Photos, research and story written by Lou Spagnola.
The Ocean Pier at Revere Beach; you know, the one at Eliot Circle, the rotary at the Beachmont end of Revere Beach? Photos of this grand old ballroom have been making the rounds on social media for years; it is beautifully displayed on a wall inside DeMaino’s Restaurant on Malden Street. Officially, it was named Brown’s Pier in 1911 before Richard Holt purchased it in 1924. However, this was the second pier; there was another before it, and it stood at a slightly different location.
Also referred to as the Broad Sound Pier in its early days, the Great Ocean Pier was
built to be the centerpiece and crown jewel of a beach on the rise in the recently christened Town of Revere. It was to be rich in physical beauty and of substance; it stretched 1700 feet out into the water and stood 22 feet wide, making it the longest pier in the world.
While it could be stated the Great Ocean Pier was located a few hundred feet from Eliot Circle, it was in fact both built and dismantled prior to Eliot Circle coming into existence – for that matter, Charles Eliot, who would one day design the Revere Beach we know today, was still unknown to Revere, having recently signed on as a partner with the Olmsted architectural firm at the time the pier was closed.
In February of 1881, The Boston Steamboat and Pier Company was incorporated. One of its purposes was the overseeing of the water transportation of persons and properties to and from the coasts of Boston, Revere, Point Shirley, Lynn, and other cities along the coast; the other was the building and maintenance of an ocean pier and other structures at Broad Sound in the Town of Revere.
Greatly influenced by the washing away of the floating pier at the Pavilion Hotel in an earlier storm, this pier would be an immovable object, firmly fastened and grounded. The permits to build were requested on March 3rd, and work on the new pier began in April of 1881. Due to the rocky bed of Cherry Island, piles could not be driven into the ground; some 2000 supports were mortised into a sill and, together with braces, each row was planted in four-foot ditches.
The area known as Cherry Island Bar was once a small peninsula of cherry trees (located to the left of Short Beach, on the beach side of Broadsound Avenue); it has been said the island once stood high enough above the water to remain dry during Colonial times, with low tide making Nahant appear almost close enough to walk to. At the time of the Ocean Pier’s construction, tree stumps could be still found at low tide in that vicinity. Today, as we know of the viciousness of the tides that pound the Beachmont area, it’s very easy to see how a vulnerable Cherry Island washed away a little more with every high tide and each storm.
The Grand Opening took place on Tuesday, July 12, 1881. Just before noon, with a refreshing breeze and clear skies, the John Sylvester was the first steamer to make the trip, beginning at Fosters Wharf in Boston and carrying close to one thousand invited guests on a relaxing, 45 minute excursion. Together, along with the Eliza Hancox, the pier would be visited eight times a day by each steamer.
The three-story building at the head of the pier stood 100’ x 80’ in size, with a broad piazza 22 feet wide that extended around the entire building. Numerous doors led to the piazza; throughout the length of the pier, a large number of basket seated rocking chairs, arm chairs, and even a few Bigelow rail rockers were available for the weary, or for those looking to simply relax and enjoy the sights and scents of Crescent Beach. A tower stood diagonally to the main building, 32 feet square and 64 feet wide with a two-story observatory at the top. Just inside was The Café, a mammoth dining room, 96’ x 60’ that seated 400, with 30 stained glass windows towards the ceiling which allowed in the requisite amount of light. The menu included a variety of wines, and entrees such as steaks, chops, game, and fish; there also were “Ocean Pier Clambakes.” Freshwater was delivered from an Endicott Avenue spring through a long siphon that measured in excess of 1500 feet. Cooks and kitchen maids resided on site in eight 16’ x 8’ rooms. An ash stairway, with posts inlaid with colored tiles, lead to six private dining room suites. A ladies’ waiting room was also connected to the café.
An elegant parlor and reception room led to 500 feet of covered promenade, open on both sides, with a magnificent view of the ocean and the hills and flats of Revere. This led to the Ocean Pier Rink, the largest summer roller skating rink in the world at 750 feet long and featuring a floor made from the finest kiln-dried birch. A full band for music was on hand for the entire season, giving concerts at 2:30PM and 7PM free of charge. There were facilities available for bathing, boating, and fishing; depending on the season, an abundance of cod, sea perch, flounders, smelts, and mackerel were all easy catches. The rocks along the outside of the pier were a favorite resting place for seals, where some 20-30, tame and approachable, could easily be counted.
After just 13 seasons, it was over.
After its closing, the pier was broken up and sold in sections; some of what was left of the pier blew apart in a ferocious storm on February 13, 1894, with large pieces of wood found all over the beach. The main building would reopen in 1894 as the Ocean Pier Hotel. In November of 1898, a storm reduced it to what newspapers described as “a complete wreck”, with some of the building washing away after caving in. The carcass of this once great specimen went up for sale with a simple ad: “Ocean Pier building, the same to be taken down.”
The question remains: How could the largest and most beautiful pier in the world last for just 13 summers? If I could answer with my own thoughts…
Revere had the Point of Pines, the Oak Island Grove, and the Ocean Pier; with three great attractions separated by less than three miles, and trains bringing visitors directly to each place, it very well may have been too much, too soon, and for not enough people. With a “season” where these destinations were only open from June to September, and with other attractions springing up in a burgeoning town, I can understand why landowners decided houses and streets would better serve their financial interests. However, in this writer and lifelong resident’s opinion, this is exactly the type of centerpiece that would fit beautifully at today’s Revere Beach.
Not long after the demise of the Great Ocean Pier, nearby residents demanded a breakwater be built to help alleviate the heavy pounding the neighborhood that bordered Broad Sound was taking from fierce tides. While the final decision would take years of back and forth politics to go forward, work finally began on April 19th of 1907. Coincidentally, the large rocks that make up the breakwater were positioned along the path where Revere’s greatest pier once stood. Much of what might be left will no doubt be found underneath those massive rocks that are clearly visible today from Eliot Circle and beyond; incredibly, some of it can still be easily found, 129 years after it was taken down.