Downtown Hasn’t Shaken its Vacancy Problem

The number of For Rent signs in downtown hasn't changed much in more than five years (photo by Megan Barnes).

Downtown San Pedro looks a lot different than it did half a decade ago. Trolleys run up and down cleaned streets under crisscrossing lights that have given the area new charm. Just two months ago, the streets were blocked off for a festival celebrating the town’s 125th anniversary that drew thousands.

But despite all the momentum, there remains an undeniable, and quite visible problem: a number of “For Rent” signs still hang in shop windows up and down 6th and 7th streets. In August, Williams’ Book Store closed its doors after more than 100 years, and Jolly Burrito packed up and moved to Pacific Avenue.

“Nobody’s going to rent an empty space when on both sides of it is a business that’s suffering or another empty space,” says Warren Gunter, owner of P&M Management, which houses businesses like Niko’s Pizzeria and The Surplus Guy. He says two of his 12 spaces are currently vacant.

Gunter himself owned the former San Pedro Jewelry Mart on 6th Street. He thinks a lack of advertising to attract new day-to-day customers is what keeps tenants with staying power, and who will increase property values, from opening up shop.

“You could fire a cannon down the sidewalk. There’s no traffic downtown because there is no effort to bring in new customers on a day-to-day basis. The idea of these two-day parties that bring a lot of people downtown — well what happens the rest of the 365 days of the year?”

But others say the pre-Del Amo Mall days of residents doing much of their shopping downtown are over and it’s time to find a new brand or niche market to draw visitors. With the success of the First Thursday Artwalk and two new theatre companies moving into an already theatre-rich area, downtown seems to be shaping itself as an arts and dining district.

“There’s a certain charm around here. I think more and more people will think of this as a place to come eat and retailers will be more of the funky stuff,” says Alan Johnson of Jerico Development, another major commercial real estate company downtown, and one of the developers overseeing the makeover of Ports O’ Call Village. He estimates vacancies are about what they were when the Business Improvement District, or PBID, was formed six years ago, but says the area is making progress finding its new identity.

“Galleries and funky little shops will appeal to a crowd that’s looking for something different because we’re not going to be Hermosa Beach, we’re not going to be Long Beach; we have to carve our little niche.”

But downtown’s thriving community of artists and galleries isn’t necessarily open to the public on a regular basis, adding to the number of closed storefronts. Some are only open during First Thursdays.

“I hear a lot of concern about that, but otherwise they might not be occupied, so I think it’s actually a real plus,” Johnson says. “I think they really are central to the community we are.”

Inconsistent business hours are a problem among businesses downtown across the board. Some of downtown’s strongest businesses are restaurants with regular hours.

“I think the businesses that are going to survive are going to be the ones that create regular hours and a product that people will want to buy,” says Eric Eisenberg, owner of the Renaissance Group, which owns much of the commercial real estate downtown.

He estimates his vacancies might be better than what they were six years ago. The Renaissance Group recently hired a new marketing director who’s brought in a surge of inquiries through online marketing. A new vegan smoothie shop recently moved into the old Jolly Burrito location on 6th St.

“Do we have more vacancies than we’d like? Absolutely. But the reality is we’ve started a new type of advertising and I think if you talk to me in two months you’re going to see a lot of the vacancies rented.”

Eisenberg’s glass-half-full view of the vacancies is shared by others who stress that downtown’s transformation will take time.

“For the first five years we’ve concentrated on infrastructure, making the district an appealing place to come to, and now it’s time to start marketing,” says Valerie Goodman, PBID’s marketing director. “There are a lot of communities that have been really successful in reinventing themselves and attracting businesses, like Pine Street in Downtown Long Beach, but it takes time and doesn’t happen over night.”

PBID has received some criticism for its focus on beautification.

“No potential business is going to say, ‘I’m going to open a business because there’s twinkle lights and a red trolley car that runs up and down the street empty most of the time,’” Gunter says.

Johnson, who has also been doing business downtown for 30 years, however, thinks it’s a logical approach.

“To me, you don’t just market and scream at people 100 times to come down here,” he says. “You make something that people are going to want to come to and then you market it, so I think we are doing it in exactly the right order.” spt

Backlot San Pedro

The Street With No Name (1948) featured the old Ferry Building.

