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Fond farewells to the Pier

ST. PETERSBURG — The many moods of the Pier are a reflection of our lives, from early-morning vigils to see shuttle launches from Cape Canaveral to fireworks for all occasions, from sunny day strolls to trolley rides with visitors, and races along the water — and in the water for triathlons. Sunrises and sunsets and storms and sailboats. The Pier stood witness to it all, part of our daily lives and our special occasions. Here are few stories shared by Tampa Bay Times reporters.

The big day

The sun skidded under the St. Petersburg skyline, pushing the shadows eastward. I stood inside the Pier, stuffed in a rented tux, trying hard not to hyperventilate. It was time for our wedding to start. Where was my bride?

When our friends asked why we picked the Pier for our wedding, we answered with a wisecrack. Most newspaper stories are written as an inverted pyramid: the most important information at the top, the least important at the bottom. As journalists, we joked, surely there was no better place for us to tie the knot than in an inverted pyramid.

There was more to it, though. This artifact from the days of disco and bell-bottoms was St. Petersburg's version of the St. Louis Arch or the Seattle Space Needle. It symbolized the town we now called home. A sunset wedding there, we figured, would mean a memorable backdrop for our vows.

But 6 p.m. ticked past with no sign of the bride. Our guests shifted in their seats. My groomsmen, mocking their formal attire, quoted lines from The Godfather while they peeked out to see if the bridal party had shown up. Finally, we got word that the limo had pulled up and my bride would soon ascend in the Wonka-like glass elevator so we could start the ceremony.

On my desk I keep a gold-framed picture of this moment. Her smile is electric, her dress a regal dream. Behind her a row of streetlamps sputters to life under a sky turned cotton-candy pink.

Over the next 20 years, whenever I passed the Pier, I'd flash back to that night. I'd remember the minister telling me, "You may kiss the bride — you got the green light!" I'd remember the Electric Slide, the Soul Train line, fumble-footed me stepping on her dress while we danced, the raucous laughter amid the tussle over the bouquet. If I squinted, the inverted pyramid became a heart.

We're still married, but many contributors to that magical night are gone: the shop where my wife found her gown, the bakery that made our cake, the florist. Now the sun is setting for the last time on the Pier, too, proving that true love outlasts even concrete and steel.

Craig Pittman, Times staff writer

A first date

My wife and I had our first date at the Columbia restaurant 17 years ago. We were both divorced, with kids, and had been single for several years. It was late September and dark outside, and the lights of the city were shining from the shore. We talked about our lives and laughed and were so engrossed we had almost finished our second pitcher of sangria before we realized that we hadn't ordered any food. Her eyes sparkled all night and I had a strong feeling even then that she might be a keeper.

Steve Nohlgren, Times staff writer

A family lodestone

It was only natural that St. Petersburg's Pier of unusual form, a favorite landmark for us to show off to visitors, would figure in an important family celebration. Our daughter, Andrea, suggested it as a possible rehearsal dinner venue to her future mother-in-law, who was planning the prewedding festivity from her home in New York. The gathering of family and friends at the Columbia restaurant launched a memorable weekend.

Who would have guessed that 10 years on, "the Pier" would figure prominently in the vocabulary of treasured grandchildren, whose fun memories include dripping helpings of lemon ices, Moose Tracks ice cream and an aquarium of colorful sea creatures, both real and imaginary, cushy and soft?

Waveney Ann Moore, Times staff writer

A new world

Our first child, Katie, was born Aug. 26, 1988, just after the Pier's grand reopening. We were new to town and new parents, so we weren't venturing far afield. But when my wife's mom flew in with our niece to see her grandchild for the first time, we decided it was time for our first family outing with the new baby.

We packed everything but the kitchen sink in the car. Loaded down with the diaper bag, stroller, bottles, toys and enough sunscreen for an army, we headed to the Pier, all three generations of us.

Seeing the Pier up close for the first time, the unusual structure seemed to rise out of Tampa Bay all on its own. We walked the approach — the only way to get the full experience. You see the birds and wildlife and smell the smells of the fishermen and the bay, none of which you get on the trolley.

We seemingly walked every inch of the Pier that day, top to bottom, in and out. Others stopped to peek inside the stroller and admire our new little girl. When we returned home, we remembered feeling so proud. Not only had our baby been oohed and aahed at by all who saw her, but we had actually managed not to do any permanent damage to our newborn on her first trip out into the world.

Roy LeBlanc, Times staff writer

The big catch

It was a drizzly, overcast Saturday. Not the typical day when most head to the Pier. But my children, ages 8, 6 and 2 had been stuck inside for hours. We found an easy parking place and bought some shrimp. My husband baited the girls' hooks while I pushed my son, the youngest, around in his navy blue umbrella stroller.

Dad showed the kids how to cast and got each line in the water. The oldest, Olivia, thought she had a bite right away but reeled it in to find nothing on the line but the weight. She cast it again herself and flung her line right into that of a nearby fisherman. "He looked kind of old and crusty and I was so embarrassed and scared," she recalled recently. "But I remember he was really nice and just laughed it off and cut our lines apart."

That third cast was a charm and Olivia reeled in her first fish ever. If anybody was happier than she it was her younger sister, Charlotte, smiling proudly in the background. Fortunately, she caught one as well. It was by far one of our luckier days at the Pier.

Katherine Snow Smith, Times staff writer

Fond farewells to the Pier 06/04/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 11:32am]
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