Baristas develop a sort of internal facial recognition software with people and their drink orders. Even though it’s been eight years since I worked at Starbucks, when I’m out shopping and see a familiar face I can’t quite place, it automatically runs through my memory bank, which returns with, “Skinny Vanilla Latte. Extra hot, no foam.” Or, “Grande Mocha. Was super forgiving that time you spilled his drink.”
That’s what happened when I opened the June 2010 issue of San Pedro Today to a Q&A with Romee, the mysterious author of one of my favorite blogs, San Pedro: Block by Block. “Wait, I know her….” I thought. “That’s Venti Black Iced Tea!”
A freelance reporter at the time, I had been wanting to track Romee down and interview her about her ambitious blogging project, in which she set out to walk every street in San Pedro, documenting everything she learned along the way with five photo-filled posts a day. Little did I know, I had been making her drink for months. I found Block by Block the way I imagine many people did — after Googling something old and neat-looking in town that caught my eye. It took Romee nine months to cover every nook and cranny in the 12 square miles of San Pedro on Block by Block. By the end, she had amassed a dedicated following of readers who shared her curiosity and enthusiasm for the unique culture and history of San Pedro. She even had guest walkers join her, including Joshua Stecker, publisher and editor-in-chief of San Pedro Today, and then-City Councilwoman Janice Hahn.
Romee started Block by Block in August 2009 after her corporate finance job fell victim to the Great Recession. She would often credit her late mother, Maria, for being the inspiration for the blog when one day, she suggested Romee take a walk to cure her boredom and unemployment blues. But there was something else that motivated her to explore San Pedro. Despite being a fourth-generation San Pedran, growing up, Romee felt disconnected from her hometown, like she was an outsider. It’s why when she graduated from Dodson Middle School, she decided to follow her friends to Narbonne High School’s magnet program and be a Gaucho instead of a San Pedro High School Pirate. Her curiosity about her community was sparked in adulthood when she volunteered with Grand Vision Foundation, which supports Downtown San Pedro’s historic art deco movie palace, the Warner Grand Theatre. She fell in love with the theatre’s history. The more she got to know San Pedro, the more her disillusionment melted and made way for a deepening fascination and appreciation. She became a fixture in the San Pedro Bay Historical Society archives, picking the brain of her mentor and idol, archivist Anne Hansford, and spending many hours devouring microfilm and clippings from the San Pedro News-Pilot.
Joshua beat me to interviewing Romee about Block by Block, but I finally got to sit down with her in January 2011. San Pedro icon and longtime Cabrillo Marine Aquarium Director John Olguin had passed away on New Year’s Day. She was organizing a community memorial on Paseo del Mar to honor him.
Angela, as I learned was her real name (Romee was a clever early pen name that stuck), asked me to meet her at the Starbucks on Western Avenue and Westmont Drive. In true Pedro fashion, it just so happened that I would be there anyway to work the closing shift later that day. We hit it off so well during the interview that I spent my lunch break chatting with her. Soon, we started hanging out regularly and became best friends.
Later that year, Angela parlayed her newfound street cred into Townee Tours, taking nostalgic San Pedrans, Girl Scout troops, and grade school students alike to the streets to learn about important events and influential figures. In addition to the waterfront, downtown, filming locations, and big names such as John T. Gaffey, George H. Peck, and Rudecinda Sepulveda de Dodson, she came up with the most fascinating subjects. There were entire tours dedicated to pizza spots, specific neighborhoods like Vinegar Hill and Vista Del Oro, haunted houses, and literary figures. Perhaps her biggest hit was a tour of Ports O’ Call Village just before it was demolished in 2018 to make way for the future West Harbor development, a process she closely documented, likening its significance to the razing of Beacon Street in the 1970s. I went on some of the same tours multiple times, not just to support my bestie, but because they were that good.