The city of San Pedro has a list of television and film credits that would make any A-list celebrity green with envy and warrant at least three lifetime achievement awards; credits that span the history of filmmaking in California.

In 1910, famed director, D.W. Griffith, is credited with filming the very first movie in Hollywood. That same year, Griffith directed Mary Pickford in the Unchanging Sea, a Biograph Short shot along the Southern California coastline that included San Pedro. This would be the first of a number of films that would bring America’s Sweetheart to the Port Town, the most notable of which was the Little American, the motion picture telling of the sinking of the Lusitania. Under the direction of Cecil B. DeMille, Mary Pickford jumps from the sinking ship into the frigid night waters of the San Pedro Bay.

Charlie Chaplin, co-founder of United Artists with Ms. Pickford, also spent some time filming in and around San Pedro and the Port of Los Angeles. A Day’s Pleasure (1919), a First National Films short, showed Chaplin’s famous Tramp character driving his family to the waterfront to enjoy a day out on a harbor cruise. The film gives us a rare glimpse of the Fifth Street landing pier next to the Southern Pacific Passenger Station. Chaplin’s character dances on the top deck of the pleasure boat as the San Pedro coastline bobs around in the background. For Modern Times (1936), one of Chaplin’s more popular feature-length films, an entire street scene was built somewhere along the waterfront and Paulette Goddard can be seen running across boats outside of the French Sardine Company.

Jean Harlow visits the SP Chamber of Commerce.

Because San Pedro was still in its youth during the silent era, most filming utilized the working waterfront, the natural coastline or the waters of the San Pedro Bay. Writer Jack London played a bit role in the 1913 film version of his novel, The Sea Wolf. The first feature length film, The Squaw Man (1914) included scenes along the San Pedro waterfront. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Mabel Normand wake to have their coastal love nest taking on water in Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916). Scenes of the couple standing on the house, roof deep in water, were filmed off the coast of what would now be considered the outer portion of Cabrillo Beach. The very first Tarzan movie, Tarzan of the Apes (1918), dressed the coastline like a jungle for Olympian Elmo Lincoln to swing around in. Silent era heartthrob, Rudolph Valentino, dives into action to save a floundering Gloria Swanson in Beyond the Rocks (1922), their only picture together.

The Golden Era

The studio system ruled Hollywood during the golden era of filmmaking from the 1930s thru the 1950s. The need for the studios to produce content to fill their movie theaters ramped up production and ultimately location shooting in San Pedro, not only along and on the waterfront, but now reaching into the city limits.

One of the most famous movies to film in San Pedro during this era was the original King Kong (1933). The first shots taken for the movie, the landing party’s arrival, took place on a stretch of beach in San Pedro. The live action portion of Kong getting gas bombed was also filmed during that time.

Chinatown (1974) featured Point Fermin.

The golden era also saw the rise in the popularity of the military themed movies, primarily the navy. This could have been due to the events leading to World War II and the close proximity of the Pacific Fleet to Hollywood while it was based here in San Pedro. Clara Bow played a dance hall hostess in The Fleet’s In (1928). Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler made a couple of movies together here, Flirtation Walk (1934) and Shipmates Forever (1935). Joan Blondell also filmed Miss Pacific Fleet in 1935 in San Pedro, possibly at the same time Dick Powell was in town. The following year, on September 19, 1936, Powell and Blondell married aboard a ship in San Pedro.

The military movies didn’t have a monopoly on San Pedro screen time; some big time Hollywood stars found themselves taking on some local flavor. San Pedrans must have thought the movie Riffraff (1936) hit a little too close to home when Spencer Tracy played a fisherman who marries a cannery worker played by Jean Harlow. Miss Harlow even appeared at a local function at the Jugoslav hall that year and presented the Chamber of Commerce with a cake to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Friedrich March and Carole Lombard fall in love after plunging into port waters in Nothing Sacred (1936). In another movie with a storyline familiar to San Pedrans, John Wayne played a Norwegian seaman who gets shanghaied and rescued by his shipmates in The Long Voyage Home (1940).

