The West Pier was opened in 1866 with a length of 1115 feet, and built with cast iron threaded columns screwed into the seabed. The pier did not have much of a superstructure until 1893 when a pier head was extended and a pavilion added. A concert hall was added in 1916 and a new top-deck entrance in 1932. In 1965 the pier was bought by a company that owned some seafront hotels and entertainment venues. They had ambitions for the pier but as maintenance costs increased the pier was closed in 1975 when Brighton Corporation declined to buy it and the pier passed into the hands of the Crown Estates Commissioners. A trust was formed to save the pier and in 1984 they bought it for a nominal sum.
The West Pier had been cut off from the shore (partly deliberately, for safety reasons) since the early 1990s. A break was also caused by high winds in 1987, but the West Pier trust offered regular tours of it until the structure suffered a serious partial collapse during a storm on 29 December 2002, when a walkway connecting the concert hall and pavilion fell into the sea. On 20 January 2003 a further collapse saw the destruction of the concert hall in the middle of the pier. On 28 March 2003 the pavilion at the end of the pier caught fire. Firefighters were unable to save the building from destruction because the collapsed walkway prevented them from reaching it. The cause of the fire remains unknown. On 11 May 2003, another fire broke out, consuming most of what was left of the concert hall. The fire re-ignited on 12 May. Arson was suspected: the West Pier Trust refers to the fires as the work of "professional arsonists". Suggested beneficiaries to ending any possible development of the West Pier either local residents who objected to a new development on the sea front, or the threat of competition to the lucrative Palace Pier's business.
On 23 June 2004 high winds caused the middle of the pier to collapse completely. Despite all these setbacks, the West Pier Trust remained adamant that they would soon begin full restoration work. Finally, in December 2004, the Trust conceded defeat, after their plans were rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund, in part because of problems with achieving the required "matched funding" from outside sources. Subsequent plans to restore only the oldest, structural parts of the pier were eventually rejected by English Heritage. In September 2005 the Trust revealed in their newsletter that they were forming further plans to rebuild the original structure with help from private funding.
The pier was partially demolished in February 2010, mainly to make way for the new i360 observation tower, and for some safety concerns