A Tasteful Romance: Andria & Roberto Lo Grande – November 3, 2012 (Wedding)

Photos by John Mattera Photography

Andria (Trani) Lo Grande went to the Taste in San Pedro in April 2009 expecting to sample the different flavors of town. Little did she know that in addition to savoring the various delicacies San Pedro is known for, she’d also meet her future husband, Roberto.

Andria was introduced to Roberto while hanging out with friends at the Taste. At the time, Blackberries were still popular, so Roberto didn’t hesitate to ask for Andria’s “BBM” (Blackberry Messenger) name. That night, Roberto BBMed Andria and after two weeks of messaging back and forth, they went on their first date to Sushi Fiori in Redondo Beach.

“It was really sweet how he asked me – he asked me in Italian,” describes Andria, daughter of Phil Trani and Michelle Katrich. “He’s full Italian and I’m part Italian, part Croatian.”

The date went well and was a somewhat new experience for Andria as she didn’t really date much prior to Roberto, son of Sal and Maria Grazia Lo Grande. Although always a little “standoff-ish,” Andria decided to venture into a second date two weeks later, where the two enjoyed a night at the movies.

During this time (and in typical San Pedro fashion), one of Andria’s friends was dating one of Roberto’s friends, so they all spent a lot of time together. Then, Roberto had Andria meet his family in November of 2009, and a few days later, asked her to be his girlfriend.

“It was like I had to pass a test before he made the commitment,” Andria jokes.

Andria continued to make the grade in Roberto’s eyes, which was made evident during an October 2011 trip to Vegas for Andria’s and a friend’s birthday. While hanging out with a group of friends in their hotel room, Roberto got down on one knee and popped the question.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” says Andria. “We were all just so shocked!”

Andria said yes, of course, and the couple married on November 3, 2012. Their ceremony was at Mary Star of the Sea Parish. Andria’s grandfather, Marijan “Mutt” Katrich, walked her halfway down the aisle, while her father walked her down the rest of the way. There were more than 350 guests in attendance and their large wedding party consisted of many relatives and friends.

On Andria’s side were Maid of Honor Cassie Redlew; bridesmaids Shannon Fredericks, Nicole Trani, Paola Palma, Cara Williams, Rindy Vidovich, Christina Lo Grande, Melissa Malahni, Stephanie Fiamengo, and Carly Potter; and flower girl Lauren Fredericks. On Roberto’s side were Best Men Sergio Lo Grande and Gaetano Lo Grande; groomsmen Phil Trani, Salvo Cracchiolo, Giuseppe Napoli, Paolo Funiciello, Pay Lopez, Jason Dorio, Joe Agrusa, and Eddie Sullivan; and ring bearers Jack Fredericks and Max Trani Hardin.

Following the ceremony, a pre-reception was held at Phil Trani’s Fine Food & Spirits in Long Beach, which is Andria’s father’s restaurant.

“We wanted our guests to have a place where they could go and be entertained since there was a large time gap between the wedding and reception,” explains Andria. “Everyone was able to enjoy drinks and appetizers, and we had a mariachi band that played for everyone and continued to play at the reception.”

Andria’s grandfather was a commercial fisherman and fell in love with the mariachi music he would hear while working on his ship. For Andria’s mother’s and aunt’s weddings, he hired mariachis to play at their receptions, so Andria wanted to carry on the tradition at her own reception.

Roberto and Andria’s reception was held at the Hilton Long Beach, where the couple entered dancing to Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” They then shared their first dance to Steve Tyrell’s version of “The Way You Look Tonight,” followed by the father-daughter dance to Tim McGraw’s “My Little Girl.” Also featured at the wedding were a variety of Italian and Croatian cookies, which were homemade by family members.

Following their special day, the couple spent a week in St. Lucia for their honeymoon.

Currently, Roberto and Andria reside in San Pedro, and Roberto is a superintendent on the docks, while Andria is a registered nurse at San Pedro Hospital. They hope to buy a home and start a family soon. spt

Downtown Hasn’t Shaken its Vacancy Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PBID has received some criticism for its focus on beautification.

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

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

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

Girls Basketball Sensations Rule The Courts

Rita Fiorenza of San Pedro High (left) and Angela Wade of Port of Los Angeles High School (photos by Jamaal K. Street).

San Pedro High’s Rita Fiorenza & POLA High’s Angela Wade are focal points for promising 2013-14 seasons, which includes a rare December showdown.

Fiorenza, a junior guard, and Wade, a senior forward, bring a lot of great intangibles to the forefront and have been tearing up the nets from the outset with their amazing talent of putting the ball in the hoop. These two young athletes have led their respective schools to the CIF-Los Angeles City Section playoffs (San Pedro in Division I, POLA in Division V) in each of the past two seasons.