To Live and Die in LA (1985) featured the Vincent Thomas Bridge.

Hollywood didn’t stop making movies during the war years. San Pedro being home to an active Army base, Fort MacArthur, made it an even more sought after location. There were quite a few movies that capitalized on the close proximity of the army base, including Stage Door Canteen (1943) and Buck Privates Come Home (1947), starring the comedy team of Abbott & Costello. This is the Army (1943), was almost entirely filmed at the upper reservation of Fort MacArthur. The movie starred future president Ronald Reagan, future senator George Murphy and a host of entertainers who were all enlisted in the army at the time. When the film was released, a premiere was held at the theater on the grounds of Fort MacArthur.

Film noir made its way to San Pedro in 1948 with the film, The Street with No Name. A brief chase scene through the municipal ferry building is so important historically for San Pedrans because the ferry ceased operation in 1963 and the building now houses the Los Angeles Maritime Museum. This is a prime example of the unintentional benefits of filming in San Pedro, the town’s history being preserved on film.

The Small Screen

With forty years of film experience under its belt, the city of San Pedro transitioned to the small screen effortlessly. While the show Waterfront (1954) was one of the first shows to film in San Pedro, The Fugitive was one of the most famous television shows to first start filming in San Pedro during the 1960s. The 1970s and 80s brought about the advent of the cop series. Name a cop show or private investigator television series and it probably filmed in San Pedro. Mod Squad, The Rookies, Adam-12, Barnaby Jones, Cannon, Mannix, The Rockford Files, Baretta, Starsky & Hutch, Murder She Wrote, Kojak, Columbo, Knight Rider, TJ Hooker, MacGyver and The A-Team. The draw for these shows to come and film in San Pedro included the waterfront and port, but they were also the first to venture into the downtown area and some of the old neighborhoods. The aging brick buildings and what was left of Beacon Street lent credibility to the crime the cops and private eyes were battling. The classic look of the municipal building for a police headquarters didn’t hurt matters either.

1980s television series Highway to Heaven gets festive on 7th Street.

The Love Boat was another television hit that put San Pedro on the map. The Princess Cruise ship that was used in the show, left from the Los Angeles World Cruise Center south of the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Every week the guest stars would start and end the show in front of the cruise ship terminal.

Other notable television shows that have filmed in San Pedro include: Highway to Heaven, General Hospital, Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Power Rangers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias, Angel, The X-Files, 24, Prison Break, Heroes and Charmed.

There are two current and widely popular shows that have filmed in San Pedro recently, Dexter and Mad Men. Dexter, a Showtime series now in its final season, has filmed here from the inception of the series, creatively shooting around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to make it look like Dexter’s home of Miami. Mad Men, which will begin its final season in 2014, has shot a couple of episodes in the Point Fermin area of San Pedro, but instead of pretending to be another location, Don Draper calls San Pedro by name.

Blockbusters & Big Names

Any article on San Pedro filming locations would be incomplete if it didn’t include certain films. Chinatown (1974) is usually one of the first films to be associated with San Pedro filming locations. Not only was the movie partially filmed in town, in the Point Fermin and Sunken City areas, but also Robert Towne, a man who grew up in San Pedro and whose family ran a business on 6th St. in downtown, wrote the movie. The film’s star, Jack Nicholson, would also star in A Few Good Men (1992) that used both the Coast Guard Station on Reservation Point and the upper reservation of Fort MacArthur. Nicholson’s co-stars included Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Keifer Sutherland, and Kevin Pollack.

The Rock (1996) explodes in downtown on 7th Street.

Pollack would return to San Pedro three years later as part of the cast of The Usual Suspects (1995) that also included Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, Chazz Palminteri, Stephen Baldwin and Kevin Spacey. It could be argued that Spacey won his first Academy Award for the performance he gave on Beacon Street in San Pedro during that film.

The following year, San Pedro got its first taste of the Michael Bay treatment with a huge fiery crash in the middle of downtown. Nicolas Cage, who holds the record for most features filmed in San Pedro, co-starred with Sean Connery in The Rock (1996), that chase scene making a lasting impression on the town. The last film that bears mentioning is the cult classic, The Big Lebowski (1998). The scene where John Goodman spreads the ashes and it blows into Jeff Bridges’ face was shot inside of the ruins of Sunken City.

