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St. Petersburg Pier welcomes visitors for the last time

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today is the last day the inverted pyramid at the end of the St. Petersburg Pier will be open to visitors. We're chronicling the iconic building's last day with periodic updates from our reporters and photographers. Here are their bulletins, with the most recent placed at the top:

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10 p.m.: The two loneliest plastic cups in St. Petersburg sat side by side on the bar, empty, but for the melting ice inside.

They had, moments earlier, been filled with Coke and Captain Morgan, an ode to the site of their consumption — the last drinks ever served to patrons atop this city's Pier.

"I'm just kind of enjoying the moment," said Bill Shadley, his face betraying anything but joy beneath his light gray hair.

Tables all around him at Cha Cha Coconuts had been cleared and cleaned, and chairs were stacked upside down on the bar just next to him.

Bill and his sister, Bobbi Ison, both born and raised here, had planned this moment of gloom months ago when they first learned the Pier's closing date.

He asked for the night off from his job at Publix, and Bobbi was waiting for him at 7 Friday night, her light brown hair done and bay-blue blouse ready. The traffic was so heavy they narrowly missed the sunset.

Bill is 53, his sister 49. He still remembers when this place was built. When his father brought him down for ice cream. When the old men smoked real Cuban cigars and sat along the water's edge playing dominoes.

He's come at least once a week to Cha Cha's for years. She usually joins.

As the siblings reminisced, a balding man wearing shorts and smelling of rum approached the bar.

"So no more cocktails?" he asked the bartender.

She told him no.

He put his hands up, turning to Bill and Bobbi.

"No more cocktails for good."

John Woodrow Cox, Times Staff Writer

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9:30 p.m.: Diners at the Columbia restaurant took in one last view of the city lights around Tampa Bay as wait staff hustled to serve a still sizable crowd.

A group of waitresses in the front lobby worked carefully to wrap the restaurant's dinnerware and other merchandise in bubble wrap before loading it all into cardboard boxes.

Many of the items will go to the restaurant's other locations in Ybor City and Sarasota, said Curt Gaither, the Columbia's chief operating officer. The restaurant will also try to take in as many employees as they can elsewhere.

"Surreal is a word we hear a lot today, Gaither said. "We've known (the closing) was going to happen for a long time. ... The people here, they love the Pier."

As diners sat around candlelit tables, a dim blue glow faded to red on the building support beams visible through the windows. Patrons gazed curiously at a satellite tower that rose from a TV truck parked outside.

Dan Sullivan, Times Staff Writer

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9:10 p.m.: He shuffled to the edge of the dock on the Pier's southern side and turned around. He crouched, staring back at a small video camera mounted to a spindly tripod with electrical tape.

"The water's nice," he said into a microphone strapped to his ear. "I like the wind. Thank God for it."

Joe Robinson, 61, seemed out of place here in his navy blue work suit and military-style boots and reversed baseball cap. People stared as they passed, but he didn't seem to notice.

Robinson had gotten off from his floor cleaning job at 3 Friday afternoon and sped home on his chrome red NEXT bicycle. He loaded his camera gear into his pockets and a slim black bag, then pedaled another two and half miles to the Pier.

He had made it before sunset. Nothing else mattered.

The wind swirling around him, he hustled off the dock and back to his camera. He zoomed onto a passing fishing boat, then to a trio of pelicans perched nearby, then to the people high above, looking down from atop the inverted pyramid.

When Robinson first came here 27 years ago, there was no salt in his beard.

"It takes me way back," he said.

Back to long swims with his cousins and brothers and sisters. Back to all those weekend afternoons, sitting on the Pier's edge, his thoughts giving way to the water.

He'll share his video with the family who couldn't come to the Pier's last day. That is, if they want to see it. Maybe it will just be for him. That's okay, too.

"There's always going to be memories," he said, tapping on the camera. "That's what I got right here."

John Woodrow Cox, Times Staff Writer

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8:50 p.m.: Some of the shops inside the Pier closed early, leaving curtains covering storefronts and shelves emptied of merchandise.

The neon sign marking the front of Morrow's cafe remained lit as a wall clock inside the empty store ticked toward 9 p.m.

Across the lobby, a man stopped to snap a photo of the blackened windows of the Bay Breeze clothing shop.

"Bay Breeze is now closed," read a sign on the front door. "Please visit their sister stores at John's Pass."

Other stores stayed open to the end. At the Crytal Mirage glass and crystalwear shop, owner Carol Gray assisted a surge of customers who wanted something, anything, to keep as a memento. Everything in the store, which has been open 25 years, was priced at a discount. Even the display cases were marked as for sale.

"I am done, my business is done," said Gray, who wore a Stop the Lens button on her sweater. "It breaks my heart. I'll just have to go get a real job."

Dan Sullivan, Times Staff Writer

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8:05 p.m.: As a kid, Alfie Shary came to the Pier often. He remembers days before the yellow front facade was built, when you could step across gravel-covered floors into outdoor shops. He remembers coming there at 3 a.m. as a teen and fishing Tampa Bay with friends.

