Overview of the partial collapse of Pier 58, September 15.

Seattle’s floating out to sea.

That was the refrain of fatalists in early August when Pier 58 drifted six inches from land. A rush to dismantle the well-traveled planks (a cleanup job totaling $4.3 million) and reassess a planned renovation ensued. But the pier* (see Boardwalk Talk below) once again made headlines on September 13, when the structure’s partial collapse sent two construction workers tumbling into the Sound (they were OK).

Dramatics aside, the walkway’s departure from shore was no surprise to its caretakers. “From the moment all piers are built they start to deteriorate,” says Marshall Foster, director of Seattle’s Office of the Waterfront and Civic Projects. “These structures are built to last, but take a beating.”

A deep dive into the pier’s engineering and history reveals he isn’t kidding.

Which Pier Again?

Nicknamed Waterfront Park for its plaza and panoramic views, Pier 58 sits between Miner’s Landing and the Seattle Aquarium. It’s home to a four-ton bronze fountain, greenery-filled concrete planters, and a large cement plaza.

Pier 58.

Image: Courtesy SDOT

Loosen Up a Little

A predictable mix of saltwater, shifting tides, and wind caused Pier 58 to separate from shore, then partially collapse. So why didn’t Seattle see it coming? In short: some rigid piles* that degenerated quicker than anticipated.

Many structures, including Pier 58, draw at least some support from wood. The splintery stuff allows sea-submerged structures to move—albeit minutely—along with tides and winds. But this pier leaned heavily on old steel piles to prop up a concrete terrace. Instead of adjusting, these supports fought the ocean’s pull—and lost.


A Dip into the Waterfront’s Past, Present, and Future

 
Pre-1800s

The waterfront serves as a home, gathering place, and trade center for Coast Salish tribes.

1850s

In newly established Seattle, the waterfront houses the first steam-powered sawmill and functions as a launch point for trade.

1974

Seattle Parks and Recreation constructs Pier 58 and designates it a city park.

1977

The Seattle Aquarium opens next door on Pier 59.

1990

Department of Construction and Inspections mandates a pier maintenance program, requiring a survey of the waterfront structures every five years.

2006

A maintenance check reveals signs of corrosion in the pier’s concrete-and-steel legs. The city doesn’t pursue a $2 million overhaul.

2012

The Seattle Great Wheel moves onto neighboring Pier 57.

2016

Consulting firm Seattle Structural releases an evaluation of Pier 58’s structural integrity. Its findings? Not good. The city pencils in 2022 as the start date for the pier’s renovation.

 
9
 
Number of Pier 58 piles that needed replacement in 2006, per a maintenance report that recommended repairs.
178
 
Pier 58 piles that had deteriorated to that perilous point 10 years later.
 
 
2020

In early August, Pier 58 moves six inches away from land. A month later, part of it plunges into the Sound. Two workers fall in and sustain minor injuries.

2021

The pier’s demolition projected to finish.

2022

Workers will break ground (er, water?) on a new Pier 58.

2024

Renovations should wrap up on the pier, which will contain a playground, lawn, and event plaza.

Rendering of the renovated Pier 58 anticipated in 2024.


Boardwalk Talk

Seawall: A man-made structure defining the edge between land and water. In Seattle, look no further than the waterfront sidewalk running from Pioneer Square to the Olympic Sculpture Park.

Pier: A structure that extends over the water used for practical boat access and sunset-viewing. Back to introduction

Piles: Legs driven into the seafloor to support a pier’s walkway. Back to Loosen Up a Little

Wharf: A land-bound structure situated at the water’s edge for tying off boats, unloading shipments, or casting a fishing line.

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