ON THE COVER: From Renegade To Legit

Professional skateboarder and Channel Street Skatepark regular, Robbie Russo, shows off his moves. (photo by John Mattera)

Cars and semi-trucks rumble overhead, while traffic through the busiest corridor of the Port of Los Angeles roars by at street level. Approaching the area underneath the 110 Harbor Freeway, the hum of traffic lessens. Replacing it are the sounds of wheels and wooden boards grinding against concrete and metal. The grittiness of the area seems contradictory to the sounds of teenage chatter, laughter and hands slapping other hands as skaters glide past each other. This is the Channel Street Skatepark.

Ten years ago, it seemed an unlikely location, but today it’s an obvious choice. “Skateboarding is loud,” says Andy Harris, one of the founders of the Channel Street Skatepark. “This is the perfect spot. No one is bothered by the sounds of skateboarding.”

There are no houses in the vicinity, and it’s behind a strip mall of businesses. “We don’t even hear them,” says John Bagakis, general manager of Big Nick’s Pizza, one of the businesses in the strip mall. “They’re good kids, and they come in and buy slices, and ask for water on hot days. We ask them not to ride on the sidewalks or inside the plaza, and they’ve been pretty respectful of the rules.”

Although the location is perfect, it didn’t always meet everyone’s approval. Harris, Robbie O’Connell, Bill Sargeant, Robert Yamasaki, Scott Smith and Gabe Solis were some of the local skaters who saw the desolate area as a shining gem. The group had no permits and had not created a non-profit. The land was owned by Caltrans, who had not given permission. But after fruitless years of trying to get the city to build a skatepark, they decided to go down the do-it-yourself path. The inspiration came from San Diego.

“We went down there and saw the skatepark at Washington Street and we were like ‘Wow, we have the same setup,’” says Harris. “So we came back to this spot, and started building bumps.”

The Washington Street Skatepark is a series of smooth concrete humps and bowls, and looks similar to what the Channel Street Skatepark is today. When they started building small bumps, no one noticed. When they got a concrete truck down there, it was a different story.

“They all showed up at the same time,” says Harris. “Harbor Department and the Department of Building and Safety were down here and just told us, this is all going to be torn down.”

But instead of listening or calling it a wash and just walking away, they fought.

“It’s the idea that you’re doing something that is beneficial,” says Harris of why he wouldn’t give up. “There’s no way this is going away. It’s for the kids in town.”

Andy Harris (front row, second from right) with the old and new guard of the Channel Street Skatepark. (photo by John Mattera)

Harris called Janice Hahn’s office, who at the time was the Los Angeles City Council member serving the 15th District, which covers San Pedro. Caroline Brady-Sinco, who worked for Janice Hahn, worked with Harris to keep the park open, even driving to San Diego to see the Washington Street Skatepark that inspired them. Brady-Sinco’s efforts worked.

“Next thing you know, the Harbor Department says we’ll put up a chain link fence,” says Harris.

Even though officials threatened them with closure, they firmly believed they would find a way to keep it.

“It’s an asset,” says fellow founder, Robbie O’Connell of the skatepark. “It’s for the little kid learning how to skate and the old crusty guy still skating after 25 years.”

Hahn’s office asked that they create a non-profit for the skatepark, which they did, called the San Pedro Skatepark Association. This way people and businesses can donate money and supplies so that the entire building cost isn’t borne by the founders. When asked how much money they spent out of pocket, Harris shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t even want to know,” he says.

The First Day - clearing debris under the 110 freeway. (photo by Andy Harris)

Thankfully, tax-deductible donations are now possible. Supporters like Pasha Stevedoring & Terminals has donated close to ten thousand dollars of rebar.

“We have so much rebar in there, good luck tearing it down,” jokes Harris. “If anything ever happens in the world, I’m taking cover there. It’s like a fortress.”

The park has grown from a few bumps in 2002 to about 8,000 square feet of smooth concrete humps and bowls. The outside walls are decorated with paint and mosaic tile art, much of which was done by the same skaters who are spending every afternoon at the park.

“We bring awareness to the kids and give them a sense of ownership,” says Harris. “It’s not about ‘this is mine,’ this is everybody’s.”

