San Pedro Through The Eyes Of A Master

Evrika “Evo” Zatikyan may be a man of few words, but his paintings — more than 6,000 in the past 20 years alone — speak volumes. The prolific Armenian painter spends hours behind the canvas creating impressions of colorful everyday scenes that capture and explore the human experience.

In honor of San Pedro’s 125th anniversary, Zatikyan turned his eye on the town for a special set of paintings that were unveiled on Oct. 19 at the Croatian Cultural Center on 7th Street. It wasn’t his first exhibit at the center, but Zatikyan is the first featured artist in the Art Without Boundaries series, which collaborates with consulates to showcase international artists in both Los Angeles and their home countries.

“I’m touched by the city’s view, by its scenic sea, and I’m very fond of sea life,” Zatikyan says through friend and fellow artist Martiros Hakopian, acting as a translator, who will also be featured in the Art Without Boundaries series. “And the people here have a good energy.”

Zatikyan went to art school in Armenia and spent eight years imprisoned in Siberia for his politically themed paintings before coming to the United States 20 years ago. Today he paints on a daily basis and his work hangs in public and private collections throughout Europe and the United States, including Rutgers University.

He recently spent time in San Pedro that inspired several paintings of the Harbor. Cranes rise in the distance over colorful waters that reflect the busy port as undefined passersby go about their day. Ripples of water hug a scene that takes in sail boats against the Palos Verdes Peninsula. His style recreates a sensory experience of life on the waterfront and the spirit of a port town.

“I do everything under impressions, and the impressions here are really touching me,” he says. “The ocean always gives big energy, so I like to capture that.”

More than 50 people, including Armenian Consul Suren Vardanyants, attended the exhibit of his paintings of San Pedro. Zatikyan was presented with awards from the offices of Congresswoman Janice Hahn and State Senator Roderick Wright.

“I think it’s a great contribution to San Pedro,” says Maya Bristow, president of the Croatian Cultural Center. “Art Without Boundaries is going to create a dialogue for artists like Evo. It’s a cultural cross-promotion.”

Zatikyan has been invited to give an exhibit in Armenia, and also plans to show in France and Croatia.

“He is a master of capturing the moment, he can capture moments better than a camera,” Hapokian says. “Why? Because the camera gives you dry images, but art involves emotion. It might not be photographic resemblance, but it’s character resemblance; the soul, the moment.”

Zatikyan spent 20 years painting 12 hours a day.

“I meet a lot of artists and Evo is one of a kind,” Bristow says. “It is very nice to celebrate his generosity and his vision of San Pedro. We are very happy to have him.” spt

The Art Without Boundaries series features artists from around the world and can be viewed at the Croatian Cultural Center (510 W. 7th St.) For more info, visit www.croatianculture.org.

Taking Center Stage: Downtown San Pedro’s Theatre Renaissance

(left to right) James Blackman (San Pedro Theatre Club, seated), Summer Cacciagioni (Encore Entertainers), Aaron Ganz & Paris Langle (TE San Pedro Rep) (photo by John Mattera)

As downtown San Pedro forges a path to reinvent itself, there’s been a quiet and unexpected renaissance along the way that is fitting for a district whose crown jewel is a landmark art deco theatre. In the past two years, four theatre companies have moved into downtown San Pedro – two in the past five months. Their range of casts and productions means downtown seems to be shaping itself as a unique performing arts district.

“I think these markets are all very shareable and each theatre has a unique experience. Right now they’re in perfect concert with each other,” says James Blackman, former director of the award winning Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities. After the company moved to the Warner Grand Theatre last year and went under not long after, he was considering throwing in the towel.

“I was eating at Niko’s late one night and I could hear “La Vie en Rose” playing on a Victrola up the street, so I walked up and saw people tangoing inside a storefront and thought, ‘There’s no other place in Los Angeles where you’ll find people dressed up tangoing this late on a Tuesday night.’ It was so beautiful. I thought, ‘I want to be part of a town that has this.’”

Blackman decided to stay and start over, building a theatre in a 1920s high-ceiling former department store space on Pacific Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets he named the San Pedro Theatre Club.

The lobby of the San Pedro Theatre Club.

Stepping into the lobby feels a bit like walking into a backstage area with rotating sets. The glimmer of the stage’s backdrop reveals an intimate venue with art deco touches and 78 high-back movie theatre seats.

“We’re trying to champion kind of an old form which is the old nightclubs of the 1920s and 1930s,” he says.

The theatre had its soft opening, a concert by jazz singer Windy Barnes, on First Thursday in August, and had its official premiere in September with the musical comedy, We Will Survive. Last month, it screened films in the second annual San Pedro International Film Festival.

The San Pedro Theatre Club recently held auditions for upcoming plays and musicals, and Blackman plans to have comedy nights, concerts and movie series as well. He says more than 1,500 of his Civic Light Opera subscribers are finishing out their season at the theatre club. When he gives them directions to San Pedro, he tells them to use the “guest entrance.”

“I say we have a service entrance and a guest entrance, and when I describe the route to them, I say, ‘Get off on Harbor Blvd. and you’ll see the San Francisco style bridge, then you’ll probably see passenger ships and the Bellagio-style water fountain and as you turn the corner, follow the row of lit palm trees all the way down to where the Red Car runs past the USS Iowa. Just before you get to the Maritime Museum, turn up 5th, 6th or 7th Street and go past the art galleries and specialty restaurants,’” he says. “It’s a sub narrative that sells the city as a destination, and sure enough, they’ll want to plan an entire day here.”

Blackman thinks San Pedro is on the cusp of an artistic revival that could make it Los Angeles’ newest arts destination.

“As native Angelenos, we go, ‘Let’s go check that out.’ We go to the new place. There are millions of us here and we look for day trips,” he says. “We go to someone else’s environment to enjoy an entire day and that’s an economy that is more than possible to bring in here.”

A few blocks over on 7th and Centre Streets, an acting school and small theatre company has turned a former doctor’s office into an intimate theatre space.

