ANGELA & THE WARNER GRAND
by Liz Schindler Johnson & Taran Schindler
In 2007, Grand Vision Foundation was focused on the Warner Grand Theatre’s revitalization and had just finished a major campaign to replace its worn-out seats. Then the Great Recession hit, and it became very quiet at the office.
Then, we got an interesting phone call from a prestigious ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi. They told us that they were offering free strategic marketing services to select nonprofits. Grand Vision had been selected. It seemed too good to be true, but we agreed to participate.
Their team came to visit, and that’s when we met Angela, who was working in their finance department. Saatchi’s focus was on how to increase interest in the Warner Grand. Even back then, Angela was masterminding ways to bring attention to San Pedro’s history.
It wasn’t long before Angela’s team returned and told us the best way to attract people to the theatre was to answer the most common questions: What celebrities had been there? What movies and TV shows were filmed there? And of course: Were there ghosts?
Our first reaction was, “You’re kidding!” But Angela was right. She made the Warner Grand’s history fun and accessible, showing us that you can build on those questions once you bring folks inside.
At the time, we thought we knew what there was to know about the theatre. Liz had been to the historical society, traced the early years, and collected old photos. Taran, new to town, jumped in and did some research for the theatre’s 75th anniversary.
But it was when Angela launched Townee Tours that we really saw her passion and talent for communicating history. She created a fascinating and thorough slideshow/tour/talk on the Warner Grand that filled in all the gaps. We welcomed the breadth and depth of her knowledge and are still humbled by it.
Angela always shared her research findings generously because she was truly a public historian. We will miss our many conversations about some fascinating tidbit, whether it was about the popular first manager of the theatre (“Doc”) or the day Madonna did a film shoot at the Warner Grand. Even just a few months ago, Angela was uncovering new stories about the merchants of 6th Street.
Angela’s authentic, insightful, empathetic, and sometimes quirky voice came through eloquently in her writing. Her work left an indelible imprint on us personally and on Grand Vision Foundation. In her short time on the planet, she was a unique community teacher. We are determined that her efforts continue to be known and built upon. As San Pedro moves into the future, let’s remember that Angela inspired us to look back and understand the town’s formative years and that she asked us to always be curious. spt
Liz Schindler Johnson is the executive director of Grand Vision Foundation, and Taran Schindler is its deputy and artistic director. Liz has a background in public service, and Taran has a background in history. They’re sisters.
MY HISTORY BEST FRIEND
by Alan Johnson
It’s hard to overestimate the significance of the loss of a town’s most active historian. The one who makes its history accessible and interesting to young and old, to both locals and newcomers. The one who has done her research and written the scholarly papers, especially in a town so steeped in history and at a time of so much change.
Angela and I made an instant connection over our appreciation for local history. Her hours of research and flair for storytelling added richness and complexity to the subject.
We both enjoyed geeking out over the smallest of details. She got a kick out of the fact that a historian and a real estate developer could be such good friends, but with our common interests, it made perfect sense to me. In fact, she referred to me recently as her “history best friend,” which brought me to tears.
She grew quite concerned as things in San Pedro began to change in earnest over the last half-decade. We would talk at length about what’s been lost and not replaced. I would argue that the town lacked investment, and she feared what that investment might bring about, a fear we both shared. Her last magazine column, “Keep San Pedro Cozy” (San Pedro Today, Jan. 2022), attempted to recognize that change was inevitable, but losing what makes San Pedro such a unique and wonderful place was not.
One of the last requests she made of me was to entrust West Harbor with the old Ports O’ Call bulletin board, with the explicit understanding that, while it will remain the property of the San Pedro Heritage Museum, it will be incorporated into the new development, paying homage to such an important part of our collective memory. Her legacy will continue, and when the board of the San Pedro Heritage Museum meets again, we will begin the work of making her vision a reality.
Angela was both our town’s historian and a brilliant writer. That was never more evident than when she shared some of her work from a creative writing class at CSULB, where she incorporated historical themes into her stories. But what convinced us both of her talent was when she invited my wife and me to the university’s theatre group production of her deeply moving short play, The Grief Sherpa.