There are so many more movies and television shows that could be mentioned, and every year more are filmed here (Clint Eastwood was just here a couple of weeks ago, directing the film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, Jersey Boys). Most San Pedrans take it for granted, some love the bragging rights, but San Pedrans and Angelenos alike should be grateful to filmmakers for preserving their heritage on film for future generations to enjoy. spt

Downtown’s Living Museum

The "Once Upon A Book..." display at Williams' Book Store in downtown is one of many window displays the San Pedro Bay Historical Society have used as a living museum to tell the history of San Pedro.

In an effort to celebrate the past and the present of a city that so many have called home, the San Pedro Bay Historical Society has used the beauty of photos and downtown storefronts to give the residents a history lesson.

In lieu of an actual museum, the San Pedro Bay Historical Society has created a museum on the canvas of the downtown area through the project “Windows Into the Past.”

The project is the brainchild of Doris Theriault, a lifelong San Pedro resident and volunteer at the San Pedro Bay Historical Society.

As with most non-profits, money has always been a struggle for the historical society, but Theriault said she didn’t want money to be the reason San Pedro didn’t have a museum.

“Why not use the canvas that is already here,” she says. “I woke up one morning, and thought that the windows of businesses downtown would be a perfect canvas to create a museum for all of San Pedro to enjoy.”

Theriault and her colleagues at the San Pedro Bay Historical Society started approaching downtown businesses, going through photos and creating themes.

“It was a relatively simple process,” she says. “The history is great, the businesses were accommodating and the public’s response has been overwhelming.”

The project commemorates and celebrates San Pedro’s 125 year past, while educating both residents and tourists about the most critical points in the city’s history.

“The project has been a great success,” she says. “It’s allowed us to tell San Pedro’s story through photos – it’s been great for not only participating businesses, but each of San Pedro’s residents who have taken in photos and learned a bit more about the city they call home.”

“Windows Into the Past” has created a series of historical exhibits, each of which have the goal to tell a story and give a lesson of the past, in downtown business windows.

Lucero Newcomer, owner of the Le Grand Salon Lucero in downtown, says her customers have really enjoyed the display, titled “Smiles of the 70s.”

She says that all of her customers have asked about it. Adding that it is “really nice to have it, to be involved in such a cool celebration.”

“It’s really nice to have [the display], it’s beautiful,” Newcomer says. “We love our community, we love our old town – and this is a way we can contribute and help to celebrate San Pedro and all of its history.”

Vinyl historical posters line other businesses to continue the history lesson.

In all, there are 97 different themed windows at 55 locations in the downtown area. At these 55 locations, 17 have 2-D designs and 10 have 3-D designs. In addition, there are 29 locations that have posters, all of which are different and unique, these celebrate the 29 cultural landmarks in San Pedro.

The San Pedro Bay Historical Society received three grants from the Business Improvement District, which helped pay for the film that the photos were printed on. They also received a grant that will help produce the brochure that will be used and distributed for a walking tour.

Theriault says there was no shortage of themes, as San Pedro’s 125-year history is vast.

“We tried to focus on the crucial parts of the city’s history – development of the port, early modes of transportation, restaurants and more,” she says. “Once we had our themes, we tried to pair them with downtown businesses that matched the theme.”

Jerry Gusha of the soon to be closed Williams’ Book Store, says the window display, titled “Once Upon a Book,” has been a great addition to the store.

“Customers really seem to enjoy it,” he says. “It’s been very nice to look at, and it’s a nice way for us to contribute to the neighborhood and the city in which we live.”

The project kicked off last year, in May, and businesses have been eager to participate, says Theriault.

“The feedback has been positive,” she says. “These are photos that most people have never seen, and pieces of information that people, in most cases, didn’t know much about. It is exciting, and a great way to educate the residents and celebrate the city at the same time.