“San Pedro is everything I could’ve wanted in a potential home for a theatre company, there’s something about this rawness here,” says Aaron Ganz, artistic director of the TE San Pedro Rep, which moved to San Pedro in June after two seasons in La Crescenta as Theatrum Elysium.

The TE San Pedro Rep Team (left to right): Managing Director Chris Lang, Artistic Director Ganz, Communications Director Langle, Resident Designer Tamara Becker, Technical Director Richard Dominguez (photo by John Mattera).

The space features exposed red brick and wooden trusses, as well as a theatre library that is open to the public. Since moving in over the summer, San Pedro Rep has held acting classes and rehearsed its first upcoming production in its new home: Hamlet, which opens this First Thursday, Nov. 7.

“As a professional company, we choose works that have incredible meaning challenging the human experience. Everything explores the DNA of what it is to be a human being in the world,” Ganz says, adding that every seat in the tiny theatre is a front row seat. “We have a group of professional artists training around the clock, and we’re developing artists who are unabashed of sharing their soul.”

Tickets for the First Thursday debut of Hamlet will be pay-what-you-can, and regular ticket prices aren’t more than $25. “I don’t think theatres should just be for people who have money, and unfortunately that happens,” Ganz says.

Classes at the acting conservatory max out at 10 students, and the public is welcome to sit in on production rehearsals.

“When I came to Los Angeles, I was shocked to see what a big business acting classes were. We have small classes that allows us to really get to know and nurture our actors’ spirit,” Ganz says. “It’s great to have this community that has so much potential and is betting on the arts.”

San Pedro Rep is just around the corner from downtown San Pedro’s oldest running theatre company: Little Fish Theatre.

“I think it’s exciting to see all these theatres coming into downtown,“ says Lisa Coffi, who founded the theatre in 2002 after the success of Shakespeare by the Sea, which she started in 1998. When she opened Little Fish Theatre, downtown San Pedro was a much different place. “It was a spot that needed something open past 8 o’clock besides bars,” she says. “I felt it was right for theatre.”

Little Fish puts on 11 productions a year and is still thriving at almost 80 percent capacity, and most of its audience comes from the South Bay. Its next production, Every Christmas Story Ever Told and Then Some, opens Nov. 8.

“It’s a fast and furious mélange of Christmas stories performed by a three-member cast. There’s A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas – it’s like a campy abridged book of Christmas stories,” Coffi says.

Downtown San Pedro has also experienced a surge in youth theatre. Encore Entertainers, a Torrance-based all-ages theatre company, will open its seventh production at the Warner Grand Theatre, Peter Pan, on Jan. 10.

Encore Entertainers' production of Oliver!

“We’re starting season tickets this year and that is largely due to the tremendous support we’ve had in San Pedro,” says artistic director Summer Cacciagioni. “We’ve sold more tickets in San Pedro for a first show than most of our shows in Torrance and Redondo Beach, so the support has been tremendous; we love it.”

Encore will bring in a professional flying company for Peter Pan that will lift Peter and Wendy 15 to 20 feet in the air. Auditions for Encore’s spring production of Shrek: the Musical will take place in February or March

Cacciagioni, who has directed more then 60 productions, says the company offers opportunities for families and youth in a time when the arts are being cut from schools. “We’re the only group I know of that has all ages where families can perform together,” she says. “Thirty percent of our students receive some form of scholarship or financial assistance; we don’t ever want to turn anyone away due to a financial situation.”

Encore will have its annual fundraising gala on Nov. 10 at the Torrance Marriot, which will be hosted by Redondo Beach Mayor Steve Aspel.

“Most of our students won’t grow up and become professional actors, but we care about teaching them skills to become accountable, responsible, passionate people,” Cacciagioni says. “Especially with the Internet, the next generation of kids is being robbed of a lot of basic communication skills, and I feel like theatre is even more important than ever for them to learn those skills.”

San Pedro’s Scalawag Productions has put on three musicals at the Warner Grand Theatre since its founding in 2011. The company trains teens and young adults ages 14 to 22 for musicals. “Our high school and college kids want to perform, and there wasn’t a program for them,” says Scalawag Productions co-producer Gale Kadota.

The cast trains under a team of music, dance and theatre professionals for one musical production each summer. “We try to keep it as close to a Broadway experience as possible, and the casts are usually 35 to 40 members tops,” she says. “We believe they’re able to receive much better instruction in a smaller group rather than throwing 100 kids on stage.”

After performing Fame over the summer, the company is putting on a few fundraisers including a screening of White Christmas at the Warner Grand Theatre on Dec. 7. Auditions for next summer’s Guys and Dolls will take place in February.

Kadota thinks the theatre renaissance in downtown is much needed. “The whole idea with Scalawag was not only to have a home for kids, but to get downtown San Pedro active with theatre. We just need to keep bringing in productions and keep it alive.” spt

For more information and tickets, visit www.thesanpedrotheatreclub.com, www.sanpedrorep.org, www.littlefishtheatre.org, www.encoreentertainers.org and www.scalawagproductionco.org.

Top of the Totem Pole

Cirque du Soliel Hoop Dancer Eric Hernandez (Photos: OSA Images, Costumes: Kym Barrett, ©2013 Cirque du Soleil Inc.)

Eric Hernandez spins and jumps effortlessly through five hoops that he swings around his body and forms into geometric shapes as he dances to the rhythm of a Native American drum. The hoops somehow keep from getting caught on his headdress.

The 23-year-old Native American hoop dancer is gearing up for a series of upcoming performances in Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM at the Port of Los Angeles. In a few weeks, the world renowned touring company will raise its blue and yellow big top in San Pedro’s outer harbor for a run of more than 30 performances of the critically-acclaimed show from October 11 to November 10.

“I’m close to home. I’m definitely going to have a lot of friends and family come to the show,” says the Covina native, catching his breath. Hernandez began dancing at the age of 10, quickly excelling and winning competitions across the country before being tapped to join Cirque du Soleil in 2011. He found himself catapulted into touring life with TOTEM traveling North America, most recently wrapping up a run of shows in Columbus, Ohio.