I was eager to see what extraordinary thing she would do next, but tragically, her life was cut short. Her friendship and what she accomplished was truly a gift to me and — judging by the recent outpouring of love — to the entire community and anyone who had the great fortune to know her. spt
Alan Johnson is CEO of Jerico Development.
NO ONE QUITE LIKE HER
by L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn
All of us love San Pedro, but few of us can say we love it with more fervor than Angela Romero.
How many of us would do what she did and attempt to walk every single block of San Pedro? I love my town, but that is even too much for me.
Angela made it her life’s work to not only learn everything she could about our beloved San Pedro but also share it with all of us. On her tours, she introduced locals and newcomers alike to our town’s most famous and infamous places. We looked forward to reading her columns and finding out what quirky history she dug up for us that month. Her love of this community brought its history directly to the people — and we loved her for it.
She took her love of San Pedro wherever she went. I remember when she visited me in my office in Congress (presumably to check in on how a San Pedran was faring in Washington, DC) and gave my staff a San Pedro history lesson while I was at votes.
There was truly no one quite like Angela, and maybe there never will be again — as so many who knew her will tell you, she was truly one of a kind.
We lost Angela too soon. I am sure there was so much more she had to teach us. But now, the baton has been passed to us. It is up to us, her readers and followers, to keep the history of San Pedro alive.
May she rest in peace. spt
MY FRIEND, THE HISTORIAN
by Sanam Lamborn
I fell in love with Pedro, not because of the strong sense of pride that the residents of this town emit, but through osmosis, specifically what Romee taught me to appreciate through its history. I came across Romee’s San Pedro: Block by Block at a time when blogs were still a novelty. I eagerly checked her site every day; finding a fellow blogger in town was exciting. The first time we met in person was on June 6, 2010, the day that she invited her followers to join her to walk the last stretch of town, the pier at Cabrillo Beach.
At the time, Romee represented a very different Pedro than I was used to — a perspective mostly shaped by the neighborhood where I lived. Forming friendships in a close-knit town like Pedro can be challenging, particularly when it’s established that one is not an alum of either high schools or a native. Meeting Romee was like a breath of fresh air; she was genuinely interested in what brought me here. At the time, I hoped our first meeting would turn into a friendship.
We ran into each other at various public events for the next few years and always made a point to say hi and make small talk. Admittedly, seeing her around town for me was like running into a megastar celebrity. Truth be told, although we never went past acquaintances, the fangirl feelings I felt for her never subsided; if anything, they increased with every San Pedro historical activity she offered, so much so that I often scheduled my social activities around her walking tours.
During the summer of 2020, Romee held weekly virtual tours. The Wednesday night Zooms became the highlight of my summer because they provided a sense of normalcy by connecting with others in our community, as well as intellectual stimulation. I loved the pre-presentation chats with the attendants with a cocktail in hand. A few post-presentation hangouts changed the nature of our interactions; we became fast friends. Asking her to collaborate on the sandwiches and parks column (San Pedro Today, June 2021) was the beginning of many fun food dates.
In retrospect, it is only fitting that our close friendship would blossom once I started doing something that highlights what Pedro has to offer by creating Eat in San Pedro and writing for San Pedro Today.
While I knew Romee was having health issues, I was not prepared for the up-to-then illusive diagnosis: cancer. She equated the treatments that lay ahead to being securely strapped into a rollercoaster. She had full confidence in her team of doctors, and I figuratively climbed on one of the cars behind her, fully believing that she’d be cancer-free by the time we got off. Her steadfast approach set the tone and path.
Romee and I scheduled our hangouts around her chemo sessions. I took pride in introducing her to the new foodie happenings in town like Miller Butler’s pizza on the block, the monthly garden swaps, Banana Betty’s Vista Del Oro adjacent grown bananas, my favorite sourdough makers, and pop-ups.
When I first met Romee, I assumed she was an introvert. Since I am married to one, I understand boundaries, space, and time. Later, I learned how fiercely private she was. This aspect of her personality was comforting to me because we both understood the importance of loyalty and feeling safe in a friendship. Romee may have been the equivalent of a celebrity, but she offered a friendship that was emotionally fulfilling for me. She was a captivating storyteller and naturally drew your attention, whether on a tour or individual conversation. She listened attentively, gave honest feedback, and was an endless source of encouragement to pursue anything that brought awareness to the uniqueness of this town.
