Clearwater Beach: A Pierless Experience

Clearwater’s Palm Pavilion and little pier in the 1950s. This is the last survivor of the area’s beachside pavilions.

Clearwater Beach will always have a place in my heart. Growing up in the Tampa Bay area it was the go-to public beach. I have fond memories of walking through the soft sugary sand to the harder wet tide line, covered with live coquinas as far up and down the beach as you could see. The multicolored tiny shells could be seen glistening and wiggling their way back under the sand by the thousands. Spanish settlers used them as a building material and locals cooked them up for a savory broth. Sadly today, there are none in sight.

We loved going into the historic wooden Palm Pavilion for hand-dipped chocolate ice cream cones so cold they had crystallized bits of ice. The best. As kids, we would dive under the warm gulf water and bring up large shells, and at night the family would take a walk and we’d fish off the small pier near the Pavilion. I loved the pier at night. We never caught much, but the salty old guys who were regulars would sit at the end, shark fishing. Our Abuelo would get them talking and we could count on some good stories. Seems like they caught more mean-looking catfish than anything else. It was always an adventure.

Besides reeling in the occasional fish, off that small pier, we accidentally caught a squid and saw lots of marine life, including sharks, stingrays, and one night – a huge manta ray.

After a storm, the three cousins playing and posing in front of the Old Clearwater Beach Hotel, 1991.

A generation later, I would return to the beach for many summers with my daughter for a family girls’ trip. My mom, sister-in-law, and two nieces rounded out our gang of six. We choose the Old Clearwater Beach Hotel for its perfect location and beautiful beach. The beach was still quiet enough that the kids could feed the seagulls without retribution. Most things were as I remembered, but the coquinas were disappearing and the little pier covered more sand than water.

Use the arrow-slider to see the difference in the view from the Old Clearwater Hotel in 1991 vs. the 2021 Sandpearl Resort.

We just had a pandemic-delayed celebration for my mom’s 90th birthday, returning to the area where so many good memories were made. The good news is the beach-front Rockaway Grill and Palm Pavilion are still there. The 1926-era Pavilion barely resembles its former self, with former changing rooms gone to make way for a restaurant. The Old Clearwater Beach Hotel faded away long ago and was demolished to make way for a new resort, the Sandpearl. Choosing that hotel for our stay guaranteed at least we had the same nice beach, great location, wonderful memories to recall, and incredible gulf coast sunsets. The little pier is gone, overshadowed by its much grander sister-pier (Pier 60) farther down the beach.

I tried to find out what happened to the little pier and it’s like it never existed. I was beginning to doubt my own memory. I finally found a YouTube clip from 2012, explaining the final removal of what they called the Mandalay Pier, which was partially removed and only over sand at that point. Progress?

I miss that pier.

A look down Clearwater Beach towards the much larger Pier 60.

12 Comments on “Clearwater Beach: A Pierless Experience

  1. What a great memory you have AND great memories! I love the slider showing the difference – and whoa, what a difference!

  2. So will you continue the summer tradition with Baby J senior?

  3. OK, here’s what I want to know. Are you the little girl on the left with the amazing pose?! If not, what ever happened to her, did she become a world famous model or gymnast 😊. Terrific images Karen – lucky you for being able to go back in time with your family intact! Nothing beats fond memories happily revisited. Fun post and lovely images.

    • Lol. I love the poses. That little gal is my niece, now a CPA who specializes in international tax law! We are indeed blessed. Txs for reading!
      My next goal is to find enough gas on our trip north to Carolina.

  4. Sadly because Covid I can’t Travel anymore for my blog that I just started. Feels really sad that I have to wait before planning a new travel journey 😦

  5. Beautiful, KF. I went to Clearwater Beach when I was in my teens. We actually stayed in Punta Gorda, but it was a quick trip to the beach from there. My brother got stung by a jelly fish there. 🙂 What a fun post.

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