“A lot of my friends and family know of Cirque du Soleil, but they don’t know much about it, and I’ve been in this world for the last two years, so to be able to finally show them what I’ve been doing is definitely exciting,” he says.

Hernandez and another hoop dancer are featured in the three-year-old show written and directed by Robert Lepage, which traces humankind’s evolution from amphibians, to their ultimate desire to fly.

“Compared to other Cirque du Soleil shows that are based in an imaginary world, I would say this show is really based in our own nature, and that it’s a very funny show as well,” says Cirque du Soleil publicist Francis Jalbert. “By the theme of evolution, we’re bringing to the stage different scenes and sequences from the past of humanity. It’s kind of like the audience is traveling around the world and back and forth in time from one act to the next.”

Under the intimate big top, acrobats fly overhead and perform on a 2,700-lb. turtle skeleton apparatus representing the earth. Stunning images from around the world are projected onto a marsh at the center of the tent and infrared technology creates effects that actually respond to performers’ live movements — a footprint in sand, or a ripple on water.

TOTEM features dozens of artists testing the limits of the human body on bars, rings, unicycles and trapezes, and performing gravity defying balancing acts while taking humanity from the earth to outer space — all in beautiful and intricately designed costumes against stunning visuals and live music.

It’s a world-class entertainment experience, and for San Pedro, a gem of an opportunity that the Port spent years trying to make a reality.

When Cirque’s trailers roll into town this month, the company will be hiring 150 local laborers to raise and tear down the tent, and an additional 150 staff to run concessions and the box office.

“We’re excited to be here, San Pedro is an up-and-coming area and it’s fun to be a part of that. Being able to provide a product like this to an area that may be reinventing itself is really exciting for us as well,” says company manager Jeff Lund. “And we love waterfronts.”

When the show came to the Philadelphia area earlier this year, it actually set up on the Camden waterfront in New Jersey, which is similarly going through redevelopment.

The Downtown Historic Waterfront District (PBID) has arranged discounts with eight restaurants in downtown San Pedro for Cirque du Soleil ticket holders.

Lund says he hopes the show will not only bring new visitors to San Pedro, but bring Cirque du Soleil to new audiences. The tent seats more than 2,600, which means days with two shows could see 5,000 visitors.

“I hope we can assist San Pedro in their community development, and that we might expose a community that’s never seen a Cirque show before to our product,” he says. “Usually most people walk away from seeing TOTEM thinking ‘How can they do that?’ People are just awe-inspired. They’re amazed at what the human body can do, and that inspires them.”

The cast of TOTEM consists of 47 artists from 15 countries and 73 crewmembers from nine countries. Eighteen children join their parents on tour.

Hernandez says Cirque du Soleil has brought hoop dance, which is rooted in Native American wedding ceremonies, to a broader audience. “I don’t think hoop dancing or even Native American traditional dances have ever been put on this scale of entertainment.”

While the shapes he creates are based in traditional hoop dance, he says the dance he performs in the show is a little more fast-paced and high energy. “The main image is the eagle, which you see with two, three and then five hoops,” he says. “The audience can kind of interpret the shapes the way they want to. I can say something is a crocodile and others say it’s a snake.”

Jalbert hopes audiences will be blown away and inspired by the show. “As soon as you step into the tent, you forget about reality and dream with us. For two hours you get to escape reality and see what the human body can do.”

“It’s super great when a community like San Pedro supports and welcomes us because we know we’ve got your support,” Lund says, “It’s a mutual win-win.” spt

Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM will be at the Port of Los Angeles from October 11 through November 10. For tickets and more information, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com.

A Mediterranean Oasis In South Shores

Frank Ravalli and Paul Aghilipour converted the former Think Bistro into a blue oasis of Mediterranean cuisine at The Blue Grotto. (photo by Joshua Stecker)

It all started from a mutual appreciation for good food and wine. Friends Frank Ravalli, a retired foreman on the docks and waterfront supply business owner, and Paul Aghilipour, a 30-year veteran of the restaurant hospitality industry, were chatting late one night at Think Prime steakhouse when they decided to enter the wine business together. Their partnership took off soon thereafter and five years later, they would dream up a unique culinary experience to bring to their beloved hometown: The Blue Grotto Bistro Mediterranean Grill.

Tucked in the corner of the Pacific View Shopping Center on 25th and Western Streets, the Blue Grotto serves up a variety of Mediterranean and Persian cuisines in an oasis-like atmosphere reminiscent of the Grotta Azzura on the coast of Italy’s Island of Capri. The interior features eight variations of blue and relaxing guitar and flute music.

The space was formerly Think Bistro, the first of three Think restaurants opened by Paul’s brother Kashi, before Ravalli bought it in April, hired Paul as his manager, and turned it into a Mediterranean grill inspired by the real Blue Grotto he had seen decades ago in Italy during his Navy service. Ravalli himself was born to Sicilian parents in Brooklyn before moving to San Pedro 50 years ago, and has always had a passion for cooking, especially recipes his mother taught him.

“Frank always says life is about good wine, good food and good friends. We really wanted to create this feeling of relaxation when you first walk in,” says Aghilipour, who was born in Iran, raised in France, and moved to the United States in 1985, when he started working in and managing many five-star hotel restaurants throughout Los Angeles. In San Pedro, he has worked at the old Grand House, the Whale and Ale and Ports O’Call Restaurant.

“San Pedro is a small town, but there are many very good restaurants in town. Every single one has its own characteristics, charm and great food, so being the new kid on the block, you have to become competitive in terms of quality, price and service,” he says.

When Ravalli let him design the menu for the Blue Grotto, Aghilipour combined both his years of culinary experience and personal tastes to create a quality menu that is simple, flame-grilled and diverse.

“We have dishes from Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Morocco, Tunisia, and a great selection of Persian kabobs and stews,” he says. “Everything is flame-grilled with olive oil and herbs, and it’s a much healthier way of cooking.”

