BREVARD COUNTY HISTORY: Cocoa Beach Pier Has Defined the Space Coast For Almost 60 Years
By Space Coast Daily // November 4, 2021
Original Ron Jon Surf Shop opened on the Pier in 1963; first Easter Surfing Festival was held in 1964
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Cocoa Beach was first inhabited by Native Americans, the Ais Indians, and the first non-native settlement in the area was by a family of freed slaves following the America Civil War.
Prior to the city’s incorporation, the area was known as Oceanus, with the town of Cocoa Beach being established on June 5, 1925.
Racing on the beach was welcomed in 1924, with cars driving up to 180 miles per hour on the beach – then known as the world’s greatest speedway.
John Glenn, atop Friendship 7 became the first American to orbit the earth in 1962, drawing some 75,000 spectators to the Cocoa Beach area to watch the historic launch, and about that same time, the iconic Cocoa Beach Pier was built for $150,000 and became the mecca for surfers, helping to brand the area as the “East Coast Surfing Capital.”
The original Cocoa Beach Pier, built by prominent Brevard County businessman, the late Richard Stottler, is now the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier, and among the most historical landmarks on the Space Coast.
Stretching more than 800 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, the Pier, originally known as the “Canaveral Pier,” was constructed with more than 2.5 miles of boardwalk planks and 270 pilings, each 40 feet in length.
Since the beginning, the Pier has been a favorite of both locals and tourists and has undergone many changes over the years. Longtime locals reminisce of the days in the early 1960s when visitors could drive their cars right up onto the Pier itself.
The Pier also offered a “grandstand seat” for Mercury, Apollo and Space Shuttle launches at nearby Cape Canaveral, which was known as “Cape Kennedy” in honor of President John F. Kennedy between 1963 and 1973. Famous astronauts such as Alan Shepard, the first American in space, reportedly visited the Pier.
Surfing Capital of the East Coast
Cocoa Beach evolved into the “Surfing Capital of the East Coast” and the Pier became the center of surfing activity, drawing the likes of Dick Catri, widely considered the Godfather of East Coast Surfing, as well as Cocoa Beach native and 11-time world champion Kelly Slater.
The original Cocoa Beach Ron Jon Surf Shops opened directly on the Pier in 1963. The small surf shop flourished and Ron Jon owner Ron DiMenna moved to a bigger location at Ron Jon’s present location at State Road 520 and A1A.
The first Easter Surfing Festival was held in 1964, and in the early 1970s, the Pier was also home to a bustling dance club called Asylum, which boasted a cosmic lighted dance floor and live rock music. Many musical acts have played at the Pier over the years such as Bachman-Turner Overdrive, The Edgar Winter Group, The Beach Boys, A Flock of Seagulls, UB40, Ratt, Ziggy Marley, Maxi Priest and others.
In 1983, the Pier underwent a $2 million remodeling and expansion, which included the opening of the award-winning Pier House Restaurant, which is now known as the Atlantic Ocean Grille.
Over the years, the restaurant has been awarded “Best in Brevard” and “Best Restaurant with a View” numerous times. In 1984, the Pier changed its name from Canaveral Pier to its present name, Cocoa Beach Pier. The first Cocoa Beach Fest was held at the Pier in 1989.
Today, the Pier draws more than one million visitors annually and is home to four restaurants, five tropical bars, gift shops and boutiques. The Pier is also the site of immensely popular annual surfing, fundraising and social events.
World-Class Tourist Attraction
In the spring of 2014, David Siegel, President and CEO of Westgate Resorts, and his longtime business associate Jim Gissy purchased the Pier from the original owners, the Stottler family.
Both men have strong ties to the Central Florida region and look forward to continuing and enhancing the wonderful traditions of the Cocoa Beach Pier.
Since joining the Westgate portfolio in 2014, David Siegel and Jim Gissy have invested more than $4 million transforming and redesigning the Cocoa Beach Pier into a family-friendly, world-class tourist attraction, and making it one of the hottest spots to visit in the Sunshine State.