When Peter Ruiz looks at the Venice Pier, he doesn’t see worn-out railings, faded paint or empty holes where benches once seated visitors. He sees potential for a renaissance — restoring the pier as it was more than 30 years ago, when locals and tourists alike would gather to watch beautiful sunsets and dolphins play in the ocean.

Ruiz, who was raised in Venice and Mar Vista, spent countless hours fishing off the pier as a child in the 1970s. The past few years he’s made it his personal mission to clean up trash, scrub away graffiti and otherwise care for the pier — a campaign he calls the Venice Pier Project. An electrical fire under the pier last summer exacerbated its deteriorating condition, but now the pier is slated to receive $5 million in structural upgrades next year, due in part to Ruiz’s advocacy efforts.

“This place holds a lot of great memories for me,” says Ruiz, gazing into the horizon from the end of the pier, built from 1963 to 1965. “I want people to be able to remember the same kinds of good times that I had or to create their own memories about the pier.”

Ruiz, who skateboarded alongside
some of the storied Z-Boys back in their heyday, has not found it easy to stay in Venice. As a child, Ruiz hit his head after falling from a playground jungle gym. In 2011 he was diagnosed with a seizure disorder that has kept him from working a consistent 9 to 5. From 2016 to late last year he was homeless, sleeping in a parked car along the streets where he’d play as a kid. But all these challenges did not stop Ruiz from charging ahead with the Venice Pier Project.

“The past few years I have been doing my due diligence: cleaning and maintenance and staying in touch with the people who can help me make my dream come true,” says Ruiz, whom Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin named one of his “Neighborhood Heroes” of 2018.

Ruiz organized a 20th anniversary celebration of the pier’s 1997 grand reopening after restoration and seismic retrofit work, but his dream is about more than wood and metal infrastructure. On the Fourth of July he decorates the railings of the pier with American flags, and around Christmas he wraps bows and garlands on the closest lifeguard tower. Last year he organized a family-oriented “Let’s Go Fishing” event to teach local kids how to fish.

“The beauty of the ocean, feeling the ocean — the vastness of it — and being able to look in one direction and see nothing but ocean, and in the other direction thousands of people. Bodysurfers, skateboarders, fresh air. That’s the Westside, and that’s Venice,” Ruiz says.

“People are in a pretty good mood when they come down here, and I want them to feel that way about the pier again.”

— Gary Walker

Photo by Courtnay Robbins