On Friday night, Shary, 38, strolled the grounds with a video camera in hand, shooting the inverted pyramid's final hours. He might post it on YouTube, he said. Or make a documentary about the history of the St. Petersburg icon. He's not sure.

What he is sure of, though, is that city residents didn't have enough of a say in the Pier's fate.

"I would love to video every step of their lowlife process," he said, referring to city leaders who are moving forward with plans to demolish the Pier. "Once you tear these buildings down, that's a piece of history you can't replace.

"This should have been voted on," he said. "The City Council, they're supposed to be representatives of the people. I'm not voting for any single one of those people."

Dan Sullivan, Times Staff Writer

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8 p.m.: There are no fireworks, nothing to draw people by the hundreds to the landmark on Tampa Bay except to bid adieu. One trolley driver is making music with his bell, a bunch of oldtimers are drawing cheers for their beebop crooning along the approach and at the very top, people line the railings savoring the view. And they keep coming, in wheelchairs, in strollers, on foot and in car after car. And last seen returning to the Pelican parking lot, a contented pooch in a pink doggie stroller. Yes, everyone it seems, came to say goodbye.

Waveney Anne Moore, Times Staff Writer

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7:28 p.m.: With an evening breeze turning up choppy waves along the water behind them, six men stood in a shady spot on the brick sidewalk west of the Pier and belted out songs about heaven, forgiveness, and the Bible.

The group of gospel singers, all St. Petersburg natives, decided to showcase their talents to hundreds of passerby to mark the Pier's closing in their own humble way.

"We just came out here to sing and spread the good word," said the group's front man, Harry Davis.

"We love the Pier," added bass baritone singer Emory Howard, who also shook a tambourine. "We have lots of memories down here."

The group, which also includes singers Ben Davis, Frank Panier, Aaron Davis, and Anthony Fillyau, performs all over town, Davis said, at churches like Dominion Worship Center.

As the sun set Friday night, they snapped their fingers and clapped their hands as Piergoers stopped to watch and drop an occasional dollar in a green bucket.

"I know that heaven is a beautiful place,

Because my Bible tells me so, they sang. That's where all of God's children are gonna live,

In a city so bright and fair.

— Dan Sullivan, Times Staff Writer

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7:35 p.m.: They've come from far and wide to say farewell. Lisa Padilla, her husband, Sebastian Lobez, and their son, Jonathon, 13, drove three hours from Cape Coral.

"I got off from work early today so I could drive here for the closing of the Pier. We've always visited here. For more than 25 years we've been coming here. We come at Easter and we go to church at St. Mary's, have dinner here and go home," said Padilla, whose two older children were part of the tradition.

The family hoped to get dinner at the Columbia, but didn't have reservations. They were told that the restaurant would try to work them in, since they had traveled such a long distance.

"If we don't, we're all right," Padilla said. "It's just a historical moment for us."

Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer

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7:30 p.m.: Jerry Span, a 34-year-old who works in marketing, stood at the railing on the observation deck facing north, and everyone who walked past could see the words 'Make Lens not war' in giant letters on the back of his bright purple shirt.

He came to the Pier on Thursday with his family but chose not to wear his support-the-Lens shirt out of respect for the people who are losing their jobs.

"I didn't want to insult any of the owners here, but it's the last day, and I definitely want to show my support," he said.

Span, a fourth-generation St. Petersburg resident, said his great-grandparents used to visit the original pier: He noted that he will have fond memories of the current Pier but thinks the city is ready for a change.

"I'm just soaking it all in and enjoying what was here and what I love," he said.

He added that the he is confident that the people of St. Petersburg will come to support the Lens when they start to learn more about it.

Lauren Carroll, Times Staff Writer

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7:25 p.m.: Dozens of cars wheeled through the packed paved lot, past the red-and-white no parking sign and on to the patch of damp grass nearby. A man in a Honda asked a security guard if he could park there too. "I can't authorize it'' the guard said. But should he pay if he does? The guard shrugged. "Just to be safe,'' the guard said before he puttered away. The white $3 parking receipts rested on a few dashboards, but just as many remained bare. Really though, in these final hours, who's going to care?

Certainly not the security guard.

John Woodrow Cox, Times Staff Writer

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6:55 p.m.: Each trip up and down the glass elevator is filled to the brim with families eager to get one last look at the city and the bay from the inverted pyramid's picturesque vantage point.

The entire crowd oohs and ahs as the elevator rises. They squint their eyes to see downtown St. Petersburg, obscured by the sun.

Kids press their noses to the glass. One woman jokes that her mother would not be able to stand riding in a glass elevator, despite the spectacular view.

As the elevator arrives at the fifth floor observation deck, the passengers spill out onto the platform. Immediately, they grab their shirts, skirts, dresses, hair and anything else that might fly away in the strong wind. A group of young women laugh as they try to take a picture without having a Marilyn Monroe moment.

Most people find a spot where they lean up against the railing where they look out at the bay for quite some time, perhaps longer than they would have if it wasn't their last time at the Pier.

