The End

The photo above shows The End Cafe at the end of the Huntington Beach Pier in February 1983. (This photo was taken by lifeguard Kai Weisser, but somehow a copy also ended up in historian Barbara Milkovich's files.)

The first restaurant at the end of the H.B. Pier, the Sun Parlor (a.k.a. The Sunshine Cafe),was built in 1933, after 500 feet of wooden pier were added to the existing 1,330-foot-long concrete pier. In 1939, it was destroyed when a chubasco (a violent tropical storm) raised 23-foot waves, which tore almost 300 feet off the end of the pier. (See photo below)

After much work, the pier was restored in 1940. But the new building at its end was soon snapped up by the Navy as a lookout post for enemy submarines. After the war, another restaurant moved in.

In 1977, Johnson's Yogurts production manager John Gustafson left his executive position for a life of sunshine and sea breezes as the restaurant's new owner. He named it The End Cafe.
The business was popular, and so was John. He became an unofficial goodwill ambassador for Huntington Beach. Meanwhile, his wife Alice Gustafson owned and operated Alice's Breakfast in the Park Cafe over at Central Park.

In 1983, a large storm badly damaged the pier and The End Cafe. The photo below was taken shortly after the storm at the spot where the counter once stood.

Undeterred, Gustafson purchased Maxie's Pizza in the old Pavalon at the base of the pier. That held him over until October 1985 when, just a month after the repaired pier reopened, he opened a two-story The End Cafe in its old location. Soon, business was hopping again.

Then in January 1988, it happened again. A violent storm rose up. Powerful swells hitting the bottom of the pier dislodged the two-story cafe and slid it into the ocean. A Register article quoted witnesses who saw The End Cafe floating out to sea, "like a houseboat."

Gustafson narrowly escaped death himself. He had been in the building 10 minutes earlier, turning on the burglar alarm. (The photo below shows waves breaking over the pier in 1988.)

Before the storm was over, 250 feet of the pier were gone. Later that year, the entire pier was closed and declared structurally unsafe. After losing his livelihood and investment the second time, and with no insurance on his business, Gustafson said, "I was a little numb for awhile but then I got my second wind. We lost it twice, but the third time's a charm."

With the pier closed indefinitely, he continued to run Maxie's Pizza. Meanwhile several of the cafe's former employees started a citizens group to raise money to build a new pier. They had moved on to other jobs, but wanted to make sure their friend got his business back.

Sadly, eternal optimist John Gustafson died of lung cancer in 1989 at age 59. From his deathbed, he dictated his thoughts to Alice on how the pier could be rebuilt, better than ever. And indeed, in 1992 it was rebuilt, taller and stronger,... But with a Ruby's Diner at the end.