“This is our outdoor museum and it’s very exciting,” she says. “We were able to celebrate our city in a museum that we built on the storefronts of our businesses.” spt

San Pedro Spirits

I didn’t party in high school, unless you count that one mishap-ridden hangout at a friend’s house the night before graduation when I decided to mix whiskey, a warm Diet Coke and some off-brand light beer. I did dabble in the alcoholic arts while in college, but never went pro. Now, in my thirties, I know nothing about wine, I don’t have a go-to drink and I can’t stand going to “scene” bars.

When I decided to start blogging again (at www.showmeromee.com), I wanted to re-capture that sense of adventure that I got when I was trying to walk every street. What part of San Pedro hadn’t I covered? Was there anything left for me to explore? The answer is: of course there was.

It really didn’t take me long to figure out that I needed to drink at every bar in San Pedro. I can’t think of any other project that could be more exciting, intoxicating and terrifying all at the same time.

The plan is to visit each bar, even the Kan Kan, have a drink and scope it out (no judgement). Sure, I have my prejudices going into the project, but I know for a fact that there are stories to be found inside those walls and a different vantage point of the town to be had. I’d like to share one of my experiences so far:

Club Royal

There is a boarding house on Tenth Street called The Royal Hotel. Inside the Royal is what claims to be the oldest beer saloon in town, Club Royal. When I told my friend about the project, he insisted on coming with. We decided to start with the oldest bars. The minute we set foot inside ‘The Royal,’ as we call it, it was like coming home. It was quiet, small and cheap. The plan was to visit a different bar every Friday, but we found ourselves meeting up at The Royal, week after week. It got to the point that I actually started to remember people’s names. I’ve never been a regular anywhere but at Starbucks, and I always blushed when they would greet me with, “Hey, venti black iced tea!” But here I am now, walking into The Royal, greeting people, “Hiya Cliff, Norm, Sam, Diane… etc.,” like I’m in an episode of Cheers.

Jack, the owner, had been kind enough to share some history with me during my first visit to the bar. Now, as a historian/busy body, I know I like something if I feel compelled to research it. Within a week or two, I was able to school Jack on his own bar.

The building was built in 1923 by two Basque brothers, Blas and Paul Bengochea. This was news to Jack because he was always told that the hotel was built in 1917. Within a couple of years, Paul sold the building to Jose Corta, a relative of his. Jose, later known as just Joe, owned it until just before his death in 1963. I had even tracked down Joe’s grandson, Paul, who was more than willing to help fill in the gaps of the history where he could. Paul’s aunt is still alive and knew exactly who I was because she reads my column (Hi, Mercedes!). Do you see what I mean about all the stories to be found? They’re there, if you’re willing to look for them.

I can’t say enough good things about The Royal. I’ve taken so many friends to have a drink with me you’d think I was introducing them to a new beau of mine. If you decide to go down and have a beer, bring cash and some luck – when you order a drink, you get to roll the dice (three of a kind or better and you get money off your beer).

If you’d like to be a bar ambassador and introduce me to your watering hole, drop me a line at angela@towneetours.com. spt

That’s So Pedro

San Pedro is a very unique place with a culture that is extremely specific to our little part of Los Angeles. As San Pedrans, there are certain experiences we’ve all had whether we grew up here or adopted the town as adults: having a sandwich on the coast, our affinity for clothing with “San Pedro” written on it and running into people you know wherever you go. All of these things are SO PEDRO and they should be celebrated.

That’s why my good friend Megan Barnes and I have started a brand new podcast called That’s So Pedro. Not only do we want to celebrate everything Pedro, we also plan to scour the town for news, views and interesting stories to share with you.

Our first episode, released March 1, featured interviews with Doris Theriault, the mastermind of the historical society’s Windows Into The Past project, San Pedro Neighbors for Peace & Justice who recently celebrated their 10th anniversary and Councilman Joe Buscaino days before being re-elected for a second term.

We just recently released our second episode highlighting the annual International Hypnosis Federation annual conference that brings hypnotists from all around the world to our little port town and talk skating with Andy Harris and Bill Sargeant of the San Pedro Skatepark Association.

In addition to the interviews, we infuse the show with headlines, hot topics, sound bytes and a very fun segment called Ask Marija, where the advice is served piping hot by one of San Pedro’s best baristas.

