“Do you prefer buildings to people?”
That’s a line from the musical Mama Mia that I always find myself thinking about while researching a tour or story. I must say, the buildings are sometimes as equally interesting as the people in San Pedro. And I don’t just mean big buildings. I am fascinated by our homes and the stories they have to tell. I know a lot of you are too, because you come into the archives looking for information.
“Hello, we’ve just bought a wonderful old home in Vinegar Hill and we’d love to see all the old pictures you have so we can restore it to its former glory.”
“Hey, I heard you guys have all kinds of history here. Can I see the file on my house?”
“What’s the story on that building downtown? Wasn’t it a shoe store? I remember going there when I was a kid.”
Everyone comes in looking so eager and hopeful and I hate being the bad guy who has to burst their bubble, especially the people who just moved to town and their new home is their connection to San Pedro history. The archives do not have pictures of every structure built in San Pedro. They do have some photos of homes and buildings, but the collection is extremely limited.
After dashing so many hopes, I’ve decided to do something about this hole in our town’s visual history and I’m going to need everyone’s help. “San Pedro Built” is the first community history project that we’re launching under the newly formed San Pedro Heritage Museum. “San Pedro Built” will be an image database of all residential and commercial buildings in San Pedro. This won’t be limited to just photographs, it can also include advertisements, postcards, drawings, and paintings.
You can help by raiding your closets. I am a firm believer that most of San Pedro’s history is hiding in albums, shoeboxes, and attics all over town. Did your family own a business? You probably have exterior and interior shots – we want those. That picture of you riding a tricycle in the front yard – if there’s a home behind you, whether it’s yours or not, we want it. If there’s a building in the photo and it was taken in San Pedro, we want it. Even if you don’t know what building it is, with a little information, we have a town full of experts who can help.
For example, take these two photos (above) from an album I rescued at an estate sale. These are baby photos of a young woman named Christina Di Leva. With just minimal information, I was able to identify the buildings in the background. The large building behind Christina and her friend (left) is located on the corner of 8th Street and Walker Avenue. The second photo is a slightly older Christina standing on Leland Avenue, with San Pedro High School a block behind her. There looks to be a house where the basketball courts on 17th Street are located.
Your family photos hold so much more information than just your sweet faces. Think about all the places you went as a kid that don’t exist anymore – homes, restaurants, hangouts, baseball fields. The pictures don’t even have to be that old to be useful. If we all work together, I know we can build a database that not only benefits researchers but also a resource the entire town can enjoy.
Images can be donated or scanned to be included. Our first scanning event will take place at Findings Art Center (470 6th Street, next to the Warner Grand) on First Thursday, March 7 from 6-9 p.m. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’d love to get the word out about “San Pedro Built” and all of our future plans for the San Pedro Heritage Museum. If you have an organization or club that would be interested in a presentation, please email me at email@example.com.
Angela Romero is a local historian and founder of the San Pedro Heritage Museum. For more info, visit sanpedroheritagemuseum.org.