Clearwater Beach: A Pierless Experience
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.
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.
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.