Evelyn Schmitt lives for Pierhenge, happening again Saturday

Evelyn Schmitt’s photo of the sunset at the Manhattan Beach Pier

For Manhattan Beach resident Evelyn Schmitt, there are no greater days than the twice-yearly Pierhenge natural events at the Manhattan Beach Pier. 

That is when the sun sets in a way that finds it twinkling directly in-between the pilings of the Pier. (The same thing happens by the Manhattan Beach Library for “Lightgate,” when it sets in the middle of the art structure, but Schmitt can’t be in two places at once.)

Schmitt, 85, who retired from a 4-decade math teaching career at age 70,  lives for Pierhenge. She craves the top position under the Pier. And everyone knows to bow to the queen. 

“I get excited about it, what can I say?” says Schmitt. “When I started doing it, (grabbing photos with her Nikon) nobody was down there. They weren’t interested. I started putting the photos on Facebook, and now people fight for position.” 

Evelyn Schmitt by the Manhattan Beach Pier during Pierhenge. By Jefferson Graham

Pierhenge calls in November, on the 17th, and January 27th, but it also comes in a few days early and remains a few days after, which is why Schmitt is down there every night. 

She also happens to live across the street from the Pier, making the journey rather easy. 

Pierhenge “is a challenge,” she says. “Every year it’s different.”

Her friend Jane Takagi, a 64-year-old retiree from Torrance, says the enthusiasm for Pierhenge has rubbed off on her. “She gets to enjoy this every day, she knows the nuances of the pier and sunrises and sunsets, and all that comes with the beauty outside her door. 

It certainly is on my radar now.”

Schmitt’s photographic journeys haven’t gone unnoticed by the city. 

Locals have joked that Evelyn Schmitt is the “queen of the pier,” with her many photographs, and she doesn’t mind. Photo by Jefferson Graham

Mayor Joe Franklin calls Schmitt a “treasure and inspiration,” to all. 

“I encourage everyone to get to know her. Her spirit is infectious.”

Takagi first met Schmitt three years on a photo journey to Africa via Paul’s Photo of Torrance. She’s “the most energetic 85-year-old I know,” she says. “Her enthusiasm is contagious. It makes you want to join in and participate as well.”

By Evelyn Schmitt

Schmitt is rarely sitting. She says she spends the week playing tennis every day except Sunday, Bridge twice a week and photographing daily. 

“You have to have something for the mental (Bridge), something for the physical (tennis) and something for the spiritual, as in photography lifts your spirits,” she says. 

Mark Comon, the president of Paul’s says that on the group outings, “everyone wants to be like Evelyn when they grow up.  She has a tenacity for capturing the subject and making the picture.”  

When not patrolling the Pier in search of the next great photo, Schmitt is often travelling. Last year she went to Cambodia, Italy and Africa. This year, she’s already been on a photo trip to Yellowstone National Park via Paul’s Photo, and is planning a return to Italy, the Northern Lights and back to Ethiopia. 

Husband John photographed Evelyn Schmitt from the skies with his drone during Pierhenge.

Why photography?

“When I retired, I took up painting, and had a great time, but I filled up my garage with all these paintings. Photography, I found, was immediate. I didn’t have to wait a week to see the final result. That’s my personality.”

The bison in Yellowstone, by Evelyn Schmitt

A closeup of a bird in Bolsa Chica, by Evelyn Schmitt

She uses Nikon cameras, a Z8 and Z9, and totes big telephotos, 100-400mm and a dedicated 400mm, as well as a 24-70mm, which she used this week for Pierhenge. 

She met her husband of 46 years John while teaching for the Torrance Unified School District. He was the principal, they fell in love and married–it was the third time around for her and the second time for him. 

Where is he during Pierhenge? He’s also a photographer, but not as enthusiastic about it as his wife. “It’s nice, but I just don’t feel the need to run out and get the shot every night.”

However, he has fun playing with his new toy, a DJI drone, and flew it from their house this week to get shots of Pierhenge from the sky. 

By John Schmitt

Both he and his wife are gearheads. 

“Every time a new camera comes out, she has to get it,” he says. “Which is great for me, because I get the hand-me-downs.” 

Of his wife’s local acclaim, “to see her get recognition is really nice. It’s really wonderful.”

By Evelyn Schmitt




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