Magnolia resident Ted Costa recalls that residents of Gloucester's southwestern village have always pitched in to maintain and carry out needed repairs to the historic Magnolia Pier over the years.
"I call them the custodians," says Costa, appointed by Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken to the city's Magnolia Pier Advisory Committee. "Magnolia people would always rise to the occasion to help take care of things and help each other out."
But the storms and related storm surges that slammed into the pier — and the rest of Cape Ann — in March have dealt the village landmark a blow beyond the fix-it capabilities of even the most dedicated neighbors.
"Lumber, hammers and nails just aren't going to fix it this time," Costa said Tuesday. "We need some new pilings and new footings. It's beyond volunteer status."
Now, he and committee colleagues, headed by Magnolia resident Dick Wilson, are working with the city to replace the old pier by building a new one.
The project's expected to cost up to $840,000, to be paid for by a mix of public and private funding. That financial package will include whatever the city reels in for the pier through Federal Emergency Management Agency storm aid, $91,000 approved by the City Council for design and demolition work, a potential grant the committee is seeking from the city's Community Preservation Committee, and whatever the pier committee can generate through fundraising.
To that end, the committee is hosting two benefits: an art auction Friday night at 6 at the neighboring Manchester Bath & Tennis Club, and a sail aboard the Schooner Thomas E. Lannon on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with champagne and appetizers on board for $100 a person and all proceeds going to the pier project.
City taking lead
James Destino, the city's chief of administration, emphasized Tuesday that the pier project is under the direction of the city — from awarding contracts off bids for the demolition, design work and construction, to accepting any state or federal aid designated for the pier work.
Among other funding sources, the city is projected to receive up to $350,000 for the pier through a state capital bond bill. But Destino and Costa noted the significance of the private fundraising effort, with a goal of bringing in $350,000 to $400,000 through efforts such as Friday night's auction.
"If there are other funding sources to help the city, it would be a terrific citywide project," Destino said. "This community has a long history of stepping up when some of these community projects are needed, and it's a great thing to see."
Destino said plans call for taking down the existing pier sometime this fall, with construction of a new pier beginning in the spring. Like the Good Harbor Beach footbridge, also damaged in the storms, the pier was condemned as a safety hazard in the spring by city Building Inspector William Sanborn.
The projected costs for the work are drawn from a study performed earlier in the year by GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc. of Amesbury. It estimated costs to repair the pier at $660,000 and those of replacing it at $840,000. But Costa said the pier, which has been the subject of repair and replacement talks since at least 2015 after the blizzards of that January and February, was "far too damaged" this time to consider repair as a viable option.
"The replacement cost only made sense," he said.
This would not be the first time the pier has been rebuilt or replaced; it was rebuilt after the Blizzard of 1978. It had held its ground until the first of three major storms within two weeks in March socked it with a storm surge that wreaked seawalls in Gloucester and Manchester, including at the Bath & Tennis Club.
Important to Manchester, too
Costa said that, as he and the committee have pursued auction donations and other funding sources, he's been impressed with the help the project has drawn from Manchester residents as well as from those in Magnolia and and other parts of Gloucester.
"I knew it was ours, and how deeply people here (in Magnolia) care for it," he said, "but I guess I never sensed the passion for it that people in Manchester have for it, too. It's been great to see these communities come together like this, and to get that sense that we're in this together."
Costa noted the auction is being held across Magnolia Harbor at the private Manchester Bath & Tennis Club. The Manchester landmark also sustained significant damage in the March storms.
The auction will feature a number of donated art works, including paintings by Manchester artist Steve Karpowich and Gloucester's Sinikka Nogelo, a marble sculpture by Magnolia resident Charlie Field, and a depiction of the pier painted on an oar by Gloucester fisherman and artist Sam Nigro.
Costa said that while the current pier will be taken away for good and a new one built in its place, the project will carry on an important part of Magnolia heritage. The pier dates to the the early 1800s and the days of the village's steamship pier, which used to welcome visitors who would board those vessels in Boston to visit Magnolia and other parts of Cape Ann. A pier also appears in paintings of Magnolia from the 1860s.
"It isn't just for a right of passage or a place for kids to jump off it into the water," Costa said. "I've heard stories from people who have proposed down there, people who have spread the ashes of loved ones (off the pier), and people have gone down there just to be alone with their thoughts.
"It's very special, and in a very special place," Costa said. "I look at it this way; Rocky Neck has the Paint Factory, Lanesville has its Fish Shack, Rockport has Motif No. 1. And this is ours. Our choice was not just to fix what was left, but to have a new pier here for years and years to come."
Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or email@example.com.
Magnolia Pier benefits
What: Art auction designed to raise money for the replacement of the historic Magnolia Pier.
When: Friday, Sept. 21, at 6 p.m.
Where: Manchester Bath & Tennis Club, 27 Raymond St. in Manchester.
How much: Admission free to the public.
What: Sail aboard the schooner Thomas E. Lannon, featuring champagne and appetizers. All proceeds to benefit the drive for the replacement of the historic Magnolia Pier.
When: Sunday, Sept. 23, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Where: Departing Seven Seas Wharf, 63 Rogers St., Gloucester.
How much: $100 per person; for reservations, visit Magnolia Pier Committee page on Facebook, or call Ted Costa at 978-580-5442.