Lauren Carroll, Times Staff Writer

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6:45 p.m.: The Pier may closing in a few hours, but the housekeeping staff, which started its shift early this morning, is still cleaning, spritzing tables in the food court, clearing trays and collecting garbage. Only few tables are occupied. The ice cream shop is dark. Hong Kong Corner has a few people waiting to order and so does Burger Bay. The end must be near. A couple of police officers are standing by.

Everyone has to be off the property by 11.

Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer

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6:20 p.m.: Four girls in nice dresses, one holding a rose, came to the Pier after their eighth-grade graduation dance at Meadowlawn Middle School.

The girls, sitting in the food court to stay dry, said the Pier is their go-to hang-out spot, and now they'll have to find a new place to meet up with friends. They all agreed that the Pier is more fun than going to the movies or out for ice cream.

They noted that the aquarium and the view of the city from the top are their favorite spots at the Pier.

"We'll miss this," Aliyah Tutson said.

For the girls, the Pier hasn't just been a place for friends. They've been coming here with their families for years.

"Since I came to the United States three years ago, I've been here the most out of all the places I've been," said Ulya Shatunov, from Russia.

Lauren Carroll, Times Staff Writer

6:15 p.m.: The couple lingered along the Pier head, walking slowly, watching the water. In some ways, it reminded them of the home they left behind. Maureen Green and Earl Benjamin had driven from Tampa for the afternoon outing. He wore a T-shirt with the words Trinidad and Tobago..

"Before they tear it down, we decided to come one last time," said Green, 67, a certified nursing assistant.

"We're accustomed to beaches at home and seeing all this water, we enjoy it."

Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer

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5:40 p.m.: In between the Pelican parking lot and the Pier stop, Earl Tomlinson of Tampa, 35, talks about the Central Trolley route that he drives up and down the Pier several times a week.

"It's been very busy today, especially with a lot of people coming out to the Pier," he said, noting that he expects it to get busier as the night goes on.

People getting on and off keep asking how much or when to pay if they're just going from the Pier to the parking lot —- demonstrating that this was a first-time ride for many passengers trying to squeeze in the experience before they no longer have a chance.

Tomlinson said though the Pier is closing, it likely won't affect his route that much because the car is usually pretty empty by the time he reaches the Pier —- mostly tourists, if anyone. He did note, though, that he was disappointed the Pier was closing.

"This pier's got a lot of history to it, he said. "A lot of people are going to miss it."

Lauren Carroll, Times Staff Writer

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5:35 p.m.: Nostalgia is so strong here customers at The Columbia are asking for owner Richard Gonzmart's autograph.

"I got my picture taken with him, too," said Cindy French, "he was very nice and talked to me awhile."

A fan of the Pier for 27 years, she enjoyed one last meal and 1905 salad.

Her husband had to work so French got a takeout Cuban sandwich and shrimp and crab casserole for their dinner at home tonight.

Katherine Snow Smith, Times Staff Writer

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5:30 p.m.: It's official. The Pier Aquarium is closed forever. The elevator no longer even stops at the second floor.

A mom with three kids in tow pushes hard on the "2" button but the second floor gets bypassed on the way up and down.

Aquarium staff are scheduled to host a party there for longtime supporters later tonight, according to director Howard Rutherford.

The Secrets of the Sea aquarium is scheduled to open in November at John's Pass Village.

Katherine Snow Smith, Times Staff Writer

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5:30 p.m.: About 16 students from Meadowlawn Middle School made a dash to the glass elevator, having been delivered by limousine. Their chaperone, a parent, remained inside. At the top of the Pier, the enthusiastic group, dressed up for an evening on the town, persuaded a stranger to take a group photo.

"It's going to be torn down," said Kayla Clark, 14, in the highest heels.

Dougie Gow, also 14, joked that he was her date. He was nattily attired in a turquoise vest.

Classmate Tiandre Bryant, 14, looked on shyly.

They were headed, the students said, to the Sake Bomb on Central Avenue to eat and have a party.

Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer

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5:15 p.m.: The shelves of patterned, round wax globes are getting bare at the Candle Gallery.

Only a few with designs such as a peace sign, sailboats and a marijuana leaf are left.

The price per candle is $14, down from a usual $25 or more.

But a candlemaker will soon start creating a commerative one featuring a pink sunset, palm trees and the inverted pyramid.

"She will make those until we close tonight," said owner Nic Weathersbee.

He thinks the store has sold more than 600 candles in its final week.

Katherine Snow Smith, Times Staff Writer

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5:01 p.m.: Pelicans probably do not know what cameras do.

But as Camille Soleil, 53, walked up from the parking lot she came across one that certainly seemed to be posing, spreading its wings and turning its head from side to side for a woman's iPhone.

"Look at that ham, showing a little wing," Soleil laughed.

Lisa Gartner, Times Staff Writer

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4:55 p.m.: "It's a really sad day," said Pier marketing director Susan Robertson as an afternoon downpour lessened to a light sprinkle. "Even the sky is crying."

There are no people-counting devices at the facility's doors. But there are ways to estimate based on line lengths and how crowded various sections are.

"It was probably about 20,000 last weekend Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday combined," she said.

Robertson has already started her next job as marketing director for the newly opened Birchwood boutique hotel on Beach Drive.