Harris is a longshoreman now, but before that he was a substitute teacher. It’s not surprising when seeing the connection he makes to the kids that visit the park. As he pulls up in his car, skaters come over one by one to slap hands and say hello. There is a tangible respect among all of the skaters, regardless of age.

One older man comes by holding a broom, says hello to Harris before walking away to finish sweeping areas of the skatepark.

“That’s Alfie,” says Harris. “Before he skates, he sweeps. We take care of this place. We don’t own it and we don’t want any reason for the city to ever say we don’t take care of it.”

Over the years, the number of skaters has multiplied. With the growing numbers is also a wide variety of age.

“When I was a kid, there weren’t any dads who skateboarded with their kids,” says Harris. “Now, on Saturdays here, it’s like mommy and me.”

There is one day that sticks with Harris, in which he realized that their little skatepark-that-could they had built was becoming a real, full-blown skatepark.

“It was the day when we were just working on the park and a minivan pulled up, and a mom dropped off a whole carload of kids,” says Harris. “I mean, they’re dropping their kids off under a freeway.”

Many parents view the park as a safer place for their kids to skate, rather than the car-filled streets of San Pedro.

Wooden framework is installed to shape the skatepark. (photo by Andy Harris)

Channel Street Skatepark will have to close down in the spring of 2013 for a full year. At that time, construction will be done on the 110 Freeway, forcing the park’s closure. Because of the community’s need for a safe place for skaters, a new skatepark is going to be built in Peck Park on Western Avenue. The estimated cost of the project is between $750,000 and $1 million with the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks funding the bulk of it with some money coming from the Tony Hawk Foundation. The Northwest Neighborhood Council, along with the San Pedro Skateboard Association, has been meeting with Recreation and Parks architects on design elements.

John Mavar, former vice president of the Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council, hopes the park will open in about a year and a half.

“This park is so important,” says Mavar. “We need to provide another location for the kids who skate, the same way we provide basketball courts or baseball diamonds.”

Officials are beginning to see having a skatepark as a necessity. Ten years ago, Harris and his friends couldn’t get anyone to listen to their pleas, but today, they’re helping to plan out a new skatepark. Not a do-it-yourself skatepark, but one paid for in large part by the city, permits and all.

Concrete is poured as the Channel Street Skatepark becomes a reality. (photo by Andy Harris)

The Channel Street Skatepark may have begun as just a place to skate, but it’s blossomed into something much larger. Harris’s next step is looking into liability insurance. It’s a far cry from where they started: just a few guys building skating bumps on illegal property under the freeway.

As Harris says, “We went from renegade to legit.” spt

For more information about the Skatepark or how to donate, visit the Channel Street Skatepark Facebook page.

ON THE COVER: Half a Century of Family Pride

Multiple Generations of the Mattera family: back row: Sabrena Sasso, Vince Mattera, Jr., Renee Mattera-Camello, Susan Mattera, Mariea Mattera, Gennaro Camello, Matt Mattera; front row: Natalie Mattera, Vanessa Camello, Angie Mattera, Nicolette Mattera, Noelle Mattera. Picture frame: Vince Mattera, Sr. (Not pictured: Malissa Moran) (photos by John Mattera)

For the Sorrento family, it has always been about hard work, and with that came dedication to a family business that started small and has now become a staple in San Pedro.

The Mattera family has always stood not only behind, but with their father. Each of them grew up in the business, and all had the same goal – be a part of the business to the end. Eating, sleeping and breathing Sorrento’s Pizza House, the name it was founded under in 1962, has been the family motto. But as the dream grew, so did the restaurant, and with growth came a name change — Sorrento’s Italian Restaurant.

It started as a small, quaint restaurant focused on pizza, pasta and sandwiches. But it has grown into a large restaurant, with an extensive Italian menu. Mattera Sr. took the growth in stride, grew his staff and used the growth to instill in everyone he could his ideals of hard work and dedication.

“My husband always felt that work kept everyone out of trouble,” Mattera’s wife, Angie says. “In his mind, it was never too early for a kid to learn about work ethic – it was never too early to learn the value of a dollar.” This was true until the day he died. But he didn’t want to just instill these ideals into his children and his family, but to the community of San Pedro, as well.