Aghilipour claims to have already lost 12 lbs. since rolling out the new menu a month ago.

The menu features more than 64 dinner selections, including vegetarian and gluten-free options, a children’s menu, and traditional desserts as well as diverse ones like baklava and saffron rice pudding. There’s also a selection of wines from California as well as imported wines from 20 regions. The Blue Grotto offers a 15 percent dinner discount to veterans and active service members, and also does catering.

“We offer a lot of different types of food — there are no restaurants in San Pedro that make the food we have,” Ravalli says. “So far, everyone has told me how delicious it is. People really have to come and try it. We’re always inviting new flavors that people like, and inquiring about what they like to eat.” His personal favorites are the lamb and veal kabobs, and the California Clam Chowder.

Aghilipour says the Blue Grotto’s kabobs and tapas have proven to be most popular among guests, especially the filet mignon kabob, which brings in regulars several nights a week. The restaurant also has a lunch menu of $10 entrees for professionals looking for a quick and quality bite on their lunch hour.

“People don’t always look for a big meal at lunch time and they don’t always have time for it,” Aghilipour says. “For $10 they get to sit down in a nice environment, and on top of that they get a nice piece of fresh fish, salmon, steak or pasta, scampi, kabobs — everything.”

A grand opening event is in the works, and every Sunday night, glasses of champagne are just $2 and singer Rosie Brand provides musical entertainment. Starting this October, the restaurant will be hosting monthly wine tastings with live opera singing, and Kabob Nights every Thursday with folkloric music and tarot card readings. Wine will be half-off on Tuesday nights.

So far, Aghilipour and Ravalli say business has gone up every week, and the feedback has been great.

“It’s like a culinary adventure of discovery because there are so many different flavors that are new to San Pedro,” Aghilipour says. “It’s a fun environment where you get to meet new people and have good food and wine. I look at it less as a job and more of a passion.” spt

The Blue Grotto is located at 1420 W. 25th St. and is open for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and dinner Monday through Sunday from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

A Golden Anniversary For San Pedro’s Golden Gate

The Vincent Thomas Bridge (photo by John Mattera)

San Pedro has more than one big birthday this year. Not only does 2013 mark the 125th anniversary of its founding, and the centennial of the Angel’s Gate Lighthouse, but this November, the Vincent Thomas Bridge is turning 50.

Dubbed “The Bridge to Nowhere,” “San Pedro’s Golden Gate,” and mistakenly thought by some to be named after a non-existent saint, the bridge that would become an icon of not only San Pedro, but the Harbor Area opened for business on Nov. 15, 1963, after a years-long push by the State Assemblyman it was named after.

The Road to “The Bridge to Nowhere”

For decades, San Pedrans used ferry service to cross the main channel to work in the canneries and naval shipyard on Terminal Island. As the Port grew, the concept of building a bridge was discussed as early as the 1920s, but when talks about building a connection got serious over the next few decades, the idea was to create an underground tube or tunnel like they have in New York City.

San Pedro’s hometown State Assemblyman Vincent Thomas, the son of Croatian immigrants, was met with skepticism and doubt that a bridge was necessary for his district, and would spend much of his career pushing through legislation to win the project’s approval. In 1958, a bill calling for the bridge’s construction was finally passed and won the support of the Board of Harbor Commissioners, which agreed to furnish rights of way. So began the $21 million San Pedro-Terminal Island Bridge project.

The official groundbreaking took place in May of 1960, but a slow bidding process meant construction wouldn’t begin until a year later, starting with the substructure. Next came the towers, pilings, 1,270 tons of tediously spun suspension cables, a concrete deck that was built from the towers in and paved, and finally the bridge’s signature green paint job that entails never-ending re-painting (no, really).

A resolution was passed to name the bridge after Assemblyman Thomas, who was still in office (he would serve 19 terms totaling 38 years). Designed by the Bridge Department of the California Division of Highways (or what we know today as CalTrans), the Vincent Thomas Bridge was the first and remains the only suspension bridge in the world to be supported entirely on pilings. It was the first suspension bridge in the United States to be welded instead of riveted, and is the third longest suspension bridge in California, after the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Late on the evening of Nov. 14, 1963, the Islander ferry made its final trip across the main channel, and at the stroke of midnight following a ribbon cutting ceremony, the bridge was officially opened to motorists. Assemblyman Thomas paid the first 25-cent toll.

The bridge under construction in 1963. (photo courtesy San Pedro Bay Historical Society)

Spanning Decades

The bridge exceeded traffic and revenue expectations, seeing 3.3 million motorists in its first year – almost one million more than projected. Within a few years, it became clear that a freeway connection would be needed, and in 1968, Governor Ronald Reagan was the keynote speaker at the official groundbreaking ceremony for the freeway link.

The bridge underwent several changes in the 1970s. Vertical safety screens were added in 1976 after longshoremen were so frustrated with dodging bottles thrown from cars above that they refused to work beneath the bridge. Two years later, a concrete center divider was added between the four lanes.

In 1983, the bridge toll was doubled to 50 cents, but lifted for eastbound traffic. It would be eliminated all together in 2000 and the tollbooths demolished.

In 1988, the bridge was closed for a 25th anniversary celebration that drew thousands and kicked off a fundraising effort to permanently light the bridge. At dusk, the bridge was lined with people carrying lights in a symbolic lighting ceremony.

In 1996, the bridge was named the official welcoming monument of the City of Los Angeles. A year later it underwent earthquake retrofitting.

The bridge was finally lit at night with blue LED lights in 2005. (photo by Jeff Loftin)

After a 17-year-long effort and fundraising campaign, permanent blue lights were finally installed across the bridge in 2005. The 160 solar-powered blue lamps made of 360 LEDs each are switched on every night from dusk to midnight.

“Sure, it took us 17 years to light the bridge, but it was such a struggle for Vincent Thomas just to get it built, and what a visionary – both the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach wouldn’t be what they are today without it,” says Louis Dominguez, who headed the bridge lighting committee.