Katherine Snow Smith, Times Staff Writer

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4:25 p.m.: But still they came wading through ankle-deep puddles, equal parts water and bobbing cigarette butts, to the edges of the observation deck.

Sara Hoffman, 30, remembers times when it was nice out. "I used to love when it was summertime and there'd be musicians, and you could see the lights and everything from town."

Hoffman grew up here. As a kid she was obsessed with the trolley, and loved the touch-tank in the aquarium.

"Any time there's something new people have doubts," she said of the Lens, "but what will happen will happen."

More careful than some other visitors, she found a shallow bit of water to tip-toe through.

Lisa Gartner, Times Staff Writer

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4:20 p.m.: Amanda Porras searched for a seat for her drenched elderly parents while her sisters and husband scoured one of the open shops for dry t-shirts. The afternoon downpour had sent people rushing into the building or forced them to huddle at the entrance.

Maria Luisa Monroy, 91, and her husband, Oscar Rene, 90, had traveled from Guatemala with two other daughters, Myrna Ruiz, 62, and Sandra Monroy, 57, to celebrate Porras' 56th birthday today.

The whole party then traveled from Orlando to St. Petersburg to visit the Pier.

"We came here last year and we liked it," Sandra said.

They soon headed upstairs to the Columbia. Someone told them that the wine was half price.

Waveney Anne Moore, Times Staff Writer

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3:39 p.m.: The valet put on a yellow poncho as visitors fled the Pier. The rain was pounding down. It seemed that it would drown the inverted pyramid, putting a sublime stop to the debate over its closing.

Alex Bondoc, Quentin Procter and Devin Howard were soaked. They were also stuck. The 16-year-olds did not have their driver's licenses.

They called a cab to leave while they were still walking up the Pier. They had intended to go up on the observation deck for one last look; instead, they ducked inside to use the bathroom before returning to the entrance to wait for the cab.

A grand final visit to St. Petersburg's best public restroom.

The St. Petersburg High School IB students swore they weren't playing hooky —- not really. They had already taken the history exam that was scheduled for that day. "No one's counting absences," Howard said.

But they had the rest of their exams coming up next week. "I need to go study," Bondoc said. They had conferenced about their Spanish test earlier at a Panera.

One of their friends did have her driver's license. But she was busy studying, taking a practice exam. "Good for her," said Proctor, deciding then to call the cab company again.

He learned that the cab they'd called for 20 minutes before had not been dispatched yet. "But we're next."

Somehow the rain fell harder. Proctor pulled his hair through his fingers, trying to wring the water from it. Howard's glasses were spotted with rain drops. At that moment they very much so wished they could drive.

Lisa Gartner, Times Staff Writer

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3:30 p.m.: David Day, Lauren Lance and Stuart Best thought they'd drive from North Pinellas to share their music at the Pier, but security had different ideas.

The trio, who perform under the name the Best Day Ever, were booted from their spot near the entrance, even as curious passersby gathered.

"We thought we'd entertain the people before the Pier is gone," said Day, 29, who lives in Palm Harbor.

He and Lance, 22, and Best, 29, quietly left.

Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer

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3:02 p.m.: The rain that had been threatening to fall on the Pier all afternoon finally made good. But out on the observation deck, Steve Gross, armed with his years-old camera and his 10-month-old daughter, kept on snapping pictures.

"Heck yeah I'm still out here," said Gross, 31, opening his mouth wide to try to capture a photo of little Maddie doing the same. "It's not too bad yet."

Gross, who lives in Oldsmar, has been coming to the Pier all his life. One time, about a decade ago, he had come here for a family thing and found a dead car battery when he tried to leave. "And then a monsoon began, just pouring rain," he said.

The Pier's security staff was kind enough to give Gross a jump.

Like many other visitors on the Pier's last day, Gross is sad to see it go. He wanted to come one last time.

But the rain started falling harder, dotting Maddie's dress already patterned with whales. They headed for cover.

By Lisa Gartner, Times Staff Writer

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3 p.m.: Richard Gonzmart and several members of his family joined their customers to say goodbye to the Pier. Sitting at a table in his fourth-floor Columbia restaurant with wife, Melanie, daughter Andrea, granddaughter Amelia and his brother and business partner, Casey, he spoke nostalgically of the restaurant his father Cesar opened at the Pier a quarter-century ago.

There are a lot of memories, he said, mentioning the families who have marked engagements, wedding rehearsals and celebrations of life at the Columbia.

"It's emotional to me that they have shared all those memories with us," he said. "It's a bittersweet day."

"I was 9 years old when we opened," said Andrea Gonzmart, who worked at the Pier location as a manager for three or four years.

"We came to celebrate the opening of the Columbia at the Pier, so it's important for all of us to be here on the last day."

Her father wore a polo shirt with his father's image on it, recalling that his family had thought Cesar was crazy to open the Columbia and Cha Cha Coconuts at the Pier. Since 1988, the businesses have paid the city over $10 million for their leases, he said.

"That's the commitment," said Gonzmart, who plans a new Columbia on the uplands area of the new Pier and a smaller restaurant over the water.

"We hope it will be sooner rather than later," he said of the plan to be part of the $50 million Lens.

