There’s no place in Naples more iconic than its pier. Over the years, it’s undergone several transformations—both planned and unplanned—and its largest yet is currently underway. Since much of what constitutes our “new” Naples is a reflection of what once was, here, we’re sharing the story of how this charming landmark came to hold a place in Neapolitans’ hearts—and those of its 1.1 million annual visitors.
1888 – In Naples’ earliest days of commerce, a group called the Naples Company employs a steamship called Fearless to run from Punta Gorda to Naples, entering through Gordon Pass and sailing up into Naples Bay. Problems occur, however, during low tide when passengers and freight require shuttles to come ashore due to multiple sandbars. Construction on a 600-foot T-shaped wharf in 18 feet of water is approved at the end of what is now 12th Avenue South (then called Pier Street). Pilings and timbers have to be unloaded in the water and towed ashore.
1889 – Construction on the wooden pier is completed, and Naples’ first hotel opens on the beach nearby. The combination boardwalk/tramway is fitted with rails that extend from the end of the pier down Pier Street to the hotel, making it easy for materials and luggage to be transported from ship to shore (and for kids to take a ride). A post office is also built at the foot of the pier.
1910 – The pier endures its first hurricane, which results in excessive damage and causes the hotel to close temporarily. During repairs, the pier is built to be 100 feet longer with two wings, forming a “V.”
1922 – An accidental cigarette fire destroys the post office building and part of the end of the pier.
1924 – The pier is lengthened to 1,000 feet, which makes fishermen very happy.
1926 – Another hurricane, more damage. (This one also delayed the building of the Tamiami Trail.)
1944 – Third time’s a charm; this year, hurricane damages cause the pier to be completely rebuilt. It’s now 100 feet longer and reaches 22 feet of water. The pier becomes a favorite Naples destination for fishing, sunset viewing and the most picturesque of dance parties.
1960 – Hurricane Donna slams Naples’ coast, bringing Category 5 winds and a nine-and-a-half-foot storm surge that collapses the pier into the Gulf. (The hotel is ruined, too.) As luck would have it, the Naples City Council had voted four months earlier to cancel its insurance policy on the pier. There is talk of tearing it down and rebuilding it at the end of Fifth Avenue South, but local philanthropists Lester and Dellora Norris volunteer to bankroll the cost of its extensive, 10-month repairs (about $130,000) if it stays in its original place. So it does.
1970 – Worms eat away at the structure of the pier (ew), and the Norrises once again pay to rebuild it, with one caveat—the City of Naples, which is considering charging a 25-cent fee for visitors to walk on the pier, must keep admission free. So it does.
July 2015 – The first plank is removed as the Naples Pier closes to undergo $2.2 million in renovations. History comes somewhat full circle, as the structure of the new pier—which is being made in Fort Myers of resilient Brazilian hardwood in 30-foot sections—is floated in by barge, much as it did in 1888. The new and improved pier is scheduled to reopen by November.
Two hundred boards from the Naples Pier have been saved and will be cut into 1,000 18-inch sections, stamped with the city brand, authenticated by the Naples Historical Society and made available for sale for $100 each to true Naples history lovers. For details, call (239) 213-7120.