Pier.
What is being done to maintain and keep the Pier open, and what does that cost?
Over the last five years, the park has spent approximately $123,000 per year to maintain, monitor, and keep the Pier safe for visitors. In FY2016, the park spent $186,000 to repair safety fencing and have an engineering firm assess the Pier’s structural integrity. In FY2017, the park is projected to spend approximately $200,000 on the Pier (including new safety fencing, removing deteriorated light poles and installing visible-from-the-water hazard signage to protect cove swimmers and boaters).
What planning has already been done?
In 2009, the park assembled a multi-disciplinary team to look at options to repair and stabilize the Pier. Based on assessments of the deck, railing, wave baffles, and pilings, the group developed a number of possible approaches to achieving that goal (including a no-action alternative). At that time, the highest rated strategy was to essentially rebuild the Pier to its historic alignment, length and width. An order of magnitude cost estimate of that approach, in 2009 dollars, was between 60 and 70 million dollars. The Park will re-visit that analysis, incorporating public input, and looking for efficiencies in materials, methods, and possibly some design elements.
Why is it so expensive to fix the pier?
By their nature, piers are precarious extensions of land over the water. What is a fairly simple task on land (such as building a short road) requires driving pilings into the water, fastening a surface atop them, creating a bridge to the shore, and then engineering this structure to withstand waves, tides, and storms. In-water demolition and construction, and associated environmental protection measures, are also inherently very costly. Like any pier on San Francisco Bay, the Aquatic Park Pier is expensive to repair and maintain. But what makes this Pier so unusual – its graceful curve, 60-foot width, 1,400-foot length, 634 concrete-encased timber pilings, and precast concrete wave baffling panels – also adds to the cost of rehabilitating it.
What is the park’s vision for Aquatic Park?
As early as 1866, noted architect and planner Frederick Law Olmstead envisioned the Aquatic Park Cove (then Black Point Cove) as a “sea-gate of the city.” As the decades rolled on, other planners thought the area was perfect for a “bay shore park,” and the community floated three city bond measures to finance its creation. San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park seeks to honor, and amplify, that vision – to continue the tradition of a welcoming public open space that serves as a gateway between the urban metropolis and the beauty of San Francisco Bay. Whether it’s swimming, paddling, strolling, riding, fishing, painting, or just splashing along the beach on a warm day, the Park wants to preserve the public’s enjoyment of this unique San Francisco waterfront recreational and cultural resource.
What exactly is wrong with the pier?
The Pier is threatened by loss of strength in its reinforcing steel members, loss of support piles, and spalling of the Pier’s concrete slab (walkway). As a result of these factors, the Pier has deteriorated to one-fourth of its as-built live load capacity. A seismic event or major wave action (such as a tsunami or severe storm) would result in partial or complete loss of the structure. Corrosion activity is ongoing, and there are no known viable alternatives to provide long term corrosion control/mitigation to the reinforced steel elements of the Pier.
How does the Pier help recreation? Who benefits?
Like any pier, Aquatic Park Pier provides protection from wind and waves, but its integrated wave baffling system goes a big step further – it calms waves and weakens currents, while
allowing the cove it cradles to flush itself clean with each tide (because its baffling system is permeable). Physically, the Pier also prevents boats from entering the cove, making swimming (and all type of human-powered water recreation) safer and worry-free. The Pier is a popular, accessible destination for walkers, bikers and even Segway riders. Of the 4.3 million visitors the Park welcomed in 2016, over 2.9 million visited the Aquatic Park Historic District. For Park and City visitors (including national and international tourists), it offers unmatched, “bridge to bridge” views, including Alcatraz and the San Francisco skyline. The Pier also gives local fisherman a rare chance to cast their lines far out into the Bay, and take their catch without having to buy a state fishing license (because it is a public pier).
How does the Pier benefit the rest of the park?
Aquatic Park Pier protects the cove, beach, promenade, Hyde Street Pier (and the five National Historic Landmark vessels berthed there), and the Museum. The Pier eliminates large waves and swells that would otherwise batter and damage the park’s NHL vessels. The Pier keeps the public beach from eroding, and prevents deterioration of the seawall and promenade. The Pier makes the cove safe for swimming, enables a range of water-dependent children’s educational programs, like boatbuilding and (sea) scouting. A National Park Service report shows that in 2015, 4,173,014 park visitors spent $101,389,300 in the community, and that spending supported 1,248 jobs in the local area.
How does the city of San Francisco benefit from the Pier?
The Aquatic Park Pier is a waterfront icon, which has been enjoyed by generations of San Franciscans. The Pier and District are the culmination of decades of neighborhood planning and activism, and perhaps owes its existence to the West Coast women’s suffrage movement (City women’s clubs spearheaded the drive to create a recreation area at the site). With a true urban beach, the district serves residents of all the surrounding neighborhoods, and is a favorite destination for City tourists. As an integral feature of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, the Pier provides tangible economic benefits as well. A National Park Service report shows that in 2015, 4,173,014 park visitors spent $101,389,300 in the community, and that spending supported 1,248 jobs in the local area. The Pier also provides wave and current protection to the City’s assets along the northern waterfront.
What is the wave baffling system and what does it do?
Underneath the deck, a long row of precast concrete panels stick down into the water. Each panel is supported by a thickened section of the vertical piles, along with two battered piles and a single diagonal brace. These panels reduce the wave energy from swells coming from the west. But unlike a breakwater, the baffling panels allow water to flow back and forth, enabling the cove to flush itself out with each tide cycle. This system balances safe recreation (relatively calm water) with natural cleansing (clean water).
Why is it important that the Pier is a National Historic Landmark?
A National Historic Landmark is a nationally significant historic place which possesses an exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. As contributing element of the Aquatic Park District, the Pier received landmark status in 1987. The Pier and District is of national significance in architecture and landscape architecture. It is of regional significance in two areas: military history, as the headquarters for the Anti-Aircraft Defense of the Pacific coast states during the Second World War; and social/humanitarian movements, as one of California’s most extensive depression era work relief programs. Aquatic Park is also of local significance in two areas: as a recreation spot since the Civil War; and for long community planning process which first preserved the land, and then created a public recreation area.
Does the park have any partners working/advocating on behalf of the Pier?
As a federal agency, the NPS is not authorized to solicit funds or lobby. However, the park’s non-profit partner, the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association and the Save Aquatic Park Pier Committee (SFMNPA, currently operating under a Friends Fundraising agreement) is raising awareness about the Aquatic Park Pier’s condition. While a large-scale fundraising campaign may exceed the Association’s capacity at this time (and would require authorization in addition to their current agreement) their board has formed a committee with the name “Save Aquatic Park Pier” and plans to raise public awareness (and do limited fundraising) using a website. The Superintendent will act as an advisor to this group and assist them in presenting accurate information and aligning themselves with NPS goals and policies.
Who will pay for the repairs?
The National Park Service’s funding for infrastructure repair/deferred maintenance projects like the Aquatic Park Pier is limited. The NPS does not currently have funding for the whole project. Matching contributions from other agencies and/or private philanthropists will strongly benefit the effort to save Aquatic Park Pier.