"It's been a wonderful experience for 25 years in St. Petersburg and we will be back," his brother said.

Several diners shared their memories with Gonzmart. One couple, Ron and Sherry Rasmussen, brought their grandchildren and infant great-granddaughter to the busy restaurant.

The Rasmussens now live in Pinellas Park but met at St. Petersburg High School.

"We just wanted to bring them around to the Columbia one last time. For old times sake," Sherry Rasmussen said, as the family got ready to eat dishes of flan.

By Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer

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2:45 p.m.: Tara Finn ordered a Bud Light and a shot of whiskey. Her last shift as a Pier employee had just ended, and so a quarter to three here meant it was 5 o'clock somewhere.

And the party was just getting started.

"Everyone's going to be down here. It's going to be crazy," Finn said of the staff at Cha Cha, where she had worked as a server for more than four years.

Former servers and staffers who she hadn't seen in years were coming out of the woodwork, stopping into the top-floor restaurant on the Pier's final days.

"It just sucks. It's sad," said Finn, 38. She lives downtown and can see the Pier from her window. "I can tell you right now I will not be voting for Bill Foster."

At the bar, she flipped through coupons.

By Lisa Gartner, Times staff writer

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2:15 p.m.: Zoltar used to annoy the living daylight out of security.

Every time they walked by the fortune teller machine, the motion sensor would prompt Zoltar to speak to them. Why don't you stop by? Let's find out your fortune. Zoltar knows.

So security would unplug the Zoltar machine every night.

Now, the fortune teller has been removed for good. The company that operates Zoltar and the other machines, which promised iPad prizes and souvenir pennies, picked them up last week. So where did Zoltar go?

"Busch Gardens," says concierge Patricia Cosgrove, hanging up the phone with higher-ups on the Pier's food chain.

Her fellow concierge, Najwa Hahn, said she would miss Zoltar. "It always makes you feel good," she said. "He has a friendly voice."

By Lisa Gartner, Times staff writer

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1:25 p.m.: Most of the blood fell in neat drops onto the pavement on the south side of the inverted pyramid, but some smeared onto Nicolas Weathersbee's khaki pants, at the knee. He had finally caught the pelican.

Readers will recall that at noon, Weathersbee, 44, had abandoned the candle shop he runs at the Pier in the pursuit of an injured pelican. He had seen it on his way in, early in the morning, with the hook from a fishing line somehow straight through its neck.

Now, a man named Bill from Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary had arrived and he and Weathersbee caught the pelican in a net on the pavement. He'd been lured there with fish. Even with a hook through his neck, the bird hadn't lost sight of the prize.

Bill held the pelican's beak closed while Weathersbee, in a red Stop The Lens tee, tried to slow its frantically flapping wings. They cut the fishing line, then wrapped a bandage around the pelican's neck. They got it in the truck, to go to the animal hospital.

"He'll never make it," Bill said.

"You think so?" Weathersbee replied.

"Nope."

Weathersbee headed back to his candle shop for his last day of work, thinking to himself that the bleeding bird still had a chance.

By Lisa Gartner, Times staff writer

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1:02 p.m.: Finnegan Armstrong Hodges is 2 ½ years old, so he has not seen the world, but on Friday afternoon he saw something that was, in his estimation, magnificent: An elevator.

"Oh boy. We rode it up, we rode it down," said his nanny, Andrea Harriden, holding Finnegan in one arm and trying to keep his fingers out of his mouth with the other.

"Up the elevator!" Finnegan added.

"That was the highlight of his life, the elevator," Harriden, 41, said.

While this was Finnegan's first time to the Pier, Harriden and the boy's grandmother, 67-year-old Penelope Marr of St. Petersburg, have been fairly frequent visitors. Marr said she had never seen an inverted pyramid structure like the Pier's, and was sad to see it go. Harriden worried that the sleek Lens was too modern to really fit St. Pete.

So when Harriden woke up too early this morning — she couldn't sleep — and saw on the news that this was the Pier's last day, she decided to bring Finnegan.

He ate chicken fingers at Cha Cha's, was dazzled by an airplane, and then — the elevator.

Marr bought him a red Pier T-shirt. Cha Cha's gave them all leis at lunch.

"We wanted to get pictures so he can look back in 20 years and say, 'I was here.' "

By Lisa Gartner, Times staff writer

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12:54 p.m.: The line outside the St. Pete Pier Logo Store has been long since morning and the walls are increasingly bare as more people snatch up t-shirts and other trinkets.

Janice Hymas of Bradenton bought a large print of the pier illuminated at night. She's going to hang it in her family room, she said.

"It's one of the first places we came when we moved here," she said.

Other stores are still full of chotchkies. Inside of DesTnation there are piles of marked down candies and T-shirts. Normally sold for $20 or more, they're now $9.99.

Anna M. Phillips, Times staff writer

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12:16 p.m.: Patricia Cosgrove, a former flight attendant, has been a concierge at the Pier for seven years.

"I will miss it. It is not just the locals. You get used to them coming in every week and they come as far away as Japan, South America, Europe and they come back every year and I'm still here," she said. People are sad about the closing, she said.