Even though the path to making the lights a reality wasn’t without its hurdles, he says they turned out better than he first envisioned them. “It was sort of cutting edge, especially for the environment, not having to use coal-powered electricity. It’s the first LED-lit bridge to use solar panels in the country.”

Today, the bridge is temporarily closed on Labor Day for the annual Conquer the Bridge five-mile run.

 

On Camera and in Headlines

Over the years, the Vincent Thomas Bridge has been a backdrop in a number of films, TV shows and even a Jessica Simpson music video. Action scenes from To Live and Die in L.A., Charlie’s Angels and Gone in Sixty Seconds were all shot on the bridge.

Last year, it made headlines when Top Gun director Tony Scott shocked onlookers and the world when he parked his Prius atop the bridge, climbed the fence and leapt to his death. Scott had filmed scenes near the bridge in the past and had talked about wanting to shoot on the bridge for a future project.

The bridge has seen a number of bizarre and headline-making incidents over the years.

In 1976, tightrope walker Steve McPeak and his assistant successfully walked the cables of the bridge and were arrested by California Highway Patrol officers waiting for them below. In the 1980s, someone shot out one of the bridge’s navigational red lights, which required a tedious and dangerous replacement job. In 1989, the bridge made headlines again when a series of collisions resulted in a 30-car pileup, although no one was seriously injured. In 1990, diver Lawrence Andreassen, a bronze medalist in the 1964 Olympics, died diving from the bridge’s west tower in an attempt to set a new world record for the highest dive from a bridge. He had completed a dangerous dive from the Gerald Desmond Bridge two years earlier.

 

From Idea to Icon

Like many architectural landmarks, the Vincent Thomas Bridge has become an icon for San Pedro that has been featured in countless logos and images over the decades.

Anne Hansford, archivist at the San Pedro Bay Historical Society, says the bridge had a significant impact on the day-to-day lives of San Pedrans. “If you worked at the naval shipyard, which many people here in San Pedro did, it made your day so much faster, it just made life so much easier if you were heading east,” she says.

Fellow Historical Society member Chuck Short agrees. “It did replace one of our icons that we all miss, the Islander ferry, but the bridge is much more convenient and has become one of few San Pedro icons that are so recognizable.”

The one thing most people don’t know about the bridge, Hansford says, is just how hard Assemblyman Thomas had to fight to make it a reality. “There was just no credible belief in Sacramento that it could be worth the money; they really had the attitude that it was a bridge to nowhere. It was a very hard struggle for him,” she says. “Now it’s become a very recognizable symbol and it photographs so beautifully from so many angles.” spt

Bridge by the Numbers

* The bridge is 6,060 feet long and its towers are 365 feet tall, 35 stories above water.
* The road is 52 feet wide.
* The bridge has 19 cables made up of 212 wires each.
* It was built to withstand 90 mph winds.
* The bridge is supported on 990 steel piles each supporting 145 tons.
* 32,000 vehicles cross the bridge on a given weekday.
* The bridge cost $21 million to build.
* It is the third largest span bridge in California, the first and only suspension bridge in the world to be supported entirely on pilings, and the first suspension bridge in the United States to be welded, not riveted.
* The original toll to cross the bridge in either direction was 25 cents.
* The first car accident on the bridge occurred on October 6, 1964 and the one-millionth car crossed the bridge on March 9, 1964.
* High wire artist Steve McPeak was fined $126 for walking the bridge’s cables with his assistant in 1976.
* The bridge is lit by 160 lamps, each composed of 360 LEDs.

Sources: Port of Los Angeles, San Pedro Bay Historical Society, San Pedro News-Pilot, Associated Press

Holy Trinity’s Eagles Have Landed

New Eagle Scouts (l to r): Brad Fistonich, Matt Yracheta and Austin Leavitt (photo: Anita Yracheta & Julio Lemus)

Brad Fistonich, Austin Leavitt and Matt Yracheta aren’t your typical high school seniors. In addition to balancing varsity football, heavy class loads and choosing between college acceptance letters, the 18-year-olds have spent ten years going camping, earning merit badges and moving up in the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America. Three months ago, all three became Eagle Scouts, the highest rank in scouting, and an honor earned by only 5 percent of scouts annually.

On March 9, Fistonich, Leavitt and Yracheta had their Eagle Scout Court of Honor at Holy Trinity Parish, where they are members of Troop 234, and are the 24th, 25th and 26th scouts in the history of the troop to make Eagle. Congresswoman Janice Hahn was on hand to present them with certificates of honor from President Barack Obama.

“I’m extremely proud of what Matt, Austin and Brad have accomplished; they are great scouts and excellent role models for San Pedro’s youth both in and out of scouting,” says Troop 234 Scoutmaster Dwayne Cooper. “One of the aims of scouting is to develop well-rounded young men who are prepared to give back to their community. Through the service they provided in their scouting career and especially their Eagle projects, they have already begun to give back.”

Although the teens began their paths to Eagle Scout in different troops and went to different high schools – Yracheta attends the San Pedro High School Marine Science Magnet, and Fistonich and Leavitt go to Mary Star of the Sea High School – the three have developed and maintained a tight bond strengthened by their shared experience of making Eagle Scout.

“Boy Scouts isn’t all fun and games; it’s serious stuff and in the end, it’s very rewarding,” says Fistonich, who started out as a Cub Scout at Holy Trinity before bridging over to the Boy Scouts, eventually becoming a Senior Patrol Leader. Of the 21 merit badges needed to become an Eagle Scout, his favorite was the Shotgun Merit Badge.

In addition to the merit badges, Eagle Scouts must plan, lead and oversee a volunteer service project. Fistonich organized a 40-volunteer effort to renovate the gardening center at Silver Spur Elementary School in Rancho Palos Verdes.

“The whole process was two days, but there were dozens of prep days, which were probably even harder than the actual work days,” he says.

