On May 13 and 14, the City of Anna Maria is throwing a party to mark the 100-year birthday of the much-loved City Pier. As soon as the festivities are over, an extensive face-lift operation will transform the waterfront and pier entrance in a way that is intended to make the pier even more accessible and attractive to tourists than it is in its current simple state.
Such a marketing effort is in line with the origins of the pier, which was built in 1911 by the founding Bean family, in order to bring rich tourists to the new town of Anna Maria via steamer. The 776-foot-length of the pier was necessary to reach the deep waters needed by large boats.
In her book The Early Days 1893 – 1940, Carolyne Norwood, of the Anna Maria Island Historical Society, explains that George Emerson Bean, his son Will, and their associates had formed the Anna Maria Beach Development Company. They had built 60 homes, a hotel, bathing pavilion, bathhouse, church, school, post office and several stores, in just a few years. Now they wanted to generate some business. After the pier was built, the whole family went to great lengths to entertain those who arrived by boat. Bean’s 10-year-old daughter cruised around the steamers in a little red boat, greeting visitors. Another family member dressed up and told fortunes. A gift shop was opened at the foot of the pier.
From the pier, day visitors walked the length of Pine Avenue to the Gulf beach. According to Norwood, along the way they saw strutting peacocks and a pond, which was home to an alligator.
With the same high spirits as those of the hospitable Bean family, the community of Anna Maria will start the Pier Centennial Celebration with a parade on Friday night, May 13. The next day, “Food and Wine on Pine” will include festivities all along the Pine Avenue route, which was walked by the early visitors. Visitors on this day will be able to sample fine seafood and other gourmet items from area restaurants, as well as some very special wines as they walk along Pine. Artists will be demonstrating their techniques, and there will be a juried art exhibit, with work for sale.
At 4 o’clock on that Saturday, the Privateers will host a party at Bayfront Park while certain VIP’s will get to enjoy a special dinner on the Pier. Later, everyone will be treated to a fireworks display.
For 100 years, the City of Anna Maria has put a lot of effort and money into maintaining this landmark structure. It has changed only in small ways over all these years. There once were two houses at the end of it. The pilings under what is now called the Belle Haven cottage rotted and the house fell into the sea one night. A renter was sleeping there at the time, and was fortunate to be able to swim out a window and survive. The cottage was saved, too, and today is part of the Anna Maria Island Historical Society Museum on Pine Street.