"They are concerned that the new Pier has nothing to offer. They want the shops, thedining."

Cosgrove, who worked for Eastern for 37 years and Pan-Am for seven, is not sure what she will do after today.

"I am taking a break and would like to get something people oriented."

Waveney Ann Moore, Times staff writer

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12:00 p.m.: Nicolas Weathersbee has spent his last day at the Pier juggling a flurry of customers at his business, the St. Petersburg Candle Gallery, and trying to rescue a pelican wrapped in fishing line.

Weathersbee, 44, was walking along the pier earlier this morning when the injured pelican landed just a few feet away.

"I was freaked out," he said. "It's the last day of the Pier, I'm out of a job, and here I have a pelican."

If this had happened just last week, Weathersbee would have called the Pier Bait House, whose employees have saved hundreds of pelicans accidentally caught by fishermen or stuck in fishing line. But the shop closed Sunday, after almost 40 years.

After the businesses clear out, the Pier will be open for fishing throughout most of the summer. With experienced rescuers no longer on site, fishing poses a danger for these shore birds.

Weathersbee, a fifth-generation St. Petersburg resident, has owned the candle shop for 12 years.

Lauren Carroll, Times staff writer

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11:45 a.m.: Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the group working to stop the replacement pier known as the Lens, has announced they will hold a news conference at the Pier at 1:30 p.m. Then, they plan to announce that the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office has verified that the group turned in enough signatures to force a public vote on the project on Aug. 27. Meanwhile, mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford is also having a press conference Friday, at 3 p.m. at Demen's Landing, to discuss Pier issues.

Mark Puente, Times staff writer

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11:24 a.m.: Despite the overcast sky and wind, about a dozen people took the elevator to the top floor of the pier. Most of them walked to the railing and gazed out at the bay while children shrieked and ran around. A man in his 60s, led by his 3-year-old guide dog Oliver, said that although the view was largely a blue blur for him, he'd come for the memories.

Anna M. Phillips, Times staff writer

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11:23 a.m.: There's a steady flow of foot traffic through the handful of stores still open at the Pier.

"It's been pretty busy all week," said Tanya Lowrie, who works at Lost in Time Gifts from the Ancient. "I wish it could have been like this always. Today is going to be a tough day to get through."

Even the doors at the Glass Mirage Gallery are for sale. Owner Carol Gray is taking bids on the custom made doors with sea life etched in glass but hasn't set a price.

A sign reads "cash only" above the scant selection of sweets at Morrow's Cafe.

T-shirts at Sun Watchers are going for $5.

Katherine Snow Smith, Times staff writer

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11:06 a.m. "It's just a feeling of sadness," said Susan Robertson of Urban Retail, the company that manages the Pier. She stopped to chat as she made her rounds on the Pier's first floor. The company has been working on shutting down the Pier for the past six months, but it's still difficult.

"There are still people that don't know we're closing," she said. "I think people will be pouring out all day to pay their respects."

For Urban Retail, it's time to close out accounts, change the voice mail message and get ready to turn over the Pier Facebook page to the city of St. Petersburg's marketing department.

They also notified groups that had left brochures at the concierge desk to pick them up. Today, the racks are still full with information about Sea World, Busch Gardens and other tourist sites. Gone, though, is the computer that used to let visitors take pictures of themselves against a Pier background and email them to envious family and friends far away.

Waveney Ann Moore, Times staff writer

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10:41 a.m.: Mike and Pam Roberts sat perched on two lifeguard chairs, surveying the bay while their niece took pictures. Mike first visited the pier at age 6 and took his children here for years. When they were young, the draws were obvious: the aquarium, the HMS Bounty, the Russian ship.

"This was an affordable place to take your family for a day," said Pam. "We'd just hang out here all day and pack a cooler."

Mike said he recognized the engineering problems the current pier poses, but doesn't like the Lens.

Pam wasn't so sure. "I don't know," she said. "Change is good."

Nearby, at Jonny Reno's, servers Michelle Justice and Kaitlyn Garner were pulling a display rack out of the restaurant and putting tables in place for the last time.

"We don't really know how to feel today," said Justice, 42.

Here's what Justice wants today: for all of the pier staff and servers to line up along the edge and jump into the bay at once. "That would be so cool," she said, smiling.

The last few weeks have been busy but draining. Every day people ask them what's happening to the pier and what they'll do next. Garner wanted to make buttons: Don't Ask Me About The Pier.

"I feel bad because people want to know, but it feels really monotonous," Justice said.

Garner, 22 and a recent graduate of St. Petersburg College, has worked at the pier for just under a year and is thinking of following the restaurant's owner to his new location. Sarcasm aside, she's fairly sentimental about the pier and pulled one of the loose bricks out of the ground to take home. Other employees have been doing the same, leaving little craters around the bay facing side of the pier.

Anna M. Phillips, Times staff writer

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10:30 a.m.: Trying to keep track of their two toddlers, Dawnelle Stafford and Michele Loetscher are on a mission.

The two women, both 30 and graduates of St. Pete High, remember field trips to the Pier. On this last day, they want to make sure they have photographs of their children at the landmark.