Mattera Sr. retired from the restaurant in 2007, but even after he handed the reins over to his family, he was still a fixture. So upon his passing in July of 2011, his loss not only hit his family, but the entire community that had grown to know and love him.

Mattera’s wife describes him as a hard working, dedicated, family man. She says that he left not only his family, but also all those who had the privilege of knowing him, valuable life lessons, and amazing food. Even after his passing, the family carried on the tradition of good, hearty, Italian cuisine through the dream that Mattera started 50 years ago.

His personal motto: Whatever job you have, whether large or small, you must do to the best of your ability. It’s this motto that his family hopes to continue to instill in their staff and their beloved San Pedro community. Angie Mattera says that as times change, and generations pass, so does the pride in that one used to take in their work.

“We always believed in instilling a strong work ethic in our children, and any employee whose path we were fortune enough to cross,” she says. “Every single employee at Sorrento’s is valuable and important, and that goes for every job out there.”

Murals of Italy decorate the interior of the restaurant.

Sorrento’s Italian Restaurant, a true family-run business, was the epitome of hard work – and it’s this that will be celebrated during the restaurant’s upcoming 50th anniversary in October.

The Sorrento family members have become pseudo-celebrities in San Pedro through the years. Each and every member of the Sorrento family has been involved in the restaurant in some way or another since its inception.

Renee Mattera, Vince’s daughter, fondly remembers being recognized in Las Vegas as the “spaghetti girl.”

“I’ll never forget it,” she says. “I was walking through a casino in Las Vegas, and a lovely old couple recognized me. The gentleman said, ‘Look, there’s the spaghetti girl,’” she recalls.

But it’s not just the family and Italian food that brings Sorrento’s the attention; it is also their generous contributions to the community through various donations and fundraisers.

“Over the years, we have done quite a few fundraisers, and we have tried to donate to as many causes as we can,” says Mariea Mattera, wife of Vince Mattera, Jr., the current General Manager. “San Pedro has always been our home and we take pride in being able to give back the community that has given us so much.”

Although giving back is an important part of reaching the heights of success in any business, it certainly isn’t what has kept the restaurant going for 50 years. When asked what the most important part of Sorrento’s longevity of success, the family all says with great pride, “portions.”

Vince Mattera, Sr., from the beginning, was a fixture in the kitchen. His wife says he loved to cook, whether at the restaurant, at home or at a friend’s place, he was “at home in the kitchen.” The recipes that make up Sorrento’s menu were all Vince’s, his family says.

“Early in his career he was appointed one of the cooks on a fishing boat,” Renee Mattera says. “He was young, but he loved it and that is really where his passion started. We grew up watching our dad in the kitchen.”
Mariea Mattera adds, “All the grandchildren spent their time watching him cook, they found it way more interesting that cartoons.”

With portions this big, it’s tough to walk out of Sorrento’s hungry.

Passing these recipes on, and teaching and molding his staff was never a problem for Vince. He communicated each and every recipe and worked with his staff until it was perfect. It was this communication and camaraderie that kept his staff coming back. The majority of the employees at Sorrento’s have been a part of the “family” for years – they are as loyal as can be, Angie Mattera says.

Rod Hernandez, for example, has been one of our cooks for 28 years,” she says. “We appreciate our staff, they are our family, and they are a big part of our success.” It is this loyalty that the family says has meant the most to them throughout the years.

As the family gears up to celebrate its 50th year in business, they struggle knowing that Vince Mattera, Sr. is not around to celebrate with them. But they know he would be proud.

“He would have been so proud,” Angie Mattera says with tears in her eyes. “He would have loved celebrating the 50th, and we will all be thinking of him, as we always do.”

Actual celebration plans have not been decided, but the family knows they are approaching on a milestone that is becoming less and less common. They plan on making sure the community of San Pedro knows how much they appreciate the support, as they say they are “overwhelmed with the gratitude and loyalty throughout the years.” spt

ON THE COVER: She’s Here! The USS Iowa Arrives in the Port of Los Angeles

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - The USS Iowa sits in its permanent location at Berth 87 in the Port of L.A. The battleship officially opens to the public on July 7. (photo by John Mattera)

THE USS IOWA ARRIVES CARRYING WITH IT THE HOPES AND DREAMS OF A PROSPEROUS FUTURE FOR SAN PEDRO

Robert Kent stands with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on the eleventh level atop the USS Iowa as it makes its final journey down San Pedro’s Main Channel. On shore, thousands of cheering spectators line Harbor Blvd. for a view of the ship’s arrival; it’s a proud day for the community that rallied together for a piece of military history. The WWII era battleship is finally making its home at Berth 87 in the Port of Los Angeles, where it will open as a museum ship this month.