You can listen to the podcast by visiting our website www.thatssopedro.com or directly from our Facebook at facebook.com/thatssopedro. We’re always on the look out for interesting stories, if you have some ideas you can reach us at thatssopedro@gmail.com.

If you have a “So Pedro” to share with us, we have a call-in line where you can leave us a message at (424) 703-4220.

Let Me Show You

Spring is here and the weather in San Pedro is even more perfect than normal. That makes it the perfect time to come out on a walking tour with me. A must see Pedro Primer is the all new San Pedro Conservancy Tour that hits all the gems of downtown. You can check the tour calendar at www.towneetours.com for times.

Those of you who were followers of my first blog, San Pedro: Block by Block, will be glad to know that I have gone back to my roots and started a brand new blog. Show Me, Romee is my way of doubling down on capturing the Pedro experience. One of my most notable segments is the ‘Wheel of Worship’ where I have tasked myself to visit every church and temple in San Pedro that has its own building with a story to tell. I’m also trying to work out the kinks of another ‘spirited’ segment called “Pedro on Tap.” I really love exploring again! You can find my new blog at www.showmeromee.com. spt

Where Are The Future Leaders Of San Pedro?

Some of my fellow columnists may disagree with me, but I’m probably the biggest cheerleader in this magazine. “I love progress, yes I do. I love progress, how about you?” I’m going to have to put my pompoms down for a second and pose some very serious questions.

San Pedro is in the middle of a great redevelopment, but have we stopped to think about who’s going to be there to receive this new San Pedro? Who will be there to pass the torch onto? Where are the future leaders of San Pedro?

I recently attended a board meeting for one of our local organizations and these questions started tugging at me. It’s not the first time they’ve presented themselves to me, but this time they seemed more desperate for an answer. There’s no point to name the organization because it doesn’t really matter and because the same people are in nearly every group all over town.

There is definitely a core group of the “usual suspects” all over San Pedro. My first thought was to cry cronyism until I realized these people are the loyal subjects and champions of San Pedro who freely give up their time for the betterment of the town. You hardly hear a complaint because theirs is a labor of love, but chances are you have heard the “chorus of the should’s” from other civic spectators, “it should be like this” or “someone should really do that.” These San Pedro regulars hear you and most times agree with you, but their hands are really full at the moment. They are spread far too thin and they need help.

There will always be a councilperson. There will always be a port governing body. Los Angeles will never loosen its grasp on our little satellite city. We need to worry about the groups that preserve the culture and small town goodness that is San Pedro – the societies and friends groups that tie us together and fight for the things that make us more San Pedrans than Angelenos.

It’s time for the future leaders of San Pedro to step up and make themselves known. If you want the San Pedro you know and love to be there when your kids and grandkids grow up, you need to get involved – today. If you’re already a willing participant, I thank you for your service.

If you want to get involved but just don’t know where to start, I suggest you begin with something that interests you. If you’re the bookish type, then Friends of the San Pedro Library is a wonderful organization to hook up with. Maybe there is a civic issue you feel strongly about, one of our three neighborhood councils would be a great place to start. There is definitely a group that fits your interests and would appreciate your help. But if there isn’t, you should start one. If Facebook pages alone are any indicator, San Pedrans have never been shy about starting their own groups for like-minded people.

While I’m on the subject, there is so much more to San Pedro than Facebook. Yes, it is a great way to connect neighbors and get information out quickly, but we have also seen how very detrimental it can be, as well. Get out there, get involved and meet your neighbors. Strong community bonds are what make San Pedro so wonderful; please do your part to keep it that way. spt

Meet Me in San Pedro

When the temperature finally dips below 70 and I am forced to wear close-toed shoes, I know that holiday movie season is just around the corner. My absolute favorite Christmas movie is Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland. Early on in the movie, Tootie, the youngest Smith, played by Margaret O’Brien, has a line that pretty much sums up my exact feelings about San Pedro, “Wasn’t I lucky to be born in my favorite city?” She had also just finished correcting the iceman’s pronunciation of St. Louis, sound familiar?

The parallels don’t end there. Although our beloved San Pedro was just an infant city of 15 at the time the movie takes place, the small town old-fashioned hominess of St. Louis in 1903 completely translates to life in San Pedro. So how did some of us get so lucky to be born in our favorite city? Opportunity.

