GALVESTON—Diane Brian lived through much of the rich history of Galveston’s storied piers, from the colorful carnival rides to the notorious gambling halls.
So it was no surprise to find her leaning on her walker, smiling broadly, waiting first in line for the opening of the island’s newest tourist attraction.
“When the war was here, my daddy was here so we came out here with him, and then when it transferred over we came out for events,” said Brian. “And then we came for the hotels and now this big, beautiful park.”
Galveston’s Pleasure Pier, the carnival-style amusement park stretching over the Gulf, opened Friday for what’s billed as a sneak peek. A couple of the biggest rides like the Ferris wheel at the end of the pier are still under construction, but the park’s management decided to open it anyway for the Memorial Day crowds.
The pier looks much like the Kemah Boardwalk, another one of restaurant and casino magnate Tillman Fertitta’s developments. Thrill rides share the over-water stage with novelty booths where barkers beckon tourists to throw darts or shoot basketballs for stuffed animal prizes.
The colorful attraction is built on the 25th Street pier once occupied by the Flagship Hotel, a 1960s landmark that had fallen to seed before it was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ike. Fertitta himself remembers working as a lifeguard on the pier when he was a youngster.
“Yeah, I worked out here as a lifeguard at the Flagship growing up. So piers always have been a special interest to me. And after Ike came we said, ‘Let’s not rebuild the Flagship. Let’s do something special that’ll be great for Galveston tourism,” he said.
The Pleasure Pier is the latest incarnation of an old tradition in Galveston.
“It was an amusement park called the Pleasure Pier back in the late 40s and 50s and if you look at photos that I’ve seen it looks very similar to what we’ve created here today,” said Mark Kane, the Regional Director of Landry’s Theme Parks.
All the way back into the 1800s, brightly illuminated piers featuring bathhouses were a popular attraction along the shore. An elevated train carried passengers along the shoreline until it was destroyed by the devastating 1900 hurricane.
The pier’s management says the attraction has created 800 new jobs, including people working at a new restaurant. They estimate the attraction could handle as many as 15,000 people a day.
The first tourists on the pier discovered enough to keep themselves busy for about two hours. Others staying longer lined up to dine at the new Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
“We’ve been planning every day for months to get her, and get here early and watch this thing open,” said Alice Clark, a tourist from Mesquite.
Special ticket prices are offered Memorial Day weekend. It will cost $10 for adults to walk onto the pier and $8 for children. Rides and games are extra. An all-day ride pass is $21.99 for adults, and for kids under 48 inches $16.99. Individual ride tickets start at $4.