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.

A Film Festival For The Community

Ziggy Mrkich and Renee O'Connor, co-directorsof SPIFF (photo by John Mattera)

It was founded to celebrate the diverse culture and community of San Pedro, and after its successful inaugural event last October, the San Pedro International Film Festival is back for its second annual event.

San Pedro has always had a rich film history, in fact, several movies — the original King Kong, Chinatown, The Usual Suspects, Pearl Harbor, and (500) Days of Summer — and television shows — NCIS, Mad Men and Dexter — have been shot on the streets of the city.

It’s the films, and the community of San Pedro, that the San Pedro International Film Festival was founded to celebrate, and founder Ziggy Mrkich proved last year that she is up for the job.

Mrkich is no stranger to the film festival circuit, she has more than a decade of festival involvement on her resume, and after a successful inaugural event, she is “very excited,” for this year’s festivities.

“We had a very successful first year,” she says. “And I am dedicated to continuing this festival and continuing to showcase films, really good films, from the festival circuit.”

“San Pedro has a long and rich history in the cinematic arts. With dozens of feature films, television shows and commercials shot here every year, it’s fitting that we now are host to a festival that celebrates the city’s diverse culture and community, and its contributions to film,” says Los Angeles City Councilman, Joe Buscaino.

Last year’s event, which drew more than 700 people, was the Los Angeles premier of Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. The film went on to win several major awards, including Lawrence’s Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

“I was very surprised, but extremely happy to acquire the film as part of our first year,” Mrkich says. “We were very proud to have had the opportunity to be the first in the area to screen it.”

This year’s festival will feature screenings of both documentaries and short films. Mrkich says they received more than 550 submissions. One of the hardest parts of the festival planning is securing feature films for the weekend, she says.

“I handpick the feature films based on the attention the films are getting at other festivals, namely the Toronto Film Festival,” she says. “In addition, I really try to include films that are already getting Oscar buzz.”

She says oftentimes it is difficult to secure the films, but it’s this that makes her job “exciting.”

“It’s actually really very hard to secure feature films,” she says. “I do get a lot of ‘No’s,’ but programming isn’t easy at any festival, but it all works out in the end, you just have to know going into it that you will not get to screen every film you want.”

The workload lightened a bit this year for Mrkich when she brought Renee O’Connor on board.

The duo says the goal of this year’s festival is to “provide a service to the community by attracting new visitors to San Pedro, and exposing them to films they may otherwise not see.”

O’Connor, a director, producer and actress best known for her role as Gabrielle in the television series Xena: Warrior Princess, is facilitating the filmmakers for various panels. She says the panels will include information on producing small and large budget independent films.

“I am passionate about helping fellow filmmakers,” she says. “These panels will allow for future filmmakers to be in the same room as current filmmakers — it’s oftentimes hard to get into the industry, and this will provide an opportunity for people to share their experience of how they did it.”

The San Pedro International Film Festival is featuring screenings at the historic Warner Grand Theatre, as well as new outdoor screenings, pop-up screenings and a special screening aboard the newest addition to San Pedro, the historic Navy battleship, the U.S.S. Iowa.

In addition, Mrkich and O’Connor will be paying tribute to legendary filmmaker Tony Scott, who died in San Pedro last August.

Scott, a renowned presence in Hollywood, spent over 40 years working in the business, carving out a career as both a director and producer. Top Gun, arguably his best-known film, starring Tom Cruise, grossed more than $350 worldwide.

Scott also directed Days of Thunder (also starring Tom Cruise), Beverly Hills Cop II, True Romance, Crimson Tide (starring Denzel Washington), and Spy Game (starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt), among many others.

“The tribute will include a brief retrospective of Scott’s work and his contributions to the San Pedro community,” O’Connor says. “Tony Scott shot several films in San Pedro, and has a very strong tie to this community and we want to honor that, and thank him for his contributions to the city.”

Scott’s family, including widow, Donna Scott, is expected to be in attendance.

O’Connor and Mrkich say they are “overly excited” about this year’s festival. “This is the community’s festival,” Mrkich says. “We have an open door for people who want to volunteer or be involved — this is a festival for the community, and that is why we are including a local program.”

O’Connor says that anyone who has never been to a festival should experience it just once. “This is a great opportunity to come and experience what a film festival can create,” she says. “You can come in off the street and sit down and be right next to the person who wrote and directed the film you are about to see — it’s wonderful.”

Mrkich adds, “The San Pedro International Film Festival is a win-win for audiences and filmmakers. We support filmmakers by providing an audience and platform for films, and the audience can see films they otherwise might have missed.” spt

The San Pedro International Film Festival will take place the weekend of October 4-6 at various venues in downtown San Pedro. This special edition of San Pedro Today includes the complete program and schedule for the festival. For more news and info, visit www.spiffest.org.

Still Pedalin’

The Bike Palace has been a familiar fixture on Pacific Ave. for 40 years. (photos by John Mattera)

The typically pleasant Southern California weather coupled with financial savings and health benefits has pushed communities across the state into a “Bike Friendly” state of mind, and San Pedro, though somewhat resistant at first, is on board.

As the bike community grows in San Pedro, and the city continues to add bike lanes and racks, there is one long-time staple that has believed in the benefits of biking for 40 years.

The Bike Palace, located at 16th and Pacific Avenue, opened 40 years ago by San Pedro native, Kuzma “Matty” Domancich, is not just a staple in San Pedro, it is a part of the community’s history.

Domancich, who owned a Shell service station prior to opening the bike shop, had no intention of opening such a business. He said it all started when he became upset when Shell made the decision to become self-service.

“It wasn’t right,” he says. “They wanted me to sit in a chair and wait for people to come in and pay for gas – and then stay sitting while they went out to pump their gas.”

He owned the station for over 25 years, and through the entire time he spent his days repairing cars, cleaning windshields, checking tire pressure, oil, water and pumping gas for all his customers.

“As they were giving me my new orders, I saw a gentleman riding a bicycle and not having personally ridden or owned a bicycle before, I told the Shell people I would be out in 30 days and that I was opening a bicycle shop,” remembers Domancich.

It didn’t take long for Domancich to get his new venture off the ground – he simply walked across the street from his gas service station and asked to rent a small room off of the then San Pedro Motors, they agreed, and his journey began.

In 1977, the owners of San Pedro Motors informed Domancich that they were retiring and wanted to sell the real estate. Domancich, who didn’t have the money to buy it outright, approached longtime friend Tony Jabuka, who was a well-respected general contractor around town, and the pair partnered and purchased the property.

Domancich’s extensive background as a mechanic helped grow the business immediately, and he loved every minute of it, he says.

In 1974, Domancich hired his godson, the son and namesake of his business partner, Tony Jabuka.

Tony Jabuka (left), godson of and Matty Domancich (right), currently owns and runs The Bike Palace.

“I gave Tony a job helping out around the bike shop throughout the summers,” says Domancich. “He worked with then head mechanic, Dave Summers, and had an immediate knack for working with bicycles.”

Tony Jabuka would continue working for Domancich until 1979, when he decided to attend Oregon State University, but he came back each Christmas to work.

“I have always enjoyed being in the shop,” explains Jabuka. “I have so many memories from way back when I first started, it was always just a good fit and something kept pulling me back.”

In March of 1984, Jabuka came to an agreement with his father and Domancich, that he would become a partner in The Bike Palace.

“My mechanical skills and Matty’s business sense and salesmanship made us a great team,” says Jabuka. “I remember we used to listen to spring training baseball games on the radio while working on bikes, there has always been a great bond.”

Jabuka says that as the business grew, his enthusiasm for it grew as well. “I knew I was doing something I truly loved.”