I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to wish her a smooth transition and tell her how much I loved her during our last visit, two days before she passed away. I will always cherish the memory of the mention of my birthday coming up. Romee opening her eyes, flashing her megawatt smile, turning to our mutual friend Amanda Silva, and saying, “We need to sing her ‘Happy Birthday,’” and proceeds to do so in an upbeat way with every bit of energy she had. Romee didn’t just tell me she loved me; she showed me she did with her actions. I don’t think a fangirl could ask for more from someone she admired for years.
As I step off the metaphorical rollercoaster, engulfed in grief because Romee is not here to grow old with and collaborate with to keep the essence of this town alive as it goes through its changes, I am left questioning why her time was cut short and regretting the lost years. I take a lot of comfort in knowing her vision to continue her legacy: “Keep San Pedro Cozy.” The optimist in me is grateful for having had the opportunity to forge a close friendship with her during perhaps the most challenging time in her life. I equate it to the proverb, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” spt
Sanam Lamborn created the Eat in San Pedro Facebook group and Instagram account in April 2020 to entice people to patronize San Pedro’s eateries.
A HERO WITHOUT A CAPE
by Amanda Silva
In October 2018, Angela Romero asked me to accompany her to what I jokingly referred to as the “nerd convention.” Being a self-proclaimed history nerd, Romee didn’t mind that I called it that. It was the 13th Annual Los Angeles Archives Bazaar. As a huge supporter of Romee and her latest endeavor, the San Pedro Heritage Museum, I was more than happy to attend and absorb anything that could potentially help her in this huge project.
Somewhere on the USC campus in a beautiful and grand library, there we were, surrounded by people who have actively preserved history in Los Angeles. What I saw and learned that day amazed me. I knew Romee was special, I knew her work was important, but it wasn’t until that event that I realized what exactly she was doing for our small town. It was then that I saw her for who she really was — a hero without a cape — doing the work of capturing and preserving the thing that makes San Pedro so special.
You might wonder who I am and why my friendship and love for Angela are relevant to the community as you’re reading something I wrote in our beloved San Pedro Today magazine. I also wondered the same thing. It took me a minute, but I know why I’ve been included in this tribute issue at her request, and I feel incredibly honored.
I created the Hello San Pedro Podcast, a podcast that would not exist without Romee. When I told her that the town needed her to start her That’s So Pedro podcast again, she agreed that this town did need a podcast, but instead empowered me to do it. She was my very first and most frequent guest on the podcast. I realize now that I’m not just a friend who loved her like many in our community did; she’s been investing in me from day one. She’s planted a seed in me, a seed that she has consistently watered and nurtured throughout our friendship. As plans for the podcast’s relaunch in June are underway, I cannot imagine moving forward without her. But I do know that by doing so, I will be carrying a small torch that will contribute to the bright, brilliant, and blazing fire that is her legacy.
If I could leave you with one thing, let me encourage you to embrace your love for our town, as she encouraged me, and let it guide you as we enter this next chapter of San Pedro’s history. spt
Amanda Silva is the host of the Hello San Pedro podcast.
BRIDGING SAN PEDRO’S PAST & FUTURE
by Lee Williams
San Pedro suffered a crushing blow when we lost our friend, Angela “Romee” Romero. She has always been a part of my perspective and enthusiasm for our town. As young as she was, I looked forward to decades with her and helping her tell the stories of our town as only she could.
I met Angela at one of her Townee Tours, her walking tours of San Pedro. Romee was amazing at taking the many stories of San Pedro trapped in dusty books and cramped spaces and bringing them out into the sunlight, making them more accessible to the people who live here. There was always a healthy balance of lifelong San Pedrans and brand-new residents eager to know more about how San Pedro came to be and the effects of culture and industry on how we interact.
Romee walked San Pedro, street by street, gaining a perspective you don’t usually see. She would research the historical events and then give an oral history in front of the spots where they happened. Be it ghost stories and haunted houses, tales about the sisters who maintained the lighthouse, original family squabbles and scandals that chopped up the land, or San Pedro’s working-class history with temporary workforce housing, walking and talking about San Pedro comes into better focus on foot.
