Pier access suddenly reemerged this past weekend at Seacliff.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Coast Life

The gateway to the Cement Ship is back — at least part of it. Here’s what we know about the weather-worn pier

Closed for about a year while state parks assessed storm damage, the pier leading to the SS Palo Alto at Seacliff State Beach in Aptos has been deemed safe and is once again accessible to pleased locals.

After taking a beating from storms and weathering the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pier at Seacliff State Beach is open again to Santa Cruzans looking to commune with nature and the Cement Ship.

The pier reopened Saturday after having been closed for about a year for a structural assessment and amid COVID-19 precautions.

The Aptos pier was shut to all foot traffic over the past year “for a structural assessment, due to previous previous storm damage, and also due to COVID precautions,” said Gabriel McKenna, the public safety superintendent for the Santa Cruz-San Mateo state parks district. “We contracted with an engineering firm for an assessment for structural damage, and the portion that’s open now was deemed safe for reopening.”

Erin Velikoff from Aptos enjoys a walk on the pier for the first time in well over a year.
Erin Velikoff from Aptos enjoys a walk on the pier for the first time in well over a year.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

The assessment gave the go-ahead to reopen about two-thirds of the pier, while a portion at the end — closest to the Cement Ship, known officially as the SS Palo Alto — is still closed.

“We’re going to continue to look for opportunities to address the safety concerns with the end of the pier,” McKenna said. Then, state park officials will “examine different funding opportunities, and options on how to move forward for that portion.”

The SS Palo Alto was built for use as a tanker in World War I, but it wasn’t finished in time and the vessel never saw action. Instead, the Cal-Nevada Company bought the ship and grounded it at Seacliff Beach in Aptos with the intention of creating a sort of amusement park.

The view from below.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

By 1930, the company had constructed the pier, providing passage from the beach to the ship, and added a dance floor, cafe and swimming pool to the vessel.

The Cal-Nevada Company went bankrupt in two short years, but the pier has long been popular for fishing and for its vistas of the beach and the ship. But it has deteriorated recently, vulnerable to the same natural forces that have reduced the SS Palo Alto to pieces.

Aerial view of a pier
Vanessa Arellano from Stockton looks out while enjoying the pier in Aptos.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The reopened pier is already a popular destination for locals who have been missing it.

“This is a magical place, and I’m excited to be out here again,” said Mary Masters of Capitola, who has fond memories of eating out on the pier with her family when she was a child.

a woman looks through a chain link fence at a pier on the ocean
Mary Masters of Capitola, who recalled going out to the pier with her family as a child, said she is excited to see the Seacliff landmark open once again. She looks out over the end portion that remains closed.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Erin Velikoff of Aptos said some of her grandchildren are afraid to walk out on the pier, and some locals expressed safety concerns after it reopened without fanfare over the weekend. But with the open portion deemed safe, McKenna said that shouldn’t be a worry.

Velikoff said she wasn’t concerned — with the pier finally accessible again, life is “feeling a little bit more like normal all the time.”