In 1987, Domancich decided it was time to retire, and Jabuka knew he wanted to keep the business and tradition of The Bike Palace alive and well.

“It was now all up to me, to continue to give our customers the care Matty had nourished into the business over the past 14 years,” he says.

Now, 26 years later, much has changed, but so much is still the same at The Bike Palace.

With an extensive inventory of bikes ranging from mountain bikes to BMX and everything in between, The Bike Palace has become the hub for the cycling communities of San Pedro and Palos Verdes.

“We carry a much more extensive selection of bikes and accessories than we ever did,” explains Jabuka. “We try to carry most every type of bicycle, for most any type of rider. Tricycles for infants and adults, road racing and touring bikes, hybrid, mountain bikes, BMX, freestyle and fixies. And of course, beach cruisers in every flavor of the rainbow.”

Jabuka says that through the years it has always been about great customer service and promoting the “love of riding.”

“We, ourselves, try to ride as often as possible,” he says. “In San Pedro, we have all these great, cool spots and things to stop and look at – it is a beautiful community, and one that is now becoming more and more bicycle friendly.”

Jabuka says business has gotten “tougher and tougher” through the years, with new competition from places like Target, and of course, the Internet. “Christmas used to be one of our busiest times, especially with the kids’ market, but that has changed dramatically because of big box stores coming to town. It is definitely a challenge, but I have a great crew, who are now like family after working with me for decades. We are the hub for the cycling community in San Pedro and the Palos Verdes Peninsula. We’re also the major sponsor of the Peninsula Cycle Club, a group of over 270 enthusiastic cyclists.”

Jabuka says he can’t believe that it has been 40 years since The Bike Palace first opened, saying “time flies when you are having fun.”

“It is a really special feeling, I was here almost from the beginning with Matty,” he says. “To think about it, about how he handed it off to me and let me take off running with it, it is emotional. The store has grown and changed, but the feel is still the same and the memories are etched in the walls.”

(Left) Francisco Figueroaworks on a bike in the shop's repair room. (Right) The shop carries bikes of every shape and size for children and adults.

Jabuka, along with Domancich, hope the community of San Pedro continues to embrace cycling as a great alternative mode of transportation. Though both agreed, that unlike a lot of other coastal communities, San Pedro has some work to do.

Jabuka says that in places like Hermosa and Long Beach, there are routes for bicyclists to be able to travel around California. He said connecting San Pedro and Long Beach through a bike route will really open up doors for avid riders to be able to get out and ride.

“All we can hope is that through bike lanes and routes more and more riders will take to the streets and explore the great city and region they live in,” he says. “I support the efforts to becoming more bike friendly, and I think the community will too, when they get used to it.”

Domancich and Jabuka said they are very thankful for the support of San Pedro residents and all their customers from around the area.

“We certainly want to thank all of our customers through our 40 year history,” says Jabuka. “We are all a family, and it is very special to us. We have had some really great times here and the memories are wonderful.”

Jabuka continues, “Over the years our passion could not have been accomplished without the fine work of many employees, including T.J. Tapia, Jose Carlos, Francisco Figueroa, John Aunedi, Bob Applegate, Sergio Diaz, Sze Chaung, Eric Luk, Steve Collister, Ryan Hamilton, Adam Olson, Kirk Shandrew, Gary Weiss, Steve Turner, Ron Morgan, Raymond Medak, Dave Nelson, Duane Hamilton, Tony Accetta, Paul Anvar, Hector Lopez, David Pratt, Israel Sanchez, Jose Aguilar, Jack Druskovich, Mario Rivera, Frank Tyfalt, Eugene Hernandez, Chris Correa, John Menzies, Greg Gobel, Carmelo Figueroa, Cora Webber, Autumn Baldwin, Candy Rapoza and Kay Scarpelli.”

Domancich adds that he is proud of Jabuka, and very pleased to see the strides that not only the business but also the community of San Pedro are making to become a bike friendly destination.

“I am so happy with everything that goes well in San Pedro, especially when we do it right,” Domancich says. “My godson Tony and his crew are wonderful with the customers, they do such a great job – I stop in the shop every week, the memories are great and being able to celebrate 40 years is a great accomplishment.” spt

The Bike Palace is located at 1600 S. Pacific Ave. For more info, call 310-832-1966 or visit www.thebikepalace.com.

If They Build It…Will We Come?

(l to r) Eric Johnson, Wayne Ratkovich and Alan Johnson of the L.A. Waterfront Alliance. Photographed at the Brown Bros. Building in downtown San Pedro.

It wasn’t that long ago when Downtown Los Angeles was still trying to find its way. Before Staples Center, before L.A. Live, before the lofts, the new restaurants and the Nokia Theater, Downtown Los Angeles was suffering. There were even news reports on all the vacancies in the skyscrapers. It wasn’t a pretty picture. Cut to today and what do we see? A vibrant, urban environment, constantly busy, offering world-class entertainment and top-notch restaurants in a fun and safe atmosphere with plenty of parking. Concerts, sports, special events all seem to happen in Downtown L.A. these days.

Redevelopment is happening across Southern California. Look at Hollywood Blvd. with the Dolby (formerly Kodak) Theatre and the top of the line retail shops, and Old Town Pasadena with the same type of revitalization. It was only a matter of time before our waterfront became a top priority for redevelopment.

Earlier this year, Wayne Ratkovich of The Ratkovich Company, and Alan and Eric Johnson of Jerico Development, known collectively as the L.A. Waterfront Alliance, were awarded the opportunity by the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Commission to redevelop the current Ports O’ Call location. It’s a much needed yet daunting task as Ports O’ Call has fallen under hard times in recent years. Weekend crowds still fill the San Pedro Fish Market, but weekday traffic across the village is minimal. Most everyone in San Pedro will agree that it’s in dire need of redevelopment.

San Pedro Today caught up with Ratkovich and Alan Johnson (his brother Eric was unavailable) at The Ratkovich Company office in Downtown Los Angeles to discuss their “world-class” plans for the waterfront, their vision for the future, and what San Pedro can expect in the coming years.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length

San Pedro Today: Why did Jerico Development want to get involved with the Ports O’ Call redevelopment project in the first place and why did The Ratkovich Company want to join in? What was the genesis behind it?

Alan Johnson: As you know, the talk was that Ports O’ Call was going to be redeveloped and there was a lot of interest in town. We were approached by several people about doing it and well, you know, that’s not our thing. We do our own stuff. [Jerico] didn’t have the wherewithal to take on that big of a project. Then [someone asked], “Would you like to meet Wayne Ratkovich?” And I said absolutely! I’ve followed Wayne and his career for quite a while. I personally wasn’t going to miss the chance to meet Wayne. And the prospect of actually doing something together was just beyond even thinking about.

Wayne Ratkovich: That’s how it all began. We were introduced to one another. I don’t think [The Ratkovich Company] would have taken on the project if we didn’t have someone like Eric and Alan locally that would be part of the development. We needed to have somebody with a local presence. If we didn’t have that, I don’t think we would have put our hat in the ring. When we met, it seemed like we’d probably get along okay together. We shared a common culture in many ways. We also share the fact that this is very important for the City of Los Angeles and for San Pedro. This is important stuff. Alan and Eric have waited a long time to see this property improved and we saw it as an opportunity to fulfill our mission, our development company’s mission, which is to ‘profitably produce developments that improve the quality of urban life.’

SPT: What’s your opinion of Ports O’Call in its current state today?

Johnson: It needs a lot of help. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. There is an opportunity to do something much better than what is there. Keep much of the good, but give it a new life.