Only two short years ago, Kent was pulling together every resource he could to convince the Port to reconsider making room for a battleship. “It’s real satisfaction,” he says, “We’re home. Our mission was accomplished.”

Veterans, dignitaries and community leaders roam the ship’s lower levels, getting a sneak peak before the ship opens to the public on July 7.

On the main deck, Yolanda Valle-Sedillo shows off a photo album of her older brother Charlie on the Iowa during the Korean War. He is among many veterans on board today wearing hats identifying their ships of service. “I remember seeing him in uniform coming up Sixth Street,” Valle-Sedillo says. “I thought, ‘Oh there’s my brother, he’s so handsome!’”

Robert Kent, president of the Pacific Battleship Center stands with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (photo by Joshua Stecker)

Charlie points down at the decks he hasn’t stood on for years. “They didn’t look like that!” he laughs. “We had a lot of fun out here. We had movies and you could even get a malt or a sundae. We had our own laundromat. This thing was a floating hotel!”

He and other Iowa veterans will be back in early July for a reunion. They’ll have access to the ship before it’s opened for public tours.

“We’ve created a tour called Tour Alpha, which is basically a trek around the ship all the way from the main deck, up to the flying bridge,” says Kent, President of the nonprofit Pacific Battleship Center, which runs the museum. “You get to see pretty much everything on the outside of the ship and then we’re allowing people to go inside into the main bridge, to the captain’s cabin and the officers boardroom.”

He’s crossing his fingers that the tour will also get to cover the crew’s galley.

Tour goers are strongly encouraged to buy tickets online ahead of time since space is limited. Four additional tours are also in the works, but each costs about a million dollars to put on. Kent hopes the next general tour will be open by next summer.

Half a Century of Service

Built in Brooklyn in 1940 for a cost of $110 million (it would cost $2.5 billion in today’s dollars to replace it), the USS Iowa was the lead ship of its class of fast battleships; so advanced that it was used for more than 50 years. The more than 15-story, 887 ft. long battleship was the fastest and most powerful of its time, nicknamed “The Big Stick.”

The ship earned 11 battle stars for its service, beginning in the Pacific Theater in WWII. It saw action again in the Korean War and was recommissioned for use in the Cold War. In 1989, a turret explosion killed 47 crewmen on the ship off the coast of Puerto Rico.

Saturday, June 2, 2012: The USS Iowa is towed past Angel’s Gate Lighthouse and into the Port of L.A. for the first time. (photo by John Mattera)

The Iowa hosted more U.S. presidents than any other battleship, beginning in 1943, when it transported President Franklin D. Roosevelt to a secret meeting in Tehran with Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Chiang Kaishek. A special bathtub was added to accommodate Roosevelt, who suffered from polio.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan boarded the Iowa to celebrate the restoration and centenary of the Statue of Liberty. President George H.W. Bush went on the ship twice, first for its recommissioning in 1984 and again for the memorial service for the crewmen who perished in 1989.

Saturday, June 9, 2012: (Left) More than 800 specially invited guests board the USS Iowa for its final voyage into the Main Channel. (photo by Joshua Stecker)

From Mothball Fleet to Museum

By 2001, the Iowa had joined other mothballed vessels on reserve in the Suisun Bay near San Francisco. Four years later, it was struck from the Naval Registry, becoming the last remaining battleship available for donation to become a naval museum. Groups in Stockton, San Francisco and Vallejo took interest.

Kent, who had successfully helped find homes for other decommissioned warships, originally worked with the group in Vallejo. But its bid was denied in 2007 over concerns

about fundraising needed for a massive dredging project. Kent decided Los Angeles was the best bet to save the Iowa from being scrapped. In 2009, he formed the Pacific Battleship Center and began looking for fundraising and real estate in the Port of Los Angeles.

In early 2010, he made a proposal to the Port to provide a berthing site for the battleship, but it was struck down, citing interference with waterfront redevelopment.

