The fascinating true history of Trinidad Pier

BOATS FOR HIRE Skiffs at the Trinidad dock in the 1950s.  Photo courtesy of HSU Katie Boyle Collection and the Bob Hallmark Collection

BOATS FOR HIRE Skiffs at the Trinidad dock in the 1950s.
Photo courtesy of HSU Katie Boyle Collection and the Bob Hallmark Collection

Bob Hallmark
Special to the Union

In December 1944, Earl Hallmark (1900 – 1958) bought all of the property owned by Hammond Lumber Company in Trinidad, including all of the waterfront property between Ocean Avenue and Trinidad Head.  It took only three months for a very determined Earl to acquire all of the permits he would need to build a pier, including the lease from the State’s Land Commission for the bay.facebook-like-button

Earl Hallmark was fortunate to find superior pilings that were scheduled to be shipped to the Philippines as part of the war effort. But since the war was nearly over, he was able to acquire them for his project.

He attempted to get bids to build a pier from contractors all along the West Coast, but all of them said the rock was too hard to drive pilings. He then talked to Tom Hull, a local contractor in Eureka, who believed he could drive the pilings in with steel points. However, the rock was too hard, so his next step was to remove the steel plates and sharpen the pilings themselves. It was a revolutionary idea, and it worked!

While the pier was being built, Earl also had a house built to be used by the pier manager. The house still stands, sitting above the Seascape Restaurant with a spectacular view of the bay.

In 1946, there were no city water lines to the pier area, so the ever-enterprising Earl ran a 2-inch pipe to two small springs below where the Memorial Lighthouse now stands. He was concerned about the purity of the water, so he had it tested regularly and the reports repeatedly came back “safe.”

Also in that same year, 1946, he donated property for the Memorial Lighthouse to the Trinidad Civic Club, which pledged to construct a lasting memorial to those lost at sea and buried at sea.

facebook-like-buttonAt the base of the pier and the formidable rock called “Little Head,” a saltwater tank, measuring 18 feet by 28 feet was built to hold live crabs that were for sale. After a while, the tank’s pumps clogged because of silt and debris, resulting in loss of crabs and, thus, revenue.

Trinidad Pier before reconstruction. File photo from McKinleyville Press

Trinidad Pier before reconstruction. File photo from McKinleyville Press

In the summer of 1947, Al Myers, dock manager, started renting out a 14-foot skiff to sport fishermen. The demand was so great, that he asked Earl’s son, Bob, if he would like to rent out his skiff. Bob was asked to find yet another skiff to rent out, but the only skiff located was a huge 22 foot seine skiff, a cumbersome boat with a wide stern. The following summer, Al Myers was too busy to handle the skiff rental business, so Bob took over while he was still in high school. Bob built a shed over the saltwater tank (no longer in use) and began building skiffs to rent. That was the start of “Bob’s Boat Basin.”

Earl built a 110 foot long cannery at the end of the 575 foot pier in 1949. But after one year, he found that it was not profitable enough to continue. Four years later, it was torn down and the idea of a local fish plant was abandoned.

In 1949, a group of 11 Trinidad residents got together with Earl Hallmark to try to convince the government to build a breakwater in Trinidad. Earl went to Washington, DC, where he was able to meet with Senator Knowland, who agreed to appropriate money for a feasibility study of a Trinidad Bay breakwater. Earl decided to celebrate by going to Mexico for a vacation with his wife, Neva (1904-1975). He was disappointed when he arrived home to discover the money had been diverted to Eureka’s Humboldt Bay jetties.

Trinidad Pier before reconstruction. File photo from McKinleyville Press

Trinidad Pier before reconstruction. File photo from McKinleyville Press

Trinidad almost had its breakwater thanks to Mother Nature. An old ship converted  to a barge carrying salt to Seattle nearly sank between the bell buoy in the bay and the corner of Big Head. The stern was completely under water and restoration first appeared to be hopeless.  But, after ten days of repairs, workers managed to get it seaworthy and proceeded on to Seattle where it was salvaged.

1950 brought the first charter boats to Trinidad Bay, operated by George Collins (the Corregidor) and George Korkan (the Imp). Many visitors and locals alike enjoyed salmon and rock fishing from these boats.

Over the years, many crab boats have been lost in Trinidad Bay during significant storms. By far the worst storm was on Feb. 9, 1960. It changed from a light breeze to hurricane force winds in just over four hours. The wind was coming out of the west so hard that it blew the foam from the north around Trinidad Head like a blizzard. A logger brought his generator and large flood light to the pier that night to provide power to work by. The foam was so dense that Big Head could not be seen. Upside-down boats and other debris were visible near the pier. The next morning, there were six crab boats remaining out of fourteen.

On the same day, a huge ocean swell crashed onto shore. It was the only time in the history of the pier that water washed over the top of the pier. The enormous swell was so powerful that the sea water flowed over the road at the foot of Edwards Street and down the parking lot into the bay on the east side of the peninsula.

When the weather improved, crab fishermen went out to check on their pots. Crab pots were rolled up together in large twisted bundles of metal and rope (called flower gardens because of the many different colored buoys) from Eureka to Trinidad. Because of strong currents, most Trinidad crab pots either buried deep into the mud and sand or rolled off shore too deep to be retrieved. It was a huge financial loss for the crab fishermen.

In 1951, the crab tank/boat shop was converted into the Dock Café, operated for two summers by Earl’s daughter, Marilyn, and her husband, Walter Pulliam. After that, it was operated by Laura Wilson and Joellen Hallmark until 1959, when some large waves picked up and destroyed the café. The following summer, the only thing found from the café was a freezer buried next to Big Head. That same summer, a snack bar was set up under the pier next to the Boat Basin office. In 1962, the Seascape Restaurant was built by Bob and Joellen Hallmark. Slim Osborne was the contractor and Tom Odom was one of the carpenters.

During the 1964 floods, which caused havoc throughout Humboldt and Del Norte counties, much of the marine life was destroyed in Trinidad Bay, including all of the abalone and rock scallops. Nearly three decades later, scallops slowly returned to the area, but the abalone were even slower coming back.

A barge traveling up the coast during another storm lost part of its load of lumber, much of it drifting into the harbor. Boat crews were frantically pulling lumber from the water while other people were taking it from the beach. There was so much lumber in the parking lot that the scavengers’ piles got mixed together. Many folks ended up with very little lumber after all their hard work. People hauled it away in trucks and trailers as fast as it was brought in.

By the late 1960s, there were 50 rental skiffs and four to five charter boats, but times were changing and many fishermen were buying their own boats and tying up to moorings provided by the Hallmark family. By the summer of 1970, there were 400 moorings in the harbor.

In 1969, a tsunami from Alaska hit northern California. Luckily, there was little swell in Trinidad Bay, but even so, the water came within two feet of the top of the pier. Crescent City wasn’t so lucky and it caused considerable damage to their harbor.

On the morning of August 16, 1972, a storm with gusts up to 80 knots hit the bay. The Boat Basin crew saved some of the boats, but 40 of them ended up on the beach. Fishermen and townspeople jumped into the swirling water, pulling boats ashore, but many were smashed against the rocks and destroyed.

In 2000, the Hallmark Pier and Seascape Restaurant were sold to Cher-Ae Heights Rancheria. Twelve years later, the Rancheria tore down the old wooden pier and built a new concrete and steel structure, marking the end of an era.

Produced with the assistance of Patti Fleschner, who can be reached at [email protected]

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One Comment;

  1. Patty Lusk said:

    This is so wonderful. Thank you so much to all who put this together.

Comments are closed.