SPT: There is concern from the community that a place like the San Pedro Fish Market, which is a San Pedro institution, might become a victim of the redevelopment. What’s your mindset going into what will stay and what will go?

Ratkovich: We have to look at what we think belongs there. It must draw, and draw not only from the San Pedro community, but it must draw from the region. We got to have something that has a magnetic force to it. As we go through all of that process of trying to figure out what that is, it would be downright foolish to toss away existing success stories. We can’t guarantee anything at this point, but common sense says you want to keep what is already producing good revenue and doing good business as you build more to it. I think that’s the framework we have.

SPT: At the first public meeting at the Warner Grand, you gave a fairly lengthy presentation prior to the public comment of all the other harbor locations across the world; other ports and harbors that are on a much bigger scale than what is currently there now. Is that the mindset going into this project? Something that big and grand?

Johnson: Yes. Big. We have all talked about big. In a city like Los Angeles, with all the other world-class top attractions, I think it only makes sense. I think Ports O’Call deserves it. I think it’s fitting there. It’s L.A.’s waterfront. There are a lot of factors that say it should be big.

Ratkovich: We’re not looking at this from the standpoint of wanting to do big things just because we want do big things. We’re not measuring this in square footage. We’re saying if this is going to be successful, you can’t think small. It just won’t work. You’ve got to think big. You got to draw a big picture. You have to have a big attraction. You have to induce a lot of enthusiasm, because there’s not much enthusiasm right now. There’s not much hope. So we want to reverse that.

SPT: I know you’re still in the early stages, but what have you come across as the biggest challenges so far with this redevelopment plan?

Ratkovich: We’re early, but so far everything’s going really well. If we have a challenge right now, it’s convincing the San Pedro community to be patient, because they are anxious to have something happen. And in this day and age, I wish things happened faster than they do. But it takes more time than most people think. That’s why I’ve tried to convince the world that developers are entitled to two lives instead of one, because everything takes so damn long. (laughs) Right now that’s probably the one thing that concerns us the most – keeping the support of the community. I think we got a lot of support in that first meeting and we want to keep it, but we can’t expect people who are not in our business to understand why it does take so long. Also, we’re really happy that our work with the Port has been like a partnership, which you don’t expect very often when you’re dealing with a government agency.

Johnson: The port has so much planned down there and there are so many things that have to be done just right. There is going to be a couple billion dollars spent down there between AltaSea, Ports O’Call, the infrastructure… And I tell you what, there won’t be $2 billion spent there five years from now. Everything has to be laid out and understood and made to work. The challenges… certainly one is moving people along Harbor Blvd. How is that going to happen? The worst thing you’d have is this phenomenally successful development, you know, it’s not a disaster, it’s phenomenal, but it’s like a people explosion! Take what you see there now on Mother’s Day or any holiday weekend, we’re going to quadruple that. Those are the numbers that are going to happen. So how do we do that? It’s building the infrastructures. The port’s very open to it and I think we’re making good progress talking about this. We’ve had some very productive meetings and I think if there’s a roadblock, I haven’t seen it yet. It’s just time.

Could Ports O'Call become a world-class destination for all of Los Angeles? The L.A. Waterfront Alliance thinks so.

SPT: Let’s talk about funding, since you started dropping some numbers here. Where are the funds coming from to put this development together? Have you worked out a budget of what it’s going to cost?

Ratkovich: No, we haven’t, too soon for that. Our job is to create a scenario that will attract capital. So we first have to create that scenario. We have to put together the ingredients that are necessary to attract the capital. That means some pre-commitments from tenants. Perhaps existing ones, perhaps new ones. That all has to come together, and that’s our job. If we get the ingredients that will produce revenue, then we’ll get the financing.

SPT: So to be clear, that’s the current stage you are in right now? Putting the ingredients together to get that financing? Are you confident you’ll achieve that goal?

Ratkovich: That’s correct. We feel confident that there is a lot of capital available for investment. Our job is to create the scenario that attracts that capital. It’s complicated by the fact that this is ground lease property that makes financing more challenging. It’s certainly not impossible; it just makes it more challenging. It limits the number of investors or lenders. It changes the terms. Makes it a little less attractive. Interest rates are a little higher, terms a little shorter. That kind of thing. But it’s not impossible.

SPT: As far as tenant commitments go, what’s been the general response?

Johnson: Existing or new?

SPT: New.

Johnson: We’ve got some very interesting prospects.

Ratkovich: We do. We brought in the National Real Estate group from Commercial Real Estate Services (CBRE) to work with us. And while we don’t have anything in writing from anybody yet, we do have pretty positive expectations about what they think they can do, who the brokers think they can bring in. And that’s good, because if we didn’t have that, we might as well fold tent right now. So we’re very optimistic about the possibilities.

Johnson: Regarding the current businesses there now, the Port has set it up in such a way that all the current leases end in December 2014. That’s how they tend to deliver the space. But as Wayne said earlier, you’d be pretty foolish not to take advantage of what is working down there and those old connections.

SPT: There’s been an issue with the name change, because you’ve already gone public that the Ports O’ Call name will be retired. Why the idea for the name change? And do you have a list of new names you’re considering?

Ratkovich: I’m the one who said I thought there should be a name change, and I do believe that. We don’t have a new name yet. There’s just too many negatives associated with “Ports O’Call.” If you’re going to reach out to an entire region, as well as the local community, I think you need to say this is a whole new thing happening. [My company] has restored 17 historic buildings in the City of L.A. I have great respect for history. But to me, it’s the history of San Pedro – not the history of Ports O’Call.

Johnson: If you see what happened over time, the Fish Market was Norm’s Landing, and it was a fish market and it had nothing to do with Ports O’ Call. Ports O’ Call has just come to mean that whole [area], but it’s really not. I remember seeing this old picture, some old weekend and the crowd in the parking lot was all around Ports O’ Call in the village, very little around the fish market. But what a transformation from now, where it’s just completely flipped! I think there are very fond memories of Ports O’Call, but it’s the Ports O’ Call that people remember back in the day.

I think the promise this redevelopment holds is the ability to bring down those people in San Pedro that refuse to go down there. Bring them through downtown; see that downtown’s nice. With a town of 90,000 people like San Pedro, you really shouldn’t need to leave town to buy all your stuff like you have to do now. We have enough retail space in downtown and throughout town on Gaffey and Pacific and all of these places that if they rediscover the waterfront and they rediscover downtown, there’s plenty of retail space for every use that is necessary and needed for them if they come back, if they support it. You’re not just bringing tourists back, you’re bringing the town back, then all of a sudden you serve their needs on those streets and you just let the market figure it out. There’s a whole effort to make that connection between downtown and the waterfront and I think that is a really key thing. It’s important to us and it’s important to the development of the town because there’s a big disconnect now.

SPT: Finally, when this project comes to fruition and you guys are ready to get the proposal out in front of the public and show the designs and we see pictures of what could be, what can you tell San Pedro to expect?

Johnson: We really want to be measured against the waterfronts of the world. We have world-class developers working on it. So to me, I think nothing short of that. I think we’ll see a very efficient way to get people off the freeway and move them through to Ports O’ Call, but then we move them through to Alta Sea, we move them to the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, we move them along our waterfront so they really have this full day in San Pedro. With tourism being the number one industry in L.A. right now, it just happens to be really good for us. We have a lot of wind in our sails, a lot of community support and so I think things really seem lined up, I know we’re going to hit bumps. I don’t want to have this become a burden on our town, a “what did we wish for?” scenario. It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. And we’re going to work our asses off that it’s not that way.