Leavitt spent months planning his project last summer to clean up his school’s deteriorating shipping container-turned weight room. The swimmer and honor roll student oversaw almost 50 volunteers. During his scouting career, he earned the 60 Nights of Camping Badge and reached the highest rank at Chawanakee Summer Camp.

“It’s been a long journey and it’s really nice to be able to finish after 10 years,” he says. “As you move up in the ranks, you figure out what you want to do and how you’re going to lead and be an example to others.”

For his service project, Yracheta led a two-weekend effort to replenish emergency kits in classrooms at Holy Trinity School. He’s also participated in food drives and camped in all types of weather conditions, earning him the 20 Nights Camping award. A member of San Pedro High School’s 2011 Marine League Title-winning varsity football team, he likens scouting to sports.

“When my team went 10-0, it was just like Boy Scouts in that when it was tiring and we wanted to stop and go home, we just had to keep pushing and pushing and go for gold.”

All three teens thank their parents, families, friends and scoutmaster for supporting them through their journeys to Eagle. They have all received multiple acceptance letters from universities. Yracheta plans on attending Marymount College and ultimately UCLA, Leavitt plans on attending California State University Long Beach, and Fistonich is still deciding.

“I think the Boy Scouts has given my son confidence, maturity, and the ability to speak in front of lots of people,” says Brad’s mother, Sharon Fistonich. “I think it’s a great growing experience and I’m very proud. I know all three boys will be friends for life.”

Yaracheta and Leavitt have been scouts together since they were Cub Scouts at Taper Elementary School, where Austin’s father Cary Leavitt was a Den Leader.

“I think the Boy Scout experience gives young men the skills and confidence to succeed at anything they do in the future,” Cary Leavitt says. “At Holy Trinity’s Troop 234, Dwayne Cooper is the most patient and understanding leader.”

Yracheta’s mother Anita says her son and Leavitt have developed a strong bond during the past 10 years that hasn’t changed despite going to different high schools.

“Matt and Austin have been friends since second or third grade, and even though they went to different high schools, it never changed their friendship. The scouts have kept them connected,” she says. “To see them grow and mature into such nice young men has been great. I’m proud of all three to be able to have accomplished what they have.” spt

A Third Chance at Life

Alicia Cline

It was a sunny afternoon in June 2005, and like many San Pedrans, Alicia Cline lined up excitedly to accept her high school diploma at Pirate Stadium, her family watching proudly from the stands. But unlike most graduates, as she made her way on crutches across the stage, rows of her classmates slowly rose to their feet and applauded her.

Only a year earlier, when most of her peers were worried about what they’d do over summer break, Cline faced a decision that could mean the difference between life or death: she had been diagnosed with stage four bone cancer after breaking her femur, and had to decide whether to have her leg amputated, or undergo a procedure that would save it, but at the cost of wearing a brace for the rest of her life.

Caught between the opinions of two doctors and her torn mother, the strong-willed 16-year-old opted for the choice with the best odds of survival. A few weeks after her seventeenth birthday, her right leg was amputated above her knee, and her life forever changed.

“Becoming sick makes you grow up really fast, and I think cancer really changed the person who I was. I was hell-bent on staying strong for my family,” says Cline, now 25 and finishing her bachelor’s degree in sociology at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

She still has the strong, witty, infectious and bluntly honest personality that helped her face cancer as a teen. It would help her again when her cancer returned twice in college: once in her lung, and again in an ovary. Today, Cline is officially in remission.

“When I found out, I just cried; it was such a huge relief. Thinking I might have cancer again every time I had an ache or pain for the past eight years was not fun.”

But despite all she’s endured, Cline will be the first to tell you that it could’ve been worse. While in treatment at Kaiser Permanente in Hollywood, she became friends with another teen in the pediatric ward named Joanna Cervantes. Sharing photos, they realized that they both went to San Pedro High and they both hung out in senior court.

Cervantes would also lose a limb in her fight against cancer.

“I chose to have my leg amputated, but she didn’t have a choice,” says Cline. “One night, it got really bad, and they had to take her arm. Later on, we both had recurrences, and unfortunately, she passed away.”

After months of chemotherapy, Cline returned to school for her senior year on crutches and a prosthetic wearing a wig and jeans. She got involved with a new club organizing SPHS’s first-ever Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The experience boosted her confidence and she decided she wasn’t going to hide beneath her wig and jeans anymore, boldly coming to school one day in a dress and no wig.

“People who knew my situation were supportive, but it wasn’t easy being open. High school kids can be mean.”

That May, Cline and her father, who had overcome Hodgkin’s lymphoma himself, were among the first group to complete the survivor’s lap at Relay. It’s an event she and her family still participate in today. Later that summer, they went on a family vacation to Disneyworld through the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

“It was hard to see her go through something like this and not be able to just fix it,” recalls her mother, Cathleen Cline Dovolis. “If it weren’t for our family’s support and especially our sense of humor, I don’t know how we would have survived the whole thing together. Laughter was a huge part of keeping us all sane during that time. Alicia is one special young lady. She is my true inspiration and the epitome of the word ‘survivor’ for sure.”

Cline also participates in Relay for Life at CSUDH, where she’s a member of several clubs and the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority. She’s taken an interest in disability studies, and is considering graduate school.

“Regardless of what I do with my degree, I want to help people. It would be cool if I could get involved with the American Cancer Society or some type of nonprofit that helps amputees or cancer patients,” she says.

Entering adult life as an amputee and three-time cancer survivor is an experience Cline doesn’t sugar coat. In the real world of student debt, a competitive job market and steep medical costs, she sometimes catches herself second guessing her decision, but ultimately knows she might not be here if she hadn’t bravely made it.

“My patience might be tested, I might get sad, but I know I can handle it and at the end of the day, I’m not dead,” Cline says. “My mantra and something I tell my boyfriend all the time is that it might not be easy, but it’s going to be worth it.” spt

Relay for Life will be held May 18 at San Pedro High School. For more info, visit www.relayforlife.org.