The tours dedicated to bakeries and our family-run pizza shops gave me an appreciation for trying old and new places. We would walk around Warehouse One and then up Cannery Row; we toured Ports O’ Call several times and talked about the tapestry of restaurants, developers, and tenants there. We talked about Todd Shipyards and the naval history of San Pedro. We talked about whaling and fishing. We talked about the wartime needs for labor and housing. San Pedro wasn’t built by people afraid of change, and this isn’t our first renewal. New industries and jobs continue to keep San Pedro relevant. Our future with a growing emphasis on tourism, events, and the Blue Economy is just the latest evolution of San Pedro.
She explained that San Pedro was built from the harbor up. Like a pebble causing a ripple in the middle of a pond. We are renewing our town the same way, from the waterfront. We can build the housing we need to provide for our growing population. We can also bring in new industries with jobs and activities on the water while highlighting and honoring the character that makes this town unique.
Romee was a bridge between San Pedro’s past and its future. Her work will not end here, and her memory will live on. spt
Lee Williams leads the Williams Group at Keller Williams Realty and is a member of the Board of Directors for the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce and the Boys and Girls Club for L.A. Harbor.
SAN PEDRO’S GREAT LISTENER
by Lara Hughey
Romee was one of those people who always had a smile and an open heart. She was always ready for a story, whether it was one you were telling or one you asked her to tell. I came away from every conversation with her feeling enlightened, inspired, and heard. She made a huge impact on my life, and I am forever grateful.
I met Romee seven years ago, and she witnessed the beginning of my endeavor to grow food in San Pedro. She had a podcast called That’s So Pedro at the time, and she invited me to be a guest on the program. Romee was one of the first people to take an interest in my idea of growing food in the community and giving me encouragement in a public space. After that podcast, we both continued to evolve our paths and also connect with each other. And that one podcast helped bring about the farm that is now an intrinsic part of my mission. Romee got to visit the farm a few months ago and just experience it. She could see the fruition of an idea that she helped to nurture so many years ago. I am sure it is just one of her many legacies in our community.
Romee will always be remembered as San Pedro’s storyteller, but she was also its greatest listener. Thank you, Romee, for listening to our stories and sharing them. Your passion, wisdom, and voice are deeply missed. spt
Lara Hughey is the founder of Green Girl Farms.
ROMEE WAS A WRITER
by Christian Hanz Lozada
After ‘so you want to be a writer?’ by Charles Bukowski.
Unless there was a deadline, writing didn’t “come bursting out in spite of everything,” but knowledge exploded in her chest, pumping her blood like an engine’s pistons to her brain and feet.
Unlike the writer you say to be, she would sometimes think for hours, flipping through this year’s bestickered composition book for the right angle to turn her jewel, San Pedro, with its many facets. She would take her time because she, like anyone reading right now, knew her town shone bright, depending on where you viewed it from, but lost luster from afar. The words would come out slowly, Hank, but the knowledge roared from the page and onto the streets under her feet. You could hear it on her walking tours; you could live it in any part of this place from Vinegar Hill to Angels Gate.
I think a lot of times, life happens to you, but after you’ve retreated to nurse your wounds, after layoffs and Great Recessions, you strap on your shoes and start feeling the shape of where you live, block by block by block. By “you,” I mean that’s what Romee did to come to the same place, this mythical land where writers live that balances the beautiful and the wretched in the same breath.
She wasn’t like you, Hank, writing late into the night with your balcony door open, wine mostly drunk, an ashtray full of butts. I’ve been with her writing in the heat during the early years of CRAFTED at the Port of LA with an A-1 sandwich and in the breeze at Alma Park with a pizza, but always surrounded by San Pedro.
Her way was her way, Charles, and it was a good one.
Christian Hanz Lozada
Christian Hanz Lozada is a poet and teaches English at Los Angeles Harbor College.
THE TOUR GUIDE
by Laurie Jacobs
When Romee’s mom Maria passed away, her grief turned into a passion that ignited her historic walking tours. Her mom was always part of this adventure. “My tour phone number is actually my mom’s old cell phone number; I couldn’t bear for anyone in the world to have it, so I made it my business line so my mom could still be a part of my business even though she’s no longer with us,” she once said.