Ratkovich: The time has come for the waterfront and downtown San Pedro to be what it really should be. Something that’s really wonderful and unique and that all the citizens can share. That’s sort of a vague and broad description of what we hope to get, but that’s what it’s going to be and it should be something that not only is successful in its own right, but it contributes to the success of downtown San Pedro and to the living environment – a whole urban complex – that’s down there today. spt

Celebrating Our San Pedro Dads 2013

Our San Pedro Dads… Where do we begin? They are the men who taught us the meaning of hard work. They worked and sacrificed of themselves for the betterment of the entire family. They made sure Mom was happy, the refrigerator full and always made sure we were safe and sound. They taught us how to play catch, what the difference between balls and strikes were, and debunked the whole “girls have cooties” myth.

When we got older, they taught us how to change the oil in our car (or did it for us), fix a flat tire (or did it for us) and helped move us into our first apartment. They were the first person we wanted to make proud and the last person we wanted to see after curfew. They love us unconditionally and made sure we wouldn’t screw up along the way. They are our San Pedro Dads. Without them, we’d be lost.













































Celebrating Our San Pedro Moms 2013


They’re the women who tucked us in at night and made our lunches in the morning. They made sure we brushed out teeth, had clean socks and underwear and helped us with our homework. When we got older, they taught us how we should treat others and offered their opinion on what we wore, who our friends were, and most importantly… who we dated. They were the first person we wanted to impress and the last one we wanted to let down. They listened and they loved unconditionally. Without them, we probably wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves.

To all our San Pedro Moms, not just the ones honored in these pages, but all over town… thanks for being you.

Lights! Camera! Action!

Councilman Joe Buscaino and LAHIFF’s Stephanie Mardesich at the festival’s 10th anniversary press launch

Stephanie Mardesichloves movies.

If not for her passion for the cinema, the ebullient director and founder of the Los Angeles Harbor International Film Festival may not have been able to carry the event through to its 10th anniversary this year.

“A decade is a significant epoch and though I don’t feel older, clearly ten years has passed,” she says of the milestone.

As Mardesich describes it, the LAHIFF has always been a celebration of film. Unlike more relevant film festivals like Cannes, Sundance, South by Southwest or Toronto, which are geared towards new and independent films looking for distribution, the LAHIFF prides itself on celebrating films from both past generations and more contemporary times, with a strong focus on children’s education thrown in.

“The motivation to continue corresponds to the values instilled by my parents to persevere, to strive for excellence as its own reward, to be an individual of conviction, and to never give up on something or someone as long as there is some hope for a positive outcome,” says Mardesich. “It’s better to try and fail than succeed at nothing, as a friend once told me. In spite of challenges we have continued and now have a ten-year record.”

Back in 2003, the idea of establishing a film festival in San Pedro wasn’t a far-fetched one. The town already had an iconic theater to host it, perfectly set in the heart of downtown. Not to mention, San Pedro already had a rich history of being used as Hollywood’s backdrop. From classic films such as Chinatown, to popular current television series like Mad Men, San Pedro has become synonymous with film production.

“Stephanie and I were at a San Pedro Chamber mixer at Ports O’ Call Restaurant and we were chatting with the late Gary Cox about how San Pedro should have a film festival,” recalls Jack Baric, an original co-founder of the festival who has since stepped away. “Stephanie really took the conversation to heart and immediately started working on getting a festival launched. She has been generous enough to include calling me a co-founder, but truthfully she put forth all the effort in launching the festival and has kept it going since then.”

Left: Russ Tamblyn and Academy Award winner George Chakiris, co-stars of West Side Story, at the 2009 festival. Right: Mardesich with actress Betty Garrett and host Tom Hatten at the inaugural festival in 2004

The inaugural festival launched on April 30, 2004, and included such films as The Perfect Storm, the 2000 drama starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, based on Sebastian Junger‘s best-selling book, the 1949 musical comedy Neptune’s Daughter, starring Esther Williams, Betty Garrett and Ricardo Montalban, and an afternoon screening of Disney’s The Little Mermaid for the kids.

Other films featured at the festival throughout the decade include The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), South Pacific (1958), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Swiss Family Robinson (1960), and West Side Story (1961), among others.

In 2006, the LAHIFF hosted the world premiere of Baric’s San Pedro documentary, Port Town, which brought a near capacity crowd to the Warner Grand that year.

“When I think of what the festival has become, I just think of Stephanie and how she has persevered in keeping it going,” says Baric. “It is not an easy thing to keep a festival running year after year and yet she has done it, which is a compliment to her passion.”

Mardesich’s other passion is education. Her late mother, Lee, was a teacher at Bandini Street Elementary School and instilled in her family the importance of reading. Mardesich used that inspiration to establish the “Read the Book, See the Movie” (RBSM) program, which has become the cornerstone of the film festival.

“From the beginning, it was clear LAHIFF should have an education element for students,” remembers Mardesich. “It’s so simple. Pick a book that has a film attached. We’ve been focusing on classic literature, but the choices are infinite. Read the book and talk about the differences in the two genres. It’s a more thoughtful way to encourage literacy.”

Every year, one film adaptation of a classic novel is chosen for the RBSM program. Publishing sponsors Penguin and Puffin Classics donated 1,200 paperback copies of the book that are distributed to students from middle school to adult education classes. Participating schools include: John & Muriel Olguin Campus of San Pedro High School, Dana Middle School, Rolling Hills Renaissance School, Pacific Lutheran School, Port of Los Angeles Charter High School, Mary Star of the Sea High School, and the Harbor Service Center (formerly known as San Pedro Adult Learning Center).

For newly-elected L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino, the RBSM program is what separates this film festival from the rest.

“‘Read the Book, See the Movie’ is my favorite element of the film festival,” he says. “My wife, who is a teacher at White Point Elementary, has participated in this program, and we understand the educational value that it delivers. LAHIFF’s commitment to San Pedro, its culture and its history, is important.”

Clockwise L to R: The LAHIFF’s 10th annual festival programing includes There’s No Business Like Show Business (1953) starring Donald O’Connor and Marilyn Monroe, Chased by the Dogs (1962) and Disney’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1993)

This year, the four-day festival takes place May 2-5 at the Warner Grand Theatre in historic downtown San Pedro, the heart of the Port of Los Angeles, beginning with a free screening of the RBSM film, Disney’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1993), starring Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), on May 2 at 10:30 a.m.

“The story of Huckleberry Finn and his friend the runaway slave Jim, speaks to friendship, loyalty, and courage with an anti-slavery theme,” says Mardesich. “The timing of this classic choice with regard to the recent films Lincoln and Django Unchained is relevant considering issues of social responsibility and morality with historical reflection.”

The festival continues on Friday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m. with the opening night screening of Chased By the Dogs (1962), the film adaptation of the Egyptian novel The Thief and the Dogs by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz.

Saturday, May 4, marks the annual Hollywood Nostalgia Tribute night featuring Irving Berlin’s 1953 classic, There’s No Business Like Show Business, starring Ethyl Merman, Dan Daley, Donald O’Connor and Marilyn Monroe. The screening is preceded by the “Show Biz and Red Carpet Gala” at the Arcade Building, directly across the street from the Warner Grand. Tickets for the pre-show Gala are $75 ($65 if purchased before April 18), which includes admission to the film, an open bar, appetizers and buffet supper homage to 1950s cuisine. General admission to the film is only $10.

The festival concludes on Sunday, May 5 at 1 p.m., with its traditional “DocSunday” programming featuring the New Filmmakers LA (NFMLA) “On Location Program,” showcasing 22 short films made to promote the City of Los Angeles.

With its eclectic lineup, Mardesich is hoping to pull in audiences who appreciate various genres and who are open to viewing films they might never have seen before.

