From movie stars to strollers, Anna Maria pier has its fans

rdymond@bradenton.comSeptember 6, 2010 

ANNA MARIA — Movie star Cameron Diaz, who made the comedy “There’s Something About Mary,” is one of the celebrities who has visited the Historic Anna Maria City Pier.

So has the British comedian Lee Evans.

So has Cincinnati Reds third baseman Scott Rolen.

All of them have walked the same creaky, pressurized boards that locals walk every day at 100 S. Bay Blvd.

In fact, Sunday, a Cameron Diaz-look-alike named Irene Gajdjis, from Great Neck N.Y., was on the pier with her twin sons, Tommy and Peter.

“I could see why Cameron would like it here,” the blonde Gajdjis said. “It’s relaxing, so peaceful and quiet.”

The pier, which fell down in 1988 during Tropical Storm Keith and was rebuilt in nine weeks, celebrates its 100th birthday next May with many festivities planned.

Its 741 feet of boardwalk jutting out over the seabirds and waves of Tampa Bay has become an iconic sight, at the end of Pine Avenue in Anna Maria.

The pier is open for free fishing 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are regulars who fill time slots all around the clock, just sitting and talking or walking back and forth.

How can we know all this, including the celebrity list?

It’s because the pier’s unofficial curator is the very accessible Dave Sork, general manager of the City Pier Restaurant and Bait Shop, located at the end of the pier.

Sork arrived on Anna Maria Island on Dec. 28, 1983, as a hungry Pennsylvania State University graduate looking for any kind of work he could get.

He got hired shucking oysters for Fast Eddie’s Oyster Bar, which occupied the site of the present restaurant from 1979 to 1992.

Except for a few gaps, Sork never left.

Asked what brought him to Anna Maria, Sork unashamedly says, “I loved that TV show, ‘Flipper.’”

He continues:

“There aren’t many dolphins in Pottstown, Pa.”

Now, he sees dolphins just about every day of his life and he says he never takes them for granted.

“I have the greatest job in the world,” Sork says. “I come to work every day to changing tides, marine animals, a great staff who work for me and interesting customers. There’s no typical day.”

Although Sork has enough knowledge crammed in his 56-year-old brain to write a book about the pier, here’s a sampling of factoids about “the boards”:

n The pier sways from side to side, but not because of wind. “It’s the tides and the full moon, which get it moving,” Sork says.

n The water beneath the restaurant is only eight feet deep. There are wood pilings that go eight feet further into the bay floor, holding the pier above water.

n The man who leases the city-owned pier restaurant — and who also owns the Rod & Reel pier, also in Anna Maria — is Mario Schoenfelder, who is from Berlin, Germany.

It was Schoenfelder who established the City Pier Restaurant in December of 2000 after the facility had been closed for more than a year after the Anna Maria Oyster Bar left, Sork said.

n The pier draws fishermen and fisherwomen from all over the state. On Sunday, Hector Graxirena from Plant City was fishing with his son, Nathan, 6, and next to them were Amanda Maxwell and her daughter, Olivia, 7, from Lakeland.

“We were here at 10 p.m. Saturday night and people were fishing,” Maxwell said.

n When huge fish are caught, restaurant customers leave their meals to run out to look. “That happens routinely,” Sork said. “We catch huge sharks out here.”

n Sork and a partner, Rockey Corby, hand-carried the new boards to the pier location for the rebuild in 1988.

n Part of Sork’s job is to make sure nails are banged down on the boards every day.

n Sork met his future wife, Jennifer, in 1992 when she was sitting at the bar in the fourth seat from the window, filling out a job application to be a server.

n The reason that Cameron Diaz likes the Pier, according to Sork, is that no one said a word to her when she visited.

“This is a special place,” Sork said. “No one will hassle you.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.

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