They make their way up to the roof, Stafford chasing after Lucas, 21 months, who is intrigued and wants to get a little too close to the railings.

Loetscher, with son, Trip, 20 months, talks about their brief visit.

"We just wanted to come one last time," she said.

Waveney Ann Moore, Times staff writer

—————

9:58 a.m.: Suzanna Clarke bemoans the fact that she hasn't visited as often as she once did. This morning she sat next to another woman, Claire Formilan, 49, who was touring the Pier for the first time. The two were waiting for the doors to open.

"I live in this area and I'm retired from the National Parks and I'm a wildlife photographer and I would come down and photograph the pelicans," Clarke, 71, said. "I love the pelicans. They were the source of my entertainment for years. I don't come here as often as I should. I've been here the last couple of days and people have been coming here and paying their respects."

Formilan recently moved here from Chicago and said she had been hearing people talk about how sad they are to see the Pier closed.

"I wanted to see what they were talking about. This is a good first date place," she said.

Waveney Ann Moore, Times staff writer

—————

9:12 a.m.: Caylpso music fills the air from a spot offering one of the best views of St. Petersburg, the Pier's fifth floor. Cha Cha Coconuts, empty now, will serve its last drink this evening. For now, the pigeons are pecking at invisible treats and the cleaning crew continues its work.

Below, the joggers and walkers and bikers have returned home. It's mostly quiet. Except in the background, a Bob Marley hit says, "Everything will be alright."

Waveney Ann Moore, Times staff writer

—————

8:46 a.m.: Inside the Pier, all appears to be proceeding as normal. The glass elevator is being cleaned, floors are being swept and mopped, bathrooms are being readied. But the housekeeping staff in their blue polo shirts and others who work here are commiserating with each other about the closing and, for some, the loss of their jobs. There is talk of tears, and one person notes that they're cleaning the place for it to be torn down.

Waveney Ann Moore, Times staff writer

—————

8:35 a.m.: Erin Waterman wanted to get one last look from the Pier's rooftop, but it was too early for her to be allowed up the elevator. And she couldn't wait.

Today, as she noted, is the last day for the Pier — and her last day at St. Petersburg High School. Pretty cool, she said.

"This has always been the extra mile for running and biking. When I'm running, this will be mile seven. When I'm biking, this is about mile 17. I wanted to do the last leap," she said as she paused during this morning's ride.

"I normally don't stop, but for the Pier, it's the last time."

When I come back from school, hopefully the new one will be built," she said.

Waveney Ann Moore, Times staff writer

—————

8:34 a.m.: Allen Parks, 57, of St. Petersburg has sat at one of the Pier's blue metal picnic tables for most of the morning, smiling at the sea.

His bike, packed with fishing gear, leans against the seat next to him.

"Just chilling," Parks said. "It's the last day, I'm just kind of reminiscing."

He fondly recalls parties at Captain Al's, good music and food, fishing, and peace.

"It's kind of its own little space out here, and I'll miss that," Parks said. "It's kind of like its own little solitude."

The Pier is where Parks said he always felt safe. He'll miss it, but he'll try to find a new place to hang out.

"It feels kind of like an old friend," he said. "You hate to see him go and you hope for things to be better in the future."

Zachary T. Sampson, Times staff writer

—————

8:04 a.m.: The Pier is beginning to hum with a morning bustle as workers and sightseers arrive for the last day.

A red trolley made its first run and cars are beginning to fill spaces along the Pier's edge.

The number of joggers and visitors pausing to snap photos on their smartphones is beginning to match that of the pelicans sunning themselves on wood pilings.

"Just coming to get a last memory, the idea," said Douglas Cook, 46, of St. Petersburg.

He said he visited the Columbia on Thursday and wanted to check out the sunrise and get some pictures Friday.

"It's a sad feeling," Cook said. "You're just used to that iconic image."

Jimmy Fashner, 34, and Steph Davis, 39, lead "Instagramers Saint Petersburg," a group that posts pictures from around the city to Instagram with specific hashtags (#iheartstpete and #igersstpete). They visited the Pier on Friday morning to collect some final shots.

"We got some sunrise shots, we got some pictures of the news crew over there," Davis said.

Fashner, a lifelong St. Petersburg resident, said he is especially going to miss the rooftop deck — one of his favorite spots in the city to photograph a sunrise.

"I've lived here all my life and this is part of St. Petersburg's DNA," he said. "And it feels almost like we're losing a limb."

Zachary T. Sampson, Times staff writer

—————

7:56 a.m.: Chris Ballestra, the city's manager of development coordination, was out early this morning giving interviews.

Folks want to know what happens today, he said. "It's a celebration of the Pier, its history and a fond farewell."

After tonight, he said, there will be restricted access to the Pier approach for two weeks to allow the city and merchants to get property out of the structure. After that, the approach will be reopened — at least through the summer — until demolition. Starting tomorrow, though, the inverted pyramid will be surrounded by a fence.

"It's a matter of public safety," Ballestra said.

Waveney Ann Moore, Times staff writer

—————

7:11 a.m.: Adrianna Wenz saw her first sunrise at the Pier on Friday.