A few months later, the Navy put out another call for bids. With a deadline in sight, Kent turned to the community to rally support for his proposal. It would take a lot of convincing to get the Port to reconsider; a museum ship wouldn’t be a moneymaker for the Port as much as it would be for San Pedro.

“Once the Port said no, I went to the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council and they passed a vote to support this project. Then right after that we were invited to the other neighborhood councils and it was pretty much unanimous support,” Kent recalls.

The response from not only San Pedro, but the entire Harbor Community was overwhelmingly supportive. Soon residents were collecting hundreds of petition signatures to sway the Port. Mayor Villaraigosa pledged his support and then-Councilwoman Janice Hahn got the L.A. City Council to pass a resolution backing the proposal. Endorsements even came from President George H.W. Bush and FDR’s grandson, H. Delano Roosevelt.

“At that point, the Harbor Commission was on notice that this really was a City and community-based supported project and they needed to listen,” Kent says. “And they did.”

In summer 2010, the Port decided to conduct a study on the financial feasibility of berthing the battleship. There were a few wrinkles to iron out, but on November 18, 2010, the Board of Harbor Commissioners unanimously voted to make room for the ship. The decision came in the nick of time, just days before the deadline for bids. Kent overnighted the Pacific Battleship Center’s application to the Navy. The only other bidder was Vallejo.

On September 6, 2011, the Iowa was officially awarded to L.A. by the U.S. Secretary of the Navy. “Without the community support for this project, this ship would not be sitting here right now and that is the absolute truth,” Kent says.

Former San Pedro Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Camilla Townsend, who was first approached by Kent three years ago, agrees. “I think the community had a big voice on this one, which was nice. It’s a good feeling for the community to be heard,” she says. “The credit really goes to Robert Kent. He’s worked tirelessly for eight years to make this happen.”

The Iowa underwent refurbishments in Richmond, Calif., before being towed to L.A. in late May of this year, passing under the Golden Gate Bridge on its 75th anniversary.

The USS Iowa (photo by John Mattera)

A Part of Pedro

USS Iowa fever swept San Pedro long before the ship’s arrival. A street party is set to take place on July 6 in downtown San Pedro to welcome the ship before its ribbon cutting the next day.

Business owners and community leaders have been important players in the push the bring the ship to the waterfront. “It’s a really big deal for us to have this ship, so we’re really excited both as business owners and as residents,” says Mona Sutton, owner the Omelette & Waffle Shop. “We finally have a good cornerstone attraction and a big piece of history.”

“I think our community is really happy and excited because it’s a good thing and we’ve been needing to see a positive thing happen in all of our revitalization,” says Townsend. “It’s going to be a beautiful sight here on the waterfront.”

The USS Iowa is now the premier surface warship museum on the west coast (the other two are aircraft carriers), making it a hot spot for veterans of not only battleships, but cruisers and destroyers.

Television production companies have already been calling asking when the ship will be available for filming. There is even a virtual reality experience in the works with a video game developer that will recreate some of the attacks the Iowa saw in WWII.

For many, the USS Iowa is more than a sorely needed tourist attraction, but a symbol of San Pedro’s own Naval history. “The Port of L.A. has a rich Navy history going back to the early part of the 20th century, where it used to house the city battle fleet,” says USS Los Angeles veteran Jim Whitt, who got to ride on the Iowa the day it settled at Berth 87. “There’s a very rich history, but all that has just about disappeared, so it’s nice to get some of that back.” Efforts to turn the USS Los Angeles into a museum ship never saw fruition and it was eventually scrapped. “This is kind of a second chance for us,” Whitt says.

Preventing the same fate for the USS Iowa, the world’s last remaining battleship, was a big part of Kent’s motivation.

“People ask me why I’ve been working 18 hour days, seven days a week pretty much for no pay for the last two years, living off my savings and putting in $250,000 of my own money for the project,” Kent says. “Well, I met a lot of crewmen along the way whose hopes were dashed so many times when each group that tried before failed. I was determined not to let the Pacific Battleship Center fail. I wanted these crewmen to finally get the satisfaction that their ship was going to be saved and be home again.” spt

For more info on the USS Iowa and to purchase tickets for tours, visit www.pacificbattleship.com.