“Bringing out the audience is probably the greatest challenge of this festival,” admits Mardesich. “[My dream] would be to have a full house — that’s at least one third of the 1,500 seat capacity of the Warner Grand — at the programs. We’ve been fortunate to have several capacity crowds. That’s exciting, though not realistic in current times. When the movie palaces were built, there was an audience to fill the huge space. It’s rare for that to happen any longer, thus theatres like the Warner Grand have become multi-use venues.”

Even with a handful of loyal volunteers, the LAHIFF is still Mardesich’s baby. It’s rare that you spot her around town not wearing one of her many multi-colored LAHIFF t-shirts. Come marketing season, that shirt is usually accompanied by a handful of postcards and posters that she single-handedly distributes across town and throughout Los Angeles.

With continued community support from Congresswoman Janice Hahn and Supervisor Don Knabe, plus local business sponsorships, the LAHIFF continues to stay alive, even through challenging times. With a decade of experience, Mardesich still expresses hope that the festival will become ever grander and more relevant during the next ten years.

“It would be wonderful if an entity or sponsor had the interest to give their name above the title and bring an infusion of funds so there could be a paid administrator and staff and the festival could perhaps go to another level,” she says. “I would still want to be involved and advise so the mission is not distorted, however, the effort it takes now is very consuming and one of these days I might like to take a voyage elsewhere than on the cinematic bridge.” spt

The Los Angeles Harbor International Film Festival takes place Thurs-Sun, May 2-5. Tickets for all programs and reception will be sold online through Brown Paper Tickets, Williams’ Book Store (443 W. 6th St., Downtown), and at the box office (cash only) during the festival one-hour before programs start. General admission is $10 per program; $8 with discounts from select affliliations: GVF, LAMM, IDA, CMA, BAFTA LA and ILWU, and seniors and students. Prices subject to change. For full details, visit www.laharborfilmfest.com.

Moving On Up

Chef Dustin Trani stands on the open kitchen line at Doma in Beverly Hills. (Photos by John Mattera)

He saunters through the restaurant wearing a baseball cap, blue jeans and a Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt, with his long brown hair flaring from either side of his cap and his beard precisely shaped. With this casual appearance, you’d think he was at home rather than at work, and in a way, you’d be right.

For the past 28 years, which equates to his entire young life, Chef Dustin Trani has called J.Trani’s Ristorante home. The restaurant, which bears the family name, is synonymous with San Pedro.

It’s a quiet Monday morning in the middle of January and Trani looks a bit tired, which is no surprise. The whole reason we’re chatting this morning has to do with the fact he’s been pulling double duty running two kitchens, one here at J. Trani’s, the other at Doma, the hot new restaurant in Beverly Hills that he recently opened.

The decision to move from the security and familiarity the family business affords to uncharted waters 30 miles away, which in San Pedro miles is about 100, was a tough one for Trani. After all, who really leaves San Pedro? This is a town where generations run deep and Pedro Pride is serious business.

“I was back and forth, back and forth, and didn’t know if I really wanted to do it,” says Trani about the move to Doma. “But the opportunity was there and I talked to my parents and my friends and people in the community and I asked them what they thought, and they said I had to try it. I had to seize the opportunity.”

Stepping back a moment, it seems like Trani has been seizing opportunities his entire life. The son of Jim Jr. and Viki Trani and grandson of Jim Sr., Trani started in the family business fresh out of kindergarten at six-years-old, prepping lemon juice and chopping parsley. By 11, he was working banquets with his dad.

“The summer after fifth grade, that’s when I consistently started working a couple days a week, working the pantry section, doing the salads and appetizers and desserts,” recalls Trani.

Trani puts the finishing touches on a dish at Doma.

Like any child who grows up in the family business, there comes a point in time where the choice to continue the family tradition or break away and follow another muse towards a different line of work needs to be made. For Trani, his passion for cooking collided with the discovery of The Food Network… and puberty.

“I remember it hitting me when I was in high school,” remembers the San Pedro High alum. “I’d work a couple nights up front on the floor, then I worked a few nights in the kitchen. And then The Food Network started airing and I’m watching these guys cook – that’s when this new idea of using the freshest ingredients [began]. You realize what a difference a great olive oil does to a pasta for finishing. And how layering flavors and using chilies three different times in the pasta will create a whole different balance in a dish. When I started seeing that, that’s when I was kind of like… wow. I knew how to cook as far as the basics, but there’s a whole other level I could get to.”

Trani admits he’s not much of a formal school guy. After graduation, he dabbled a bit at Harbor College but it wasn’t his thing. He even received a $20,000 scholarship in high school to study at The Art Institute of California – Orange County Culinary Arts and Design School, which he would eventually decline.

“I checked the place out and really did not feel like culinary school was for me,” says Trani. “I could see what they were doing and it’s great for starting out and developing an education on different products and what to do, but I didn’t want to be held back for two years and spend $60,000 to go to culinary school. That’s insane.”

Instead, another opportunity would reveal itself when John Blazevich, CEO and president of Contessa Foods, asked the then 18-year-old Trani if he would work on some research development for the company. Trani agreed and would split his time between the restaurant and Contessa, even becoming Blazevich’s private chef at his Rolling Hills estate.

“Getting the opportunity with Contessa to travel and going to Boston, New York, Chicago and working and meeting a lot of real famous well-known chefs like Ming Tsai and Todd English and becoming friends with them, that’s when I just completely fell in love with [cooking],” says Trani.

An Intense Science
Listening to Trani talk about cooking is like listening to Ted Williams talk about hitting a baseball. It’s more than just following a recipe or being able to manage a kitchen. There’s an intense science involved dealing with flavors and textures and the ability to figure out the best combination of each to make an original dish stand out.

“I try to apply to every dish that I make what I learned in Thailand,” says Trani, who, thanks to Blazevich, spent two months in 2007 training at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. It’s an experience Trani would refer to many times in our conversation and one he considers to be a pivotal life-changing experience.

“When you eat Thai food, you got sweetness, sour, saltiness and texture in every one of the dishes,” he explains. “I took what they do in that cuisine and try to apply it to every dish that I do whether it be Italian, Asian or American cuisine. I want to play on every component of your senses. So you’ll see on every dish we have your main focal point and then everything around it are just characters to make it that much better. What makes a great dish is to be able to play on all the senses and hit every component that, when you try it, everything – sweet, salty, savory, texture, smell – all that comes together. If you can do that in every one of your dishes, then generally people are going to like it.”

His Thailand experience prompted Trani to completely revamp J. Trani’s menu towards a more modern Italian cuisine.

“My grandfather and my dad supported me 100 percent,” says Trani. “But there were a lot of clientele in San Pedro who wondered what I was doing. Like, what is this squared plate doing here? You know, fish doesn’t need to come with mashed potatoes and vegetables and steak doesn’t have to come with roasted potatoes and vegetables. There were a lot of naysayers and stuff, but the end result was they liked it. It was scary at first when I started changing the menu. If I tried to do that in a new restaurant in San Pedro, I think it would have been very difficult. But being established like we are, we still had the business that was coming in. And now we’re slowly introducing everybody to this new style and it’s been a great positive response. That’s why people come in here now.”

Doma’s decor is sleek and modern with a comfortable feel.

A Different World
Beverly Hills is an entirely different universe and its inhabitants are a far cry from San Pedro’s locals, who have supported the Trani family since Trani’s great grandfather Filippo opened the family’s first food establishment in town, the Majestic Café, in 1925.