55 Years Of Beauty

Andre Nizetich poses next to an old-fashioned hair dryer at his San Pedro studio. (photo by Joshua Stecker)

Andre Nizetich takes a break from cutting hair foils in the back of the busy Western Avenue salon that bears his name. The energetic hairdresser scrolls through his iPhone as we sit down to chat – he’s busy planning his next hair summit.

You wouldn’t know he is 78 and has been cutting hair since 1957. You also wouldn’t know the San Pedro native is a nationally renowned hair color expert and educator.

Retrospective questions about his career take a turn to the present and soon he is deep in discussion about the latest trend of ammonia-free at-home hair color. Nizetich’s endless fascination with the hair industry keeps him on his toes, and it all began, of all places, at the U.S. Coast Guard station on Terminal Island.

“When I was in the service stationed at Terminal Island, a guy there told me I should go to El Camino College because they had a great cosmetology program,” he remembers.

The idea struck a chord with something he’d been told years earlier, before he worked for Ford Motors, Douglas Aircraft and Green Hills cemetery. When he was a student at San Pedro High School, Nizetich was told by a school counselor that he should find an artistic career that involved working with his hands.

“I thought it sounded like a fit, so I followed his advice,” he says.

A few years later, fresh out of cosmetology school, newly married and with a baby, Nizetich found himself a rare male hairdresser in a female-dominated industry. He took a job at Virginia’s Beauty Salon on Gaffey Street, where owner Myrtle Klages encouraged him.

“I was one of the few males in the business and I got a ribbing for it, but it served me well,” he recalls. “I was busy right away.”

Four years later in 1961, Nizetich took a gamble and opened his own salon in Redondo Beach. So began Andres Coiffures (later Andres Hair Studio) and the innovative coloring techniques that would lead to patents and acclaim.

Frustrated with traditional highlighting methods, Nizetich invented a device in the early ‘70s called the Super Streak, which was later sold to Clairol (he also invented and patented the hair foil cutting machine he was using earlier). In the process, he began seriously studying hair color, taking matters into his own hands, literally.

“I got a lot of hair and I made swatches, I even got a microscope and put the hair under it when I colored it to look at it to see what happened,” he says. “I found out that all the information we were getting about what happens with hair color was inaccurate.”

He challenged authority and questioned what hair color manufacturers taught.

“I knew that what they were teaching was wrong and it was really hindering the learning process,” he says.

Nizetich’s studies would become the basis of the curriculum of the American Board of Certified Hair Colorists, where he is president. Today, he travels the country teaching hair colorists and administering the board’s stringent exam. His own salon, which relocated to San Pedro, has six board certified colorists, the most of any in Southern California.

Nizetich still conducts hair experiments in his free time and presents the findings at his annual hair summit, which draws hundreds. He’s written books, made DVDs and still takes some of his longtime clients at the salon.

Julie Lazarof and Kris McGinnis have worked with Nizetich for over 20 years and now own Andres Hair Studio. They’re both amazed at how passionate he still is in training younger staff members. Both say he’s an inspiration because he still finds joy and new ideas in their industry, even after 50 years.

“He’s such an inspiration and he teaches us so much,” says stylist Jenna Lusic. “He’s also really funny.”

Nizetich has been married to his wife Joann for 56 years. His children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are some of the salon’s regular clients.

“It’s a joy working with the people I work with,” he says. “And I would like to thank all of my clients past and present for their support and for putting up with me.”

Nizetich with Regis Philbin on AM Los Angeles circa 1970s. (photo provided by Andre Nizetich)

Nizetich says his best advice for aspiring hairdressers is actually to avoid beauty school. “This sounds crazy, but there are literally thousands of people going to beauty school and they never go to work because there are no jobs. Go to a salon you want to work at and volunteer to work for free doing what you can; be the first one there in the morning, and the last one to leave. Do that for six weeks, then ask the owner if they will hire you as an apprentice.”

And while it wasn’t easy being a male hair dresser in the 1950s (“My father never forgave me for it. He wanted me to be a fisherman,” Nizetich quips), or going up against the might of big-name hair color manufacturers in the name of education, Nizetich says his career has been nothing but fulfilling.

“I’m working pretty hard to uplift professional hair color and give it a better reputation,” he says. “I’ve never regretted it, I’ve had a lot of fun and it’s been great being able to make people, whether clients or hair dressers, feel better about themselves.” spt

Andres Hair Studio is located at 28146 S. Western Ave. For more info, call (310) 547-1168 or visit www.andreshairstudio.com.

Beauty Isn’t Only Skin Deep

Artist Meagan Segal photographed in her booth at Crafted. Inset: Segal’s “Pansy For Your Thoughts (2012) Photo by Joshua Stecker

Stepping into Meagan Segal’s booth at Crafted, you might feel drawn to the antique decor and its dark touches. Framed paintings and prints cover the black and white striped walls, and their subjects are printed on all kinds of items around the shop. It’s quaint and cozy feeling, with hints of darkness. In one corner, embroidered pillows rest against an old cushioned wooden bench. On closer inspection, their designs aren’t what they might first appear to be – framed within Victorian floral designs are a rib cage, a pelvis bone, a human heart.

“Those are actually intestines,” Segal says, pointing to what you might first assume to be a coil of flowers.

In other pieces, veins turn into flower stems. A jawbone and teeth disguise themselves in leafy frames. Behind Segal’s desk, a heart dripping with blood looks three-dimensional emerging against a pattern of simple hearts.

Segal seamlessly blends the dainty and the bloody, the pretty and the creepy, exploring inner beauty quite literally.

“I say that my work balances the fine line between the grotesque and the beautiful because I think dark things can still be really beautiful and intriguing,” she says. “Insides don’t have to be disgusting and repulsive.”

Named after the creatures from Lewis Caroll’s poem “Jabberwocky,” Mome Rath Garden was one of the first booths to open at Crafted last June. Segal, who turns 27 this month, had moved back home to San Pedro after finishing art school in Brooklyn and showing in galleries throughout Los Angeles.