In 1903, construction of the federal breakwater was in full swing and people were being drawn to the brand new port in droves due to all the readily available work. The timber that built the southland came from our lumberyards. Soon came the fishing industry with seiners and canneries, shipbuilding, oceaneering and longshoring. This town was built on the backs of those who came here looking for the opportunity of a better life, the type of people who see the path to prosperity through a hard day’s work. They did it for us and we keep it going for them.

Every San Pedran, whether born here or transplanted, has a moment that sold them on San Pedro. Think about it. You may have come here for a job, or the surf, or an affordable home, or even because you grew up here, but you stayed for the community. You stay because you want to raise your kids in a place where they can be kids. You stay because someone took a chance on you and you want to be here to give someone else a chance. You stay because you can’t imagine yourself living anywhere else.

Yes, there are days when San Pedro makes you want to pack up and leave, but then something happens, a beautiful sunset or random act of kindness, and you just can’t stay mad. And sure, there haven’t been a lot of opportunities lately, but San Pedrans know that the best way through hard times is together. And if you ever do leave, you’ll be welcomed back like family. That is the biggest parallel of all, Meet Me in St. Louis is a movie about a family and San Pedro is a giant family.

Hard work, fairness, helping hands, caring hearts and having fun together are all the themes that weave through Meet Me in St. Louis. They are also the family values that make San Pedro work. This is why we never lost our identity to L.A. This is why every marketing firm, committee and startup has failed to capture the true essence of San Pedro.

San Pedro is not Busy Bee or Sorrento’s pizza, no matter how delicious. San Pedro is not an awesome picture of the bridge. San Pedro is not a meme or a Facebook group. San Pedro is its people. San Pedro is a family. spt

A Tour a Ghost Would Die For

There is nothing more synonymous with the month of October than pumpkins and a good ghost story. If you think about it, ghost stories are just histories that capture the imagination and excite the listener. And a ghost is just a memory that has taken on a life of its own.

I was looking out the window from the historical archives on the sixth floor of the municipal building when it dawned on me that I was looking out at the biggest ghost in all of San Pedro. There is no greater specter in all of the town’s history than that of Old Beacon Street, ‘the most dangerous four blocks in the whole world’ according to Walter Winchell, a street with a reputation and a legend so large that it continues to haunt the land it stood on far beyond its very existence. Any ghost would die for that kind of fame.

I’m very excited to be giving the ghost of Beacon Street its due this month with a proper tour, as well as a tour of some not so famous haunts with ghosts of their own.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a huge fan of San Pedro history; it’s kind of my thing. Apparently, it’s a lot of people’s thing these days and there are more opportunities than ever for you to get a taste of it.

The historical society has become a powerhouse of programming in the last year. I find myself looking forward to their First Sunday series every month. And have you seen the fabulous window displays that they’ve created downtown as part of their Windows Into the Past project? There is a window at Williams’ Bookstore, the upholstery shop, the Grand Vision Foundation and the USS Iowa Welcome Center.

Beautiful exhibits in an outdoor museum in honor of San Pedro’s 125th anniversary next year. They’re turning the windows out so fast that they’re nearly unveiling one every First Thursday. If you haven’t been down to see them, I highly recommend you make a point of going down there soon.

While walking tours of San Pedro are definitely my business, I don’t hold the patent on them. There have been a couple of really interesting tours and groups that have gone through town lately. Last month, Robert Inman, author of A Guide to the Public Stairways of Los Angeles led a four-hour trek through San Pedro, stating that San Pedro was his favorite neighborhood in Los Angeles. On the same day, the Black Rose Society also led a tour of some of the important sites in labor history located in town.

There are so many different ways to see San Pedro and even more perspectives to see them through. I have dozens of ideas for tours rolling around in my head and I’m going to keep rolling them out as I get them together. I’ve decided to feature a different themed tour in addition to my normal six tours every month. I have also planned a very special food tasting tour of five eateries in downtown on October 6.

It is my mission to give you every opportunity to truly experience all that San Pedro has to offer. For more information on my tours, please visit my website at www.towneetours.com. spt