But Trani isn’t the first chef from San Pedro to venture into the land of glitz and glamour. Dan Tana’s, the famous West Hollywood eatery’s head chef is fellow San Pedran, Neno Mladenovic. As Trani explains it, it was the Croatian chef’s insistence that brought Trani to the land of swimming pools and movie stars.

“Chef Neno is from San Pedro and he’s been coming to J. Trani’s the last few years saying that my food is something I should have up in L.A.,” he explains. “He said the freshness that I’m doing, the different things, would just be great up there.”

Mladenovic then told his partner at Dan Tana’s, Sonja Perencevic, another Croatian, who, with her daughter Nikka, was in the process of opening Doma. He told them Trani was the perfect guy to lead the restaurant’s kitchen as head chef.

“They came down to J. Trani’s, tried the food and were really blown away by it and liked what we’re doing,” Trani recalls.

Trani was offered the head chef position and, with the blessing of his family, took it. He singlehandedly spearheaded the formation of Doma’s menu, hired the kitchen staff and was given full creative control of every dish served. It’s the kind of creative freedom that chef’s dream about.

The Hollywood Reporter says of Doma, “Chef Dustin Trani flexes his traditional culinary sensibility through a continental prism. A single raviolo is stuffed with sea urchin, stone crab and Mascarpone cheese. Meanwhile, sautéed Colorado lamb scaloppini in a butter cognac sauce holds court on a plate accompanied by golden chanterelle mushrooms, sweet roasted onions and agnolotti.” It makes one’s mouth water just reading it.

A writer for The Huffington Post calls Trani a “chef to follow” because he “was astonished at the accomplished and delicious dishes that have emerged from this kitchen in the course of my several dinners there.”

Doma, located in the heart of Beverly Hills, just a few blocks away from Spago, is beautifully modern in appearance, but carries with it a familiarity that creates a comfortable – not stuffy – ambiance, which makes sense because “doma” in Croatian means “at home.”

Dark wood chairs and tables caressed with white linen fill the space, with a beautiful large bar area on one side of the restaurant. Towards the back, a large bookshelf-like installation houses the wine choices. The walls are decorated with fascinating artwork of what appears to be various dresses, but on closer inspection, the dresses are made of finely shaved pieces of vegetables.

Visiting Trani in his new establishment, the support from the staff is palatable. “I just love the guy,” says Igor, a longtime server of the Beverly Hills/West Hollywood scene who probably has some incredible stories to tell in his own right.

“Oh, you’re doing a story on Dustin? That’s great, he deserves it,” says another staff member.

Trani, this time in uniform wearing a white chef’s coat and obligatory white Dodgers cap, is in full control. I watch as he meticulously garnishes a seared tuna dish, the name of which I couldn’t pronounce, nor spell, but it looks amazing.

Doma’s menu is described as “Mediterranean, eclectic Italian with a strong seafood influence.” Trani tells me that seafood, especially sea urchin, is his favorite dish to prepare.

I watch as he prepares a few dishes to try out, which would include a seared tuna appetizer garnished with buttery caviar, a red pepper infused pizza and a handmade ravioli dish, the likes of which my words are not doing justice to. Let’s just say all three dishes were amazing. We finished it off with a cheesecake garnished with espresso caviar. Again, to die for.

As he’s working, I ask if he’s taking what he’s learning at Doma and applying it to J. Trani’s and vice versa.

Doma’s back area houses a full array of wines.

“Yeah, you’re always learning and finding better ways of doing things. That’s the nature of this business,” he says. “One of the biggest things they were telling me when I started here was that I didn’t understand Beverly Hills people.
They’re very picky and they like to change things. And I’m like, I’m coming from a restaurant that’s been established since 1925 and there’s a lot of people that come in and want things that they had back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. So I think I’ll be okay with that.”

Trani splits his time equally between both restaurants, with Doma requiring a bit more attention since it’s still a work in progress. He’s been training the kitchen staff at J. Trani’s for the past eight years to get them to operate just the way he wants. They’re an extension of him, and he’s working hard with Doma’s staff to eventually get them to that point, as well.

Back at J. Trani’s, sitting at a table tucked away at the back of the restaurant, I ask Trani if there will ever be a day when San Pedro loses one of its favorite sons completely to the intoxicating throes of Hollywood.

Trani laughs and says, ” You know, J. Trani’s is going to continue getting better. And I definitely would like to open another place in San Pedro, somewhere along the waterfront, a little more casual. I want to do something where it’s a mixture between the Italian and Asian influences that I bring into the cuisine. Where it’s just an awesome, cool atmosphere, good music going on, you know, high ceilings, a bustling place,” he takes a pause and adds, “and no table cloths.” spt

Cross Country Dynasty

Champions (l to r): Miriam Canales-Ortega, Lorena Garcia (being held with plaque), Ashley Carrera, Violet Tipich, Dana Cameron, Bronwyn Bunnell, Danielle Nunez (photo by John Mattera)

San Pedro’s Lorena Garcia and Ashley Carreraended their L.A. City Section Cross Country careers the same way they began them – as champions.

But this is nothing new for head coach Bruce Thomson and the San Pedro Girls Cross Country team. They’ve won three of the last four City titles as the program continues to pave its way to the “dynasty” category.

Thomson took over head coaching duties at San Pedro High School in 1998 and in those 15 years he has done almost nothing but win: 10 L.A. City titles in 15 years.

San Pedro High School Principal, Jeanette Stevens says Coach Thomson has created an environment that “cultivates success year after year.”

“Coach Thompson is a cornerstone of our program here at San Pedro High School,” she says. “He is here everyday and he really is involved in the program in a capacity that fosters success. We are very proud of him and his accomplishments. He is definitely top-notch, we have observed his talent and his ability to connect with kids. He is a superstar.”

Head coach Bruce Thomson (bottom center) is surrounded by his runners (top l to r) Bunnell, Tipich, Nunez and Carrera, and is flanked by Erica Hovind (bottom l) and Coach Sally Leonhart (bottom r). (photo by Jenna Bunnell)

Thomson has led his Pirate runners to not only L.A. City titles, but to college. During his 15 years leading the program, he has seen dozens of his girls go on to compete at the collegiate level.

“Our girls train very hard,” Thomson says. “It just didn’t happen that you win, the girls have to make commitments and sacrifices, and it starts in the summer. This program has seen many successful athletes go on to college, but that is because these girls know what it takes and they work hard to make their dreams come true.”

Thomson has produced great runners like Valerie Flores, who became an All-American at UCLA, and past Individual City Champions include Pablo Rosales and Laura Delgado. In addition, the Pirates currently have two runners on scholarship at Loyola Marymount, and that is in addition to the countless other girls who have gone on to run at the collegiate level.

Stevens says it is important to the administration to produce college-bound students, adding that it is a bonus to produce collegiate athletes.

“We have talented athletes and talented coaches who have the ability to promote and advocate for the kids for continued play after high school,” she says. “We want coaches and have coaches that foster the vision for the collegiate level. We are really a community that not only engages in a strong academic program, but athletics. And our community supports that and wants to see our athletes and teams succeed and prosper.”

But Jenna Bunnell, mother of Bronwyn Bunnell, who was a freshman on the team this season, says it’s more than just the girls and their effort, it is “the program that Coach Thomson created.”

“His program is amazing,” she says. “He really treats these girls with respect and pulls out the absolute best from them. He preps them to be successful from the start, and not just successful for their time at San Pedro, but in college and beyond.”

Eddie Nunez, father of Danielle Nunez, a runner on the team, puts it this way, “If Thomson was a football coach, he would be God.”

Thomson doesn’t agree, but says his Cross Country teams have some of the best athletes at San Pedro High School, and he would like to see his athletes “get the respect and attention they deserve.”