Angela and I both became regular contributors to San Pedro Today. While I covered feature stories, she brought her personal, relatable, and humorous tone to a culture and history column that became a reader favorite. We decided to join forces and create a hyperlocal podcast and blog called That’s So Pedro. The first episode debuted on March 1, 2013, the 125th anniversary of the incorporation of San Pedro’s brief run as its own city. We had no idea what we were doing but dove in headfirst. With each episode, we dissected the latest community hot topics, interviewed prominent San Pedrans or everyday residents doing something cool and interesting, and explored the sights and sounds of San Pedro. You could find us walking around First Thursday with a microphone asking passersby what was “so Pedro” to them for a compilation of soundbites. Angela started Facebook and Instagram pages for That’s So Pedro, which quickly became popular and remained so for years after we stopped doing the podcast.
Her profile rose as a San Pedro historian, expert, and respected voice in the community. She became a regular guest speaker at luncheons, a board member of the San Pedro Bay Historical Society and the Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council, and a studio artist at Angels Gate Cultural Center (with her medium being words). She branched out to give lectures on an ever-widening range of subjects, took her trivia-filled tours aboard trolleys, acted as a local history consultant, and wrote “house histories” for homeowners who wanted to learn about when their homes were built and the families who lived within their walls before them.
Angela accumulated many historical artifacts through generous donors, estate sales, and fate encounters. There were 1960s-era office supplies branded with the logos of long-gone San Pedro businesses, drinking glasses from iconic watering holes, Ports O’ Call Village signs, and even a large ceremonial key to the San Pedro Courthouse from its opening in 1969. She dreamed of someday displaying them in a brick-and-mortar museum. So in 2018, she founded the San Pedro Heritage Museum, a nonprofit dedicated to celebrating the rich history and culture of San Pedro through research, historic preservation, exhibitions, and educational programs. Angela developed local history lessons for schoolchildren and started a crowd-sourcing project called San Pedro Built that aimed to create a database of historical photos tracing the town’s development. She gained international media attention in 2019 when she launched a fundraising campaign to erect a statue memorializing the prolific poet, novelist, and San Pedro resident Charles Bukowski.
The San Pedro Chamber of Commerce recognized Angela that same year as one of its Women’s History Month honorees. She continued her historical programming during the COVID-19 pandemic with her popular “Heritage at Home” virtual talk series.
She went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Cal State Long Beach in 2020, with plans to pursue a master’s degree. Angela was a star student and let each of her professors know at the start of the semester that she would find a San Pedro subject for every research paper assignment that she could. Her essay on StarKist’s iconic Charlie the Tuna cartoon fish won an award from the Los Angeles City Historical Society. Also, her short play, The Grief Sherpa, was selected to be produced by the CSULB Theatre Department. Angela was invited by the Los Angeles Public Library in 2021 to give a virtual talk on well-known San Pedro-raised civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama. In February 2022, she was asked back to join her good friend Ednita Kelly, children’s librarian at the San Pedro Regional Library, to interview San Pedro icon and ballet superstar Misty Copeland, the first Black female principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theatre. Toward the end of her life, Angela was knee-deep in research, writing a history of Temple Beth El for its centennial celebration.
I could go on and on about Angela’s work, and I’m sure I’ll kick myself later for what l failed to mention here. But know that she did so much more than highlight local history for her community. Through her research and different mediums of creative storytelling, Angela connected San Pedro to all facets of our society and institutions and shared it with the world. She showed us the many ways San Pedro played a role in larger events and themes in U.S. history and world history. She was passionate about making the case that San Pedro history is worthy of scholarly research.
I was incredibly lucky to call Angela my pal, and the impact she had on my life cannot be overstated. The same is true for San Pedro. Her knowledge and insight were a gift to us all that we must not take for granted. It’s on us now to keep Angela’s vision going, to ensure San Pedro history is kept alive for generations and not left in storage.
In her final San Pedro Today column (“Keep San Pedro Cozy,” Jan. 2022), Angela wrote about this interesting time we are in, in between the old and new San Pedro. It’s already playing out in the very place our friendship began. As you may have read, Starbucks has plans to move its Western and Westmont store into a future drive-thru in the same shopping center, as nearby Ponte Vista finally rises.
But even as things change all around us, as buildings and people leave us, I am hopeful that the thing Angela so brilliantly identified, that cozy vibe and essence that drew my parents and so many others to San Pedro, can and will endure. Let’s make sure of it. spt