A huge storm and high tide that sent waves topping 20 feet slamming into the tourist mecca of Capitola last week, wreaking severe damage upon the city’s historic wharf and waterfront restaurant row, was highly dramatic — but not an anomaly.
Capitola, in its picturesque cove, has been a storm target since its early days as the privately owned “Camp Capitola” seaside resort, long before its incorporation as a city in 1949. And the wharf that lost a 40-foot section Jan. 5? It’s been there before. And not just once.
Capitola Historical Museum curator Deborah Osterberg dug back into the past 100 years and compiled a litany of weather-wrought catastrophes befalling the Capitola Village and the wharf.
In 1913, a surging ocean full of debris swept across the beach, into the village and up Capitola Avenue. “Huge waves smashed against the wharf, taking out a 200-foot section,” Osterberg said. A fisherman named Alberto Gibelli, who had gone out to the end of the wharf to secure his boats and equipment, was left stranded until a rescue boat arrived and a rope and life preserver were tossed. Gibelli “tied the rope under his arms and leapt into the ocean and he was pulled to safety,” Osterberg said.
Thirteen years later, Mother Nature struck again, with the same kind of double-whammy delivered to Capitola last week: giant waves on top of a high tide. Again, the village was flooded as far as Capitola Avenue, a block from the ocean. And as occurred last week, the Venetian apartments — a colorful row of habitations starring today in many a social media post — suffered damage. So high were the waves that they slammed into the Hotel Capitola’s second floor. A bathhouse and boathouse with distinctive arches in its beachfront facade made it through, but its wooden dressing rooms were splintered apart.
In 1931, another major tide-and-storm combo hit, trashing vacation cabins and wiping out a newly built miniature-golf course on the waterfront esplanade.
Four years later, during another cataclysm, the ocean washed a playground off the Capitola waterfront. A historical photo shows that beside the former playground site, a wooden platform held up several beachfront businesses. Osterberg believes that platform, built in the 1920s, is the same structure that currently supports the restaurants badly damaged in last week’s storm, including Zelda’s, The Sand Bar and Paradise Beach Grill. This week, Capitola city manager Jamie Goldstein said an engineering assessment determined that the wooden platform, which sits on pilings above the sand and water, was “structurally safe” for crews to start fixing the buildings, but would require expensive repairs. Also this week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom stood on an undamaged portion of the platform and told news media the state was not “walking away” from the damage to Capitola, but he declined to specify what assistance might be forthcoming.
The Venetian apartments got slammed again in 1937.
In 1958, storm-driven seawater hit the esplanade so forcefully that it knocked the horses off a merry-go-round.
Then 25 years later, the wharf took major blows from a series of storms that broke 35 feet off its end and destroyed a 30-foot section.
Newsom and Capitola officials said this week it was too early to tally the financial damage from last week’s storm. The city lifted no-entry orders for the three waterfront restaurants most severely damaged, and restaurant owners now have crews working to rebuild. Josh Whitby, co-owner of Zelda’s, has removed the seawater, kelp and broken trees that filled his dining room after waves pushed a large beam from the wharf through the waterfront windows and wall. The beam, however, remains. “It’s probably going to end up as part of our decor,” Whitby said.
https://www.mercurynews.com/2023/01/14/capitola-village-and-wharf-storm-smashed-then-storm-smashed-now/ Capitola Village and wharf: Storm-smashed then, storm-smashed now