“Cross Country is one of the tougher sports to train for,” he says. “It is not a game and the girls don’t get a lot of credit for it. Our kids train all year round, they do great in the classroom, and I would say they are some of the best kids we have in school. I would say that goes for most Cross Country programs.”

And excelling in the classroom is exactly what his athletes do, Stevens says.

“San Pedro High School as a whole has the highest GPA in the Marine League,” she says. “And when you look at the girls Cross Country program, you will see that these girls, all of them, are top students and top athletes. They push themselves to excel physically in sports and mentally in the classroom.”

Thomson says Cross Country athletes have always been good students and that is because the sport is more “intrinsically motivated than football or basketball.”

“To succeed in it you have to be consistent in training,” he says. “You have to work hard in every area and the only person pushing you to do it is you. This isn’t a game these girls are playing, this is about pushing themselves individually and that shows in the classroom, as well.”

Bunnell, a proud parent and a teacher herself, says the parents see the respect Thomson gives to their children. She says he is a leader when it comes to both academics and sports.

“He built this program – it is a dynasty,” she says. “And for Coach Thomson it is about more than just having a successful high school team or career, it is about having a successful life. He looks at the bigger picture. We are proud of the girls, but more importantly this is about the success of the coaches and the program they have built.”

For Pirate runners Garcia and Carrera, this season was their last, but it also saw them win their third City championship after previously winning in their freshman and junior years.

“Once I knew we won I was so happy,” Garcia said in an interview with the Daily Breeze. “This is our senior year and we wanted to win this for our coaches and our team.”

Thomson said of the senior captains – Garcia who was All-City four straight years and Carrera who was All-City her junior and senior year – they were hardworking girls, they pushed themselves and they led by example.

“These two were leaders,” he says. “We had 40 girls on the Cross Country team this year, and there are only seven spots – there is no bench, this is a competitive sport. These girls pushed it to the limit every single day. I am so proud of them.”

Stevens says it is “exciting to have a championship program year after year – it really is a feather in our cap.”

“We have an amazing athletic program here at our school, and when I think of programs that are at the top, the Cross Country team is there. The coaches are top-notch, the athletes are top notch, and they really push each other to ensuring success each season – it is exciting, and I am proud.”

Thomson, a UCLA alum who didn’t make the Cross Country or Track team, started his coaching career at Hamilton High School, his alma mater. He didn’t find success in his 14 years of coaching there, but says “success comes when it all comes together and that is exactly what is happening here at San Pedro.”

“When I started helping out at Hamilton, I really enjoyed it,” he says. “I got into teaching and coaching and loved it. And at this point in my career, I find myself very proud. It is really rewarding, we have had a lot of talent come through the program, great support from the Administration and community – it all came together.” spt

2012: A Year in Review (December 2012 Cover Story)

Photo by John Mattera

It was a year of incredible change and transformation for San Pedro.

A year of gains, losses and continued tradition. The waters brought us a new resident, a home for artisans was built, and a new councilman was chosen to lead us. We faced the challenge of the land sliding beneath us, out of control skateboarders, and the constant threat of crime. We saw a lighthouse and a church reborn, milestones surpassed, and parking meters meeting their maker. Even through the good and the bad, when 2013 rolls around, history will look back on 2012 as the year it all started coming together for San Pedro.

The previous year did not end well. We were still reeling from the Paseo del Mar landslide that happened in November 2011. At the time, no one had any answers as to why the land toppled into the sea and we were still getting used to having a neighborhood divided by the ocean cliffs. And then things got worse.

Eva Tice

San Pedrans were stunned and saddened by the killing of Eva Tice, a 60-year-old mentally disabled woman who was stabbed walking home on Pacific Ave. from a Christmas Eve church service. Police would later announce a $50,000 reward for information leading to her killer, who fled the scene and still has yet to be found.

Photo by John Mattera

The good news arrived, when, after months of campaigning and a special run-off election against Assemblyman Warren Furutani, former LAPD Harbor Division Senior Lead Officer Joe Buscaino was sworn in as councilman of the city’s 15th District on January 31, replacing Janice Hahn, who won a seat on Congress the previous year.

Residents also freaked out for a bit when false rumors of a serial killer in the Harbor Area spread on Facebook. It turned out to be the end result of a game of telephone after a young woman was found slain in Wilmington.

Later in January, talks began about a proposed a skatepark in Peck Park. After months of planning, the project got a monetary boost from the Tony Hawk Foundation in October. Construction bids should go out this month. Supporters hope the project will be completed before overpass construction will temporarily close the existing Channel Street Skatepark later next year.

Speaking of skating, the increasingly familiar sight of packs of un-helmeted skaters “bombing” hills at high speeds in traffic around town became a forefront issue this year when Caleb Daniel Simpson, a 15-year-old from Palmdale, became the second teen to die engaging in the activity in San Pedro. A few months earlier, 14-year-old Michael Borojevich died after he crashed skating near 25th St. and Western Ave. The deaths gained widespread media attention and prompted officials to eventually ban bombing throughout the city in August.

In February, the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities announced its new home at the Warner Grand Theatre. In November, the theatre company announced an indefinite suspension, pulling out of the Warner Grand and leaving existing subscribers in the dark.

Photo courtesy of Boys & Girls Club

Students at San Pedro High School and the Boys & Girls Club got a visit from ballerina and alumnus Misty Copeland, a soloist in the American Ballet Theatre. Copeland returned to her hometown in February to share her experiences getting her start at the Boys & Girls Club and rising to the top of the ballet world, where she is ABT’s first African-American female soloist in decades.

After months of restoration work, St. Peter’s Church, San Pedro’s oldest place of worship, reopened its doors on Easter Sunday at its new home at Green Hills Memorial Park. Originally built in 1884, the church was moved to Green Hills in 2011, where it underwent badly needed repairs.

A much-improved Angels Gate Lighthouse was unveiled in April after a six-month restoration project spearheaded by the Cabrillo Beach Boosters, who fixed the lighthouse’s rusting exterior. Steel reinforcements, a new paint job and zinc coating were just some of the repairs made to help protect the lighthouse from erosion for another 25 years. The Boosters also hope to restore the crumbling interior in time for the lighthouse’s centennial next year.

Point Fermin Lighthouse also made headlines this year when in May, the federal government declared it to be surplus property, basically putting it up for grabs for new ownership. A handful of groups and nonprofits have applied, including the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks and the Point Fermin Lighthouse Society. We’re still waiting to see who will be chosen to run one of San Pedro’s iconic landmarks.

Arguably, the biggest story of the year for San Pedro was May’s arrival of the historic battleship USS Iowa in the Port of Los Angeles. Only two years ago, the Port had rejected a proposal to berth the ship as a floating museum and tourist attraction. Robert Kent, who founded the nonprofit that spearheaded the effort, got the community to rally around the project, eventually getting the Port to come around. With funding in place and the Port’s blessing, the Pacific Battleship Center made a bid for the ship, and was later granted it by the Navy. Repairs were made in Northern California before the ship was towed to Los Angeles.

On June 9, the ship made its final journey down the main channel to its permanent berth as thousands of spectators on shore lined Harbor Blvd. The ship hosted a Veteran’s reunion and opened for public tours in July.

On the heels of the Iowa’s arrival, the Historic Waterfront Business Improvement District (commonly known as the PBID) put on a Swingin’ Salute Block Party in downtown San Pedro. Residents decked out in their 1940’s best came out for free swing music and dance lessons under new decorative lights crisscrossing over 6th St. The San Pedro Bay Historical Society also put together a series of historical window exhibits displayed in shops downtown.