“I kind of had a hard time with the job market, but I had a really great reception at gallery shows,” she says.

But for all the positive feedback, she still had a hard time with sales. Art, after all, is a luxury, and not something people keep in their budgets during a tough economy. “After that and having several jobs I wasn’t really happy with, I thought, ok maybe it’s time to branch out with my work and find other outlets and ways that I can make money,” Segal says.

She decided to venture into the crafting world and it just so happened that the developer of Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station was opening a massive year-round craft marketplace in her hometown.

“I think a lot of people still have this notion that crafts are your grandmother’s knitting. That they’re for older people or cutesy and not really fine art,” Segal says. “But I think over the last eight years or so, with the start of Etsy, Unique LA and Renegade Craft Fair, it’s really been elevated to much more of an art.”

She opened a shop on Etsy.com, was accepted as a vendor at Crafted and started doing craft shows. It was a different scene from the serious art world she had spent much of her life studying.

“From when I was very little, I remember telling my mom that I was going to learn to speak French and go to art school in Paris, because to me, that was what artists did,” Segal says. “I really never wanted to do anything else. I started taking art classes and studying very seriously when I was eight or nine years old.”

She went on to take the most art classes of any student at Chadwick School in Rancho Palos Verdes, where she substitute teaches today. By the time Segal graduated from high school, she had a strong grasp on techniques of drawing, sculpture, and her personal favorite, painting.

It was at the Pratt Institute where she found her subject matter and thematic direction: anatomy and physiology.

“As I got older, being so far for home, I started to have anxiety for the first time and a lot of that stemmed from physical feelings. I’m also a bit of a hypochondriac,” she says. “So when it came to my work, that was what was on my mind all the time. I stated focusing on pictures of the stomach and it kind of went from there.”

Segal once studied a pig’s stomach she bought from a butcher in Chinatown. The experience grossed her out, but she got the up-close (and smelly) study she was looking for. Most of the time, she turned to textbook photos and illustrations to master realistic depictions of skeletons and internal organs. Having a doctor father also granted her access to good anatomical illustrations.

Branching out into the craft world has broadened the nature of her work. “It’s sort of allowed me to think in a more open way with my work in the versatility of my designs. I started about two years ago making work that was a little bit more palatable in terms of being a little less visceral and gory.”

At Crafted, she gets a variety of reactions from shoppers and passersby. “For the most part, the reception here has been great. I know my work isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, so I actually was surprised by how well I was received by a lot of people and how many people were into my work,” she says. “I have people that step in and they’re like, ‘At first, you don’t realize it’s body parts and skulls.’”

In addition to original paintings, Mome Rath Garden offers framed prints of different sizes, plush pins, t-shirts, pillows, notecards, iPhone cases – you name it. Some of her prints are made on handmade paper by fellow Crafted vendor Jonathan Ventura, of the print shop Anon-Y-Mouse.

If someone is looking for a particular theme or body part not in her shop, Segal will come up with a design. She’s currently working on requests for kidney and brain pieces. She’s even designed tattoos.

Sometimes people are drawn to particular pieces. Recently, one shopper felt a connection with “Pansy for Your Thoughts,” a drawing of a skull in profile wearing a crown of flowers. The woman’s mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and, like the fallen flower pedals, was slowing losing memories. She ended up buying several copies for her siblings.

“I thought that was really sweet, I love hearing people’s personal connections, even if their interpretation is different than mine, it doesn’t matter,” Segal says.

She’s getting ready for Valentine’s Day by embroidering human hearts onto vintage handkerchiefs; another material fusion of her inspirations. “When people stop and take time to ask me about my work and comment on it, it’s very touching,” Segal says. “As an artist, other than just my love of making things and sharing them with people, one of my goals is getting people to hear my point of view and think in a way that they hadn’t thought before.” spt

Little Mermaid Lands At South Shores

Dual Prince Erics and Ariels: (l to right) Andres Srsen, Lourdes Zapata, Cristina Roche, Sean Rosenfeld (photo by Joshua Stecker)

The bell rings at South Shores Elementary and dozens of drama students get into position in the school auditorium. With only a few days of rehearsal time left before winter break, it may as well be showtime. Musical Director Dr. Paul Goldenstrikes a chord on the piano and students stage left and right sway as they carry long stretches of blue fabric to set the underwater scene for this year’s musical: The Little Mermaid.

In a little over a month, the 200 fourth- and fifth-graders will perform sold-out shows at California State University Dominguez Hills, a tradition of the performing arts magnet elementary school for more than 30 years.

“We make it work every year, everyone’s very passionate about this,” says co-director Carolina Brown, who has led the school’s highly regarded and acclaimed theatrical productions for the past 21 years. “This is the hardest play I’ve blocked or directed. Every play has its challenges and the kids come up with solutions sometimes.”

This year’s musical is the school’s biggest production yet. It’s also the first time the production will be put on in the winter (thanks to the shortened school year).

Whether playing a leading role or a tentacle, acting in a sketch between scenes, singing in the chorus, dancing, or working behind the scenes, all fourth and fifth graders have a part in the production, which has two rotating casts.

“The kids come prepared and a lot has to do with the culture of the school. They’re used to working together toward a common goal,” says co-director Jana Shaver, watching fifth-graders Oliver Stewart and Cristina Roche act out an impassioned father-daughter argument between Ariel and King Triton. “The children are really willing to learn and to take risks because we create a safe environment for them.”

Marie Vidusic spent weeks teaching dozens of dancers original choreography, which they perform with liveliness in synchronization. “I love Broadway and I want it to be as realistic as possible,” she says.

When the whole production comes together, you’d think you were watching a high school performance. Students at South Shores begin their arts training early, and it shows. Their professionalism, talent and confidence are remarkable. spt

South Shores Magnet School for the Visual and Performing Arts’ production of the Little Mermaid will take place January 23 and 24 at the California State University Dominguez Hills University Theatre. For ticket info, call (310) 832-6596.