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Bob Hall Pier began as a 300-foot wooden pier on North Padre Island before being rebuilt as a 1,200-foot concrete pier after Hurricane Allen in 1980. Wochit
Bob Hall, both the man and the pier, have weathered hurricanes before.
South Texans are mourning the damage Bob Hall Pier took when Hurricane Hanna made landfall Saturday. But this isn’t the first time in the pier’s 70-year history it has been knocked around by high tides and storm surges. And the man after whom the pier is named survived one of the most devastating hurricanes in Corpus Christi’s history.
Just who is Bob Hall?
“Bob Hall” has become shorthand for locals to refer to both the pier and the surrounding beach inside Padre Balli Park. But who was the man the pier is named after?
Robert Reid Hall was a Corpus Christi native and longtime government official. He was a member of Corpus Christi’s volunteer militia, the Kenedy Rifles, and served in the Spanish American War. Hall was elected the first mayor of Bishop in 1912 shortly after the town’s incorporation and served three years. He was a government auditor during World War I and worked in both the city’s water and gas departments, the former for more than 30 years.
Hall and his wife were survivors of the September 1919 hurricane that decimated downtown Corpus Christi and North Beach. The couple lived near Hall’s Bayou — named for his father, John Hall — which was eventually dredged to become part of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. They escaped out a second-story window as the house came apart in the storm surge, but Hall’s elderly parents and one of his sisters drowned before they could be rescued. They floated across Nueces Bay, clinging to the floating wreckage of other structures littering the water.
In 1936 Hall was elected to the Nueces County Commissioners Court. Back then, a county commissioners’ chief role was maintaining the roads in their precinct. He retired in 1952 after 16 years and during his last commissioner’s meeting, the court voted to rename the fishing pier currently under construction on Padre Island in his honor. Hall, known affectionately as “Mr. Bob,” died in November 1960 at 79 years old.
Fishing pier’s debut
The fishing pier in what was then called Nueces Beach Park debuted the same day as the opening of the brand new Padre Island Causeway on June 17, 1950. The original pier that ended in a T-head was about 300 feet long, constructed of timber, and cost a little over $17,000.
In early 1952, commissioners voted to extend the pier and add an additional T-head. Construction wrapped up in December 1952 and the now 600-foot pier allowed fishermen access to the 20-foot-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
One memorable incident in the pier’s early years occurred in September 1960 when a 42-foot shrimp boat, “Big Tinker,” rammed the pier then reversed, leaving a 10-foot gap. The captain reported he was below deck trying to fix a broken steering system when the accident occurred. About 15 people were stranded on the seaward side of the pier for an hour and a half before Constable Jewel Ross placed planks across the gap to rescue them.
On Sept. 11, 1961, Hurricane Carla made landfall in Matagorda County near Port Lavaca as a Category 4 storm. The huge storm pushed a 10-foot storm surge across about 300 miles of the Texas coast from Port Aransas up to Sabine Pass. Bob Hall Pier, along with buildings, a breakwater and cabanas in the park, washed away completely.
But the pier was rebuilt, and lengthened. Voters approved a bond of $200,000 to replace both Bob Hall and Horace Caldwell piers. The new structure was 1,200 feet long and featured three Ts, two in the middle and one on the end. Bob Hall’s widow and daughter led the opening ceremony, which also featured a beauty pageant to crown “Miss Bob Hall Pier 1962.”
Five years later, Hurricane Beulah made landfall in Brownsville on Sept. 20, 1967. Bob Hall Pier fared better this time, but still lost about 600 feet of the pier. Since the county was still paying off the bond from earlier, they opted to only repair the remaining pier and add about 155 feet, allowing fisherman access to 10 feet of Gulf water instead of 4.5 feet.
Surprisingly, the storm that still haunts some Corpus Christi residents and the only storm to make direct landfall on the city — Hurricane Celia — left the pier only lightly damaged in 1970.
But Hurricane Allen in August 1980 did in the wooden pier. Only the pilings were left after the Category 3 storm made landfall in Brownsville.
New concrete pier
The county opted to rebuild the pier as a concrete structure this time, with federal and state disaster funds. The new pier was again 1,200 feet long and built not only with the T-head, but also a concession stand, fish cleaning stations, wheelchair ramp, restrooms and improved lighting. The new pier cost about $1.6 million and reopened to the public on Memorial Day weekend in 1983. Officials also began charging fees, 50 cents a person and $1 per fishing rod. In 1996, Tropical Storm Josephine brought tides that washed away concrete steps to the pier but it reopened less than a week later.
The county closed the pier in October 2004 for reconstruction when it was found that steel framing was cracked and rusting. The reconstruction and replacement of concrete deck panels took until May the following year.
One feature of the 1983 rebuild that has proved useful in the intervening years is the concrete deck panels designed to pop out when high water threatens the pier. Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008 both caused high enough tides to displace deck panels.
In June 2011, the county debuted a new 50-by-50-foot covered observation deck next to the pier’s original concession area. The deck was the source of a hair-raising incident when during construction in January, the new section buckled and collapsed as the concrete floor was being poured. Luckily no one was injured, and construction was set back only two weeks. The pavilion is now part of Mikel May’s Beachside Bar & Grill on the pier.
Scott Cross, the director of Nueces County coastal parks, estimates about 159 feet of the pier was knocked down by Hurricane Hanna. As county officials await assessments from engineers to determine the full extent of the damage, locals can look back on their fond memories of this Corpus Christi landmark and ahead to better days.
Allison Ehrlich writes about things to do in South Texas and has a weekly Throwback Thursday column on local history. Support local coverage like this by checking out our subscription options and special offers at Caller.com/subscribe
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