Can you guess the #1 most visited attraction in San Francisco? PIER 39!
Who created such a popular and loved landmark? The one and only, Warren Simmons. Read on to learn how Warren made his dream a reality.
The PIER 39 Idea
Warren Simmons explored the world as a Pan America pilot in 1970. After experiences so many wonderful places, he had a vision – create a space in his home city of San Francisco where locals and visitors could mingle and enjoy the waterfront.
Ok, so he had an idea – then what?
In 1973 Warren Simmons was walking the San Francisco waterfront and noticed a run-down old pier covered in junk, number 39. He knew he had found THE location to make his dream a reality. And he originally thought he would name it… North Point Pier.
Historically, San Franciscans had fiercely protected their waterfront from developments. For instance, corporations like Ford Motor Company and the Rockefellers attempted to occupy and develop bay-front properties, but no one could break through the protections implemented by the city.
If anyone could find a way to make it happen, Warren Simmons was the man for the job.
As a San Franciscan, Warren Simmons had the advantage of local contacts, the drive, and the enthusiasm necessary to develop the pier 39 into his dream. Warren carried his slide projector everywhere and presented his plan to anyone and everyone who would listen. Warren was famous for starting his workday at 4 am every day to achieve his goals.
Thanks to Warren’s connections, insider knowledge, charm, and relentless hard work he was able to persuade the Port of San Francisco to grant him a lease agreement in 1975. BOOM!
Legality & Bikini Bets
But… this was no ordinary lease agreement. It was nearly impossible to abide by. The lease required an abundant number of permits and governmental approvals from 16 agencies before beginning construction.
The lease was so tough, in fact, that then San Francisco Mayor, Dianne Feinstein, promised to wear a bikini to Pier 39’s opening day if Warren effectively opened by his projected date in October 1978. Dianne knew it would never happen.
Despite the Port’s intentional obstacles, Warren prevailed and passed all governmental and city reviews! Sure enough, Dianne Feinstein showed up in bathing suit opening day, celebrating Warren’s major success.
Earthquake Building Codes & Breakwater
In addition to the approvals and permits, Warren was also required to adhere to strict seismic (earthquake) building codes. After the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco took precautions to prepare for another “big one”. The new earthquake codes required an envelope of concrete and steel in the base of the pier, reducing seismic impacts. According to 1975 engineers, PIER 39 is one of the safest, most secure places to be for a big earthquake. Phew!
Prior to the concrete breakwater that is currently in place (and functional), Pier 39 had a floating breakwater made of tires. While it was suitable for bay waves, it did not stand a chance against the northern storm waves.
Rather that protecting the pier, the tires floated over the swells, allowing them to crash in through the marina, causing severe damage to bayside buildings. That was the end of the tire made breakwater.
Pier 37 Fire
In addition to the lumbar from the old pier, Warren had permission to use the wood from the warehouses on Pier 37 to construct Pier 39. With some bad luck, Pier 37 went up in flames on September 21st 1975, incinerating the usable lumbar. Luckily, the port granted Warren another lumbar filled pier further down the embarcadero. All was not lost and building continued.
Warren’s son, Scooter, was the very first laborer hired by the Pier 39 general contractor. After joining the laborers union, Scooter’s first task was to tear out the parking meters with a jackhammer along the embarcadero.
Still in college at University of Denver, Scooter went back to school in the fall, and returned the next summer as a construction inspector.
Holding true to his roots, Scooter now owns and operates three restaurants and one coffee shop on the pier along with his family. More on that later!
PIER 39 waterfront passion runs in the family blood.
PIER 39 Finances
Financing PIER 39 was not an easy task. Bank executives pushed Warren to bring in a wealthy partner who could immediately fund the project. PIER 39, however, was Warren’s dream. He was unwilling to share his creation with any equity partners.
Fortunately, Warren owned a fruitful restaurant chain called Tia Maria Mexican Restaurant. He made the difficult decision to sell his business, raising $4.5 million and warding off the push for equity partners.
Additionally, Crocker Bank loaned Warren $27 million for a construction loan. PIER 39 was the first privately financed attraction residing on the city’s waterfront in more than 100 years.
However – The costs of construction rose daily and Warren spent the $4.5 million and the $27 million loan long before construction was complete. Amid their missed projection costs, Crocker Bank funded Warren another $8 million to finalize PIER 39’s construction costs.
Teachers Insurance also generously provided permanent financing in 1977. Even though they later had reason to break their commitment due to changing prime rates, they loyally adhered to the initial agreement and funded the loan.
Lawsuit and Warren Sells PIER 39
Despite the generous loans from Crocker Bank and Teachers Insurance, Warren was faced with unforeseen financial demands due to a massive lawsuit after the opening of PIER 39. The lawsuit dragged on for two years, the expenses added up, and Warren was forced to sell PIER 39 in 1980. He was heartbroken.
Simmons Family Restaurants on PIER 39
Despite Warren’s heartbreaking PIER 39 sale – The end of this story is a happy one! Warren’s son, Scooter, and grand children still operate three extremely successful restaurants on PIER 39 to this day: Fog Harbor Fish House, Pier Market Seafood Restaurant and Wipeout Bar & Grill.
Warren’s dream of bringing people together on the San Francisco waterfront lives on as the PIER is the #1 most visited attraction in San Francisco. Visitors and locals mingle in his three incredible restaurants.
Enjoy one of the Simmons restaurants today – and keep an eye out for a Simmons Family member in the dining room! They love to say hello.