Also in June, nonprofit Harbor Interfaith Services opened a new, three-story facility on 9th Street, where it relocated its headquarters and expanded services supporting struggling families.

Seven months after a 600-ft. stretch of Paseo del Mar slid into the ocean after a rainstorm, the City released a geotechnical report assessing the causes of the landslide and future of the site. Both natural and manmade factors like irrigation and wave erosion played a role in the slide, but no further ground movement was detected. The City later secured funds to stabilize and grade the area and install drains. Whether or not the road will be re-routed is to be determined with the input of a new 50-member community advisory committee appointed by Councilman Buscaino.

Photo by John Mattera

Another major story of the year happened in late June, when the first of two WWII-era warehouses near 22nd Street Park re-opened as Crafted, an indoor craft marketplace dreamt up by the same developer as Santa Monica’s successful Bergamot Station. With a 35-year lease, dozens of vendors and far-reaching media coverage, Crafted has already proven to be a one-of-a-kind regional draw. After gripes about its $5 parking fee, Crafted gave away free one-year parking passes to local residents and later offered free parking on Fridays.

After planning this year’s Taste in San Pedro festival for Ports O’ Call Village, the Chamber of Commerce announced its cancellation in July. It would be the first summer without one in more than a decade. The Taste wasn’t the only foodie event cancelled this year. Weeks later, organizers of the Ćevapčići Festival announced its cancellation due to lack of funds. It was especially a bummer since the Balkan sausage fest had some big press lined up. The Port’s annual Lobster Festival went on as usual, drawing thousands of sea foodies to the waterfront.

In early August, an 18-year-old former Mary Star of the Sea High School running back confessed to stealing cash registers from several businesses on Western Ave and Gaffey St. He ran into a slight problem when his dad recognized him on the surveillance video that made the media rounds and convinced his son to turn himself in.

More than 600 parking meters were axed in downtown San Pedro and Wilmington this summer, a move by Councilman Buscaino’s office after a study concluded they did more harm than good. Rates on remaining meters also went down. Business owners had long complained that the overabundance of meters and rate hikes discouraged consumers from shopping downtown. The issue was a talking point in the special election to replace former Councilwoman Janice Hahn.

This year’s Navy Days went much smoother than last, drawing 5,000 people over the course of two days (2011’s event was longer and larger, causing a traffic nightmare and long lines). Tour goers got an inside look at the USS Wayne E. Meyer destroyer and the Coast Guard Cutter George Cobb.

The same weekend, reports came pouring in of a man spotted jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge shortly after 12:30 p.m. on August 19. A few hours later, Port police announced they had recovered the body of Top Gun director Tony Scott, whose car was found on top of the bridge with a note left inside. His suicide drew national media attention. A coroner’s report later confirmed that contrary to reports, he was not battling cancer at the time of his death.

Photo by John Mattera

Thousands of young San Pedrans went back to school weeks earlier than usual this year, part of an early start schedule adopted by the L.A. Unified School District that’ll have them out for summer in early June (they were originally slated to get out by the end of May, but Prop. 30 changed that). This was also the first year for the new John M. and Muriel Olguin Campus of San Pedro High School, an environmentally innovative annex campus built to relieve overcrowding at SPHS. Shortly after school started, there was a bit of a traffic controversy in the surrounding neighborhood.

Also in August, San Pedro native and LAPD Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon announced his retirement after 34 years on the force. A few months later, he took a new job as Chief of Airport Police at LAX.

Seventeen-year-old Monica Bender, a senior at Mary Star of the Sea High School, made headlines when she swam the 20-mile Catalina Channel the last week of August.

After a string of residential burglaries over the summer had residents on edge, eight new police officers were assigned to LAPD Harbor Division to help curb property crime. Police eventually arrested an 18-year-old San Pedro man linked to one of the crime scenes.

Astronaut and first-mom-in-space Anna Fisher returned to her hometown in September for the fundraiser opening of Harbor Day Preschool. She also took time to speak with students at several high schools. In other San Pedro space news, the ashes of Allyson Diana Genest, an avid Star Trek fan from San Pedro who died in 1999, were sent to outer space with Space X’s Dragon launch in May. It was her dying wish.

Who could forget the refinery burn-off freakout on September 15? When a power outage set off a controlled burn-off at the ConocoPhillips Refinery in Wilmington, shooting flames and smoke high into the air, many residents wondered if there was a raging blaze to worry about. Some later filed complaints about pollution emitted during the burn-off.

On a related note, the Rancho LPG facility on North Gaffey Street – those two big gas tanks across from the Home Depot – got in trouble with air quality officials after neighboring residents reported smelling what turned out to be a gas leak in October. The facility has been subject to criticism and protest from neighboring residents for decades. Councilman Buscaino held a hearing addressing their concerns earlier this year.

Also in October, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor and Point Fermin Elementary School celebrated milestone birthdays, turning 75 and 100, respectively.

On Columbus Day, eight new inductees were honored at the annual San Pedro Sportswalk to the Waterfront. Later that the day, hundreds gathered outside the Italian-American Club for the councilman’s first Buscaino Block Party and Spaghetti Dinner.

After the Port put out a call over the summer for commercial developers to fix up Ports O’ Call Village, it announced in October that eight had taken interest. A decision on a developer should arrive early next year.

The San Pedro International Film Festival made its debut in October, screening dozens of films and hosting workshops.

On October 10, San Pedro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Betsy Cheek, announced her resignation after not having her contract renewed by the Chamber Board of Directors. The Chamber will begin the search for a new president/CEO early next year.

Many San Pedrans were bummed when organizers of the Railroad Revival Tour announced its cancellation weeks before it was set to roll through town (2011’s sold-out Mumford and Sons performance drew thousands to the waterfront). Willie Nelson, Band of Horses, Jamey Johnson, and John Reilly and Friends were set to perform at Ports O’ Call Village on October 27. Band of Horses still wanted to play however, putting on a show at the Warner Grand Theatre the same night instead.

Congresswoman Janice Hahn defeated Congresswoman Laura Richardson in early November in the race to represent California’s newly drawn 44th Congressional District.

Yet another version of the proposed housing development for the long-abandoned Navy housing property along Western Ave. surfaced in early November. The new Ponte Vista is more scaled back than previous incarnations and includes additional lanes to address traffic concerns that have shot down the project in the past.

This month, of course, marks two San Pedro holiday traditions, the 32nd Annual Spirit of San Pedro Christmas Parade, and the 50th L.A. Harbor Holiday Afloat Parade.

We know we missed a few items of note from the past year, but we couldn’t fit everything in. Needless to say, it’s been a year of intense change and challenges. Let’s hope 2013 is just as exciting and full of positive, forward thinking progress as we continue to push San Pedro towards a more prosperous future.

They Shall Be Missed

Sadly, we also lost a number of notable San Pedrans this year. Here’s a list of noteworthy deaths:

Steve Saggiani, longshoreman
Rudy Svorinich Sr., community leader and father of former Councilman Rudy Svorinich, Jr.
“Cheerful” Al Kaye, owner, Union War Surplus
Dr. H. Michael Weitzman, optometrist and philanthropist
Tom Phillips, painter of iconic San Pedro scenes and landscapes
Joseph M. Mardesich III, entrepreneur
Stancil Jones, longtime fire captain
Joe Caccavalla, Tri-Art Festival founder
Ray Patricio, community leader and nature preservationist
Dr. Jerry Blaskovich, dermatologist
Tony Perkov, owner, Ante’s Restaurant
Geoff Agisim, sea chantey singer
John Greenwood, school board member, community leader
Cindy Rutherford, owner, Century Motorcycles
(apologies to those we may have omitted by accident)