Repairs on Capitola’s historic wharf will begin next week
The construction will also continue an ongoing improvement project meant to make the wharf more stable and resilient to future storms.
As Capitola Village rebounded, the city’s damaged wharf has remained a potent reminder of the devastation of last winter’s storms.
Enormous waves in early January tore the 166-year-old wooden pier in two, creating a 46-foot-wide chasm that left the wharf and its two popular businesses inaccessible to the public. Now, more than nine months after the storms, construction will begin to rebuild the wharf and continue an effort to make it more resilient against future storms, which have destroyed the wharf numerous times over its history.
“This project has been an ongoing one for the city for many years, to improve the resiliency of the wharf,” said Capitola Public Works Director Jessica Kahn.
Voters partially funded the Capitola Wharf Resiliency Project in 2016 with the approval of Measure F, which levied a sales tax increase.
Now in phase two, Kahn says the $7.9 million project will double the wharf’s width and add more long support posts. Called pilings, each one sinks into the seafloor up to half of their 40-foot length.
“So that will make the whole structure more stable overall,” she said.
A community organization, the Capitola Wharf Enhancement Project, also gathered donations for new interpretive signs and upgraded public restrooms.
Images of Capitola’s damaged beachside restaurants and iconic pastel-painted homes garnered national attention, prompting a visit from President Joe Biden and Governor Gavin Newsom.
Kahn said she was receiving calls every day from people all over the world who were worried about the wharf, including “little old ladies that sent us $10 checks in the mail.”
“I think with this repair and renovation [of the wharf], it will really signal to outside visitors that Capitola is all the way back,” Kahn said.
Today, most of the restaurants have reopened and their customers are enjoying coastal views.
“It’s really encouraging to see all of the new construction, and to see the rebirth,” said Kevin Lemon, a resident of nearby Soquel, who just emerged after a quick swim to join his mother Karen Lemon on a walk along Capitola Beach.
“Capitola as a community comes together and helps each other out so beautifully,” said Karen Lemon, who has lived in the area for decades. “That’s part of why I live in this part of the coast.”
But one of the city’s restaurants remains closed. Willie Case has owned the Wharf House restaurant for 34 years. It’s one of two businesses on the wharf that are completely inaccessible since the storms.
“I don’t even really know what the extent of damage is out there,” he said. “I’ve only been out there one time since January 3rd.”
That trip was by boat, and only gave him a quick glimpse of the early damage. Now, several months later, Case imagines many things exposed to the salty air have rusted and will need to be replaced. He also worries about break-ins — he’s aware of at least one so far — and doesn’t know what his insurance will cover.
One scary prospect: his fully stocked refrigerators and freezers have been without power since January.
“We have an enormous amount of work to do,” he said.
Karen Lemon said she’s a fan of the Wharf House restaurant — she and her husband celebrated his 79th birthday there just a few months before the storms. She said it’s part of the Capitola vibe.
“I’m going to be happy to see that little restaurant and the bands playing out there,” she said. “And music floating across the sand.”
Repairs on the wharf are slated for completion by next summer, but with an El Niño winter ahead, Kahn says the timeline is “weather dependent.”