The 17-year-old sat alone on a bench and took in the quiet beauty of dawn breaking over the local landmark on its last day.

She said she has lived in St. Petersburg for two or three years and often runs at the end of the Pier because she likes the breeze and silence.

"I'm going to have to find a new place to run," she said.

The Pier was something to be proud of, Wenz said.

"I came here with a friend once," she said. "It was like, wow, we have this thing right here. So it made me appreciate St. Petersburg a lot more."

Zachary T. Sampson, Times staff writer

—————

7:10 a.m.: Mike Seaman is part of a small community of avid anglers who gather to fish from the end of the Pier every day at 5 a.m. He said he doesn't know what he'll do after the fences go up tonight.

He was glad to hear that the approach will only be closed for two weeks, but he knows he and his loose group of friends will have to find another way to fish.

"We have to — or we'll go through withdrawal," said Seaman, 60, who leaves for his landscaping job at 7 a.m.

Inside the Pier, the housekeeping staff had arrived. Floors were being scrubbed and work continued as usual.

Waveney Ann Moore, Times staff writer

—————

7:03 a.m.: Tom and Patsy Broncucio, a couple in their 60s from Seminole, sat on a bench at the end of the Pier to take in the last sunrise Friday.

They were among just a handful of people who stopped at the end of the Pier in the very early morning.

"It's just a sentimental place for the two of us," Patsy said.

When Patsy moved to St. Pete from Charlotte, N.C., The Pier was the first place Tom took her. When his mother came down from Denver, Tom said, he brought her to the Pier.

"It's really a St. Pete icon," he said. "Old Florida."

Tom recalled going to the Columbia, watching boat races, and seeing the HMS Bounty at the Pier.

"It's just a flavor, it's a little bit of history," Patsy said. She lamented that the couple will no longer be able to visit on anniversaries and special occasions.

"For me it's kind of sad," Tom said. "I hate to see it go."

Zachary T. Sampson, Times staff writer

—————

6:31 a.m.: The Pier awoke for the final time Friday to a typical stillness.

In the still-nascent morning glow, fishermen cast lines and dropped bait nets with a thwack against the water below.

Rolling waves smacked against the Pier's concrete base in a stiff breeze, and a flagline pinged rhythmically against it's pole like a bell tolling the landmark's last hours.

The patter of joggers' sneakers on the pavement came and went as the sun rose.

Lifelong St. Petersburg resident Jo Ann Mendenhall, 65, was out early Friday just to fish. But she said she does not want to see the Pier go.

Mendenhall said her dad owned Kelley's Bait Shop on the old pier from the '30s or '40s until it was torn down and the new inverted pyramid was built in the '70s.

"I'm sad," she said. "I sat here and watched them tear the other building down and wondered why they did that because that was such an icon."

The fishermen, she said, frequent the Pier every day, and she hopes the new design will accommodate them. Mendenhall said she would prefer if they left the current pier for fishermen and built a new structure nearby for restaurants and tourists.

"They used to fish for shark down there on the corner," Mendenhall said, pointing across the Pier.

Just then, her pole bent sharply. A big mackerel was on. She snatched the reel, but the fish crossed another line and got away.

"Oh, crap," Mendenhall said, as she gathered in her hook to prepare for one more cast.

Zachary T. Sampson, Times staff writer

—————

THIS IS A DEVELOPING STORY. The original story posted to tampabay.com appears below:

—————

As the waves make towards the pebbled shore,

So do our minutes hasten to their end.

Shakespeare's words are apt on this final day of the Pier's operations. For all the yard signs, petitions, speeches and lamenting, the clock to May 31 steadily ticked on. The end of the Pier as we've known it for 40 years is upon us.

What comes next is very uncertain. But today, this Pier will close for good at 11 p.m.

There are reservations for more than 1,000 people at The Columbia. Many a glass will raise a toast to the Florida landmark at Jonny Reno's and Cha Cha Coconuts. The Pier Aquarium will have business as usual with what's left of the gift shop going at fire sale prices.

All stores open at 10 a.m. with slashed prices on dwindling merchandise from T-shirts at DesTnation to a Dale Chihuly glass bowl at the Crystal Mirage Gallery.

The Bait House has already closed up shop so it's too late to feed the pelicans one last time.

There won't be fireworks tonight. Nor will the building be imploded Hollywood style.

Demolition is expected to start in September, though the city is still waiting on permit approval from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The process of tearing down the five-story building using barges, cranes and wrecking balls should take between three and five months.

Fencing will be installed around the inverted pyramid on Saturday. After the area is secured fishing will be allowed through summer on the approach.

As for the retail and entertainment complex, after today, that's all folks.

Katherine Snow Smith, Times staff writer

Tick tock

10 a.m. Shops open. Many have slashed prices on dwindling inventory and merchandise displays.

8:30 p.m. Restaurants will take their last seating. The Columbia has reservations for more than 1,000 throughout the day.

11 p.m. Everyone will be asked to leave the property by order of the City of St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg Pier welcomes visitors for the last time 05/31/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 31, 2013 10:18pm]

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