Romee customized three tours for my Girl Scouts. The first was at the Warner Grand in 2013. “I am so excited about doing this! San Pedro history is a passion of mine, and I really want to start teaching them young! It should be fun! I’m a total information pusher, so this has been a great exercise for me,” she said. A highlight for my girls was learning the men’s bathroom was used for a Madonna video.
The second tour was of the 2015 San Pedro Municipal Building as part of earning the Inside Government badge. The history of the building was rich, but a highlight for my girls was hanging out in the old courtroom and putting us leaders in the jail.
The third tour was the most bittersweet, as this was the 2017 tour of Ports O’ Call shortly before the 2018 demolition. Romee’s stories were fascinating as she described the creation of this kitschy imitation of a New England fishing village, the old Skytower, and the infighting that eventually led to its demise.
This sassy, opinionated, well-respected, and loved historian will be sorely missed. She was my friend. spt
Laurie Jacobs is a San Pedro community advocate.
by Rachel Sindelar
My friend Romee and I got off on an uncharacteristically wrong foot. The first director at CRAFTED was somewhat dismissive of Romee when she met her, and I looked a little bit like her, except that she was much heavier. So for too long, Romee thought I didn’t like her, because she thought I was a different person and had just lost a lot of weight. Once we parsed that out and had a huge laugh (I think at an art gallery, and I think during First Thursday), I asked her if she would help me learn more about the community and run CRAFTED better, and she was so flattered that I would ask.
For several years after that, we were at CRAFTED together almost every day. It’s not a big secret that CRAFTED was really struggling for the first few years, and I feel like Romee kept it going out of sheer force of will. She kept me going, anyway. She was such a huge advocate for CRAFTED and a shoulder to cry on when I really needed it. She really appreciated what we did to preserve the buildings, which were close to knockdowns when we leased them. When I was shoring up community support for Brouwerij West, she put the owners on her podcast. When a key staff member left rather suddenly, she came in the office and just started doing her job until I put her on payroll. And on and on…
We lost touch a little bit when she went back to school and then started working full-time on her San Pedro Heritage Museum projects, but I loved seeing her shopping at CRAFTED every now and then. We couldn’t have made it what it is today without her. spt
Rachel Sindelar is the executive director of CRAFTED at the Port of Los Angeles.
THE SUNSHINE SOCIETY
by Megan Barnes
Trying to pin down one special anecdote from my memories of Angela, my best friend and one-time podcast co-host, seems impossible. But here’s one I think encapsulates who she was both as a historian and a friend.
If you followed Angela’s work, you know she was big on giving credit to the many women who shaped San Pedro history. Angela highlighted how Pedro women are natural leaders who get things done, whether they were prominent figures like civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama (known as Mary Nakahara in her San Pedro days) or mothers who went to work in the tuna canneries.
This story involves one such group of Pedro women: the Sunshine Society. I had never heard of them until I was on one of Angela’s neighborhood walking tours a few years ago. This time, we hit the sidewalks I spent my childhood playing on in Grandview. After stopping by the then-budding “Alma Corner” and Alma Park, we stood in front of my alma mater (no pun intended), Leland Street Elementary. As Angela explained, the nearly century-old school only came to be because of the hard work of a group of moms who recognized the growing need for one in their neighborhood. The Sunshine Society, as they called themselves, successfully petitioned Los Angeles Unified to make the school a reality. Their first success came a couple years earlier, when they organized to establish a Sunday school and church (later known as Grandview Methodist). Long before the church moved to its eventual location, in 1922, the Sunshine Society secured donations to purchase a lot of land and bought an unused military barrack for $1 to use as a church and temporary classrooms for the future school.
Angela pointed to the where the barrack was moved to for its new use — it was where my parents’ house and their neighbor’s home stand today. She knew my mom and I would be going on the tour and saved this discovery to see the surprised looks on our faces. I later visited the San Pedro Bay Historical Society archives to make copies of photos and articles about the Sunshine Society and how they quite literally shaped their neighborhood. I put them in a collage photo frame, which, thanks to Angela, now hangs on a wall where the first church and school once stood. spt
Megan Barnes is a former reporter for the Daily Breeze, Long Beach Press-Telegram, and San Pedro Today. She probably made your latte at Starbucks in the 2010s.