San Pedro’s first home game for the 2013-14 season is against the Polar Bears, setting the stage for what could be an epic scoring battle if Fiorenza and Wade both have their way. It’s the closest thing San Pedro may have to a Diana Taurasi vs. Tamika Catchings WNBA-type duel.

Fiorenza, who began her basketball playing days at the tender age of nine, came to San Pedro for the 2011-12 season as a freshman. The team was coming off a dreadful 2010-11 season that saw the Pirates win only once in 21 games, losing all 12 of their Marine League contests in lopsided fashion. Since then, she has given the rest of the league reason to think twice about San Pedro being a pushover.

The Pirates still had some problems dealing with well-known powers Narbonne and Carson, but pulled a giant upset over another, defeating Washington Prep for the first time in 20 years. Fiorenza, who averaged 12.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.5 assists, would help take San Pedro to the CIF-LACS Division I playoffs and garner All-Marine League first team honors.

For Fiorenza, there was one moment in her rookie season at San Pedro that stood out the most. “My most memorable game was against Elizabeth Learning Center,” said Fiorenza.

Sure enough, it was her home debut against the Bulldogs. With San Pedro trailing 42-40, only eight seconds remained in the game, and no one knew who was going to be the one to come up with the clutch moment. So Fiorenza took the inbound pass after it slightly went over her right shoulder, and darted to the basket, making a move to slightly avoid a Bulldog defender who didn’t want to draw a charging foul, double clutching a layup in mid-air that softly banked off the backboard and into the basket as time expired.

The crowd inside San Pedro’s gym went bonkers, and Fiorenza was elated and excited and her teammates were electrified. San Pedro eventually lost, 52-48 in overtime despite Fiorenza’s 18 points and signature moment.

“All I was thinking before I got back in the game was that I can do this. I believe in myself, and whatever I do, just get to the hole,” recalled Fiorenza.

There was no sophomore slump for Fiorenza last season, as she started off hot by scoring 26 points against University of Los Angeles, and then 23 in the rematch with Elizabeth Learning Center, which the Pirates dominated with a 72-49 road victory. She missed a couple of key games in the Marine League with an illness that slowed her down a bit. Despite that, San Pedro still made the playoffs again even with just three league wins.

Fiorenza has high hopes for her junior season, both individually and team-wise. “My main goal for me would be to try and be an overall better player and increase my scoring average,” she said. “And my goal as a team would be to do the best in leading my team and making sure we all play together well.”

Meanwhile, Wade is a pure sharpshooter for POLA who can adapt to any style, and the four-year veteran who’s been playing the sport since sixth grade is looking for more for herself and for her team. The Polar Bears look to build off last year’s CIF-LACS Division V semifinal appearance where they lost to Crosstown League rival Animo South Los Angeles for the third time in 2012-13.

“Getting to the semifinals was most memorable because even though we lost, we as a team did our best and fought hard till the end,” said Wade, who averaged 16.7 points, leading all scorers for all of the San Pedro-based high schools.

Friday, December 14, 2012, was a historic day for both Wade and the Polar Bears. Against New Millennium of Carson, Wade lit up the Victoria Park gymnasium like a Christmas tree, scoring 30 points to become the first POLA High basketball player – male or female – to put up a 30-point outing during the Polar Bears’ 69-46 victory. Even with that kind of individual brilliance, Wade was still humble, a lost trait in a lot of young athletes, and was a little surprised by her remarkable achievement.

“I was really shocked and amazed because I never really pay attention to my stats, but it doesn’t matter how much I score,” said Wade. “It’s all about the team and how much we scored together as a team, but the feeling was amazing. I was really proud of myself, but also thankful for a team that helped me get those points. Without them, I couldn’t have scored those points.”

Wade helped POLA post a 19-7 mark and a second place tie in the Crosstown League with a 7-3 record, along with two CIF-LACS Division V playoff victories over De La Hoya Animo of Los Angeles and Sherman Oaks CES, garnering an All-City Division V first team selection.

“Individually, I just want to help my team out as much as I can before I leave,” said Wade, explaining her goals for the 2013-14 season. “As a team, I want to have everyone work together and have a chemistry that will hopefully take us all the way to the championships.”

Fiorenza and Wade both carry at least a 3.0 GPA at their schools, with Fiorenza boasting a solid 3.5.

These two magnificent scoring wonders will have a chance to make a massive statement on December 9, when POLA visits San Pedro for their inaugural crosstown battle and overall bragging rights for their schools. It’s a game that can also bring this close-knit community together because you don’t see this kind of prep showdown very often these days.

Wade and Fiorenza are both looking forward to this latest challenge for different reasons. “To me, it feels just like another game,” said Wade. “But playing against San Pedro should be interesting and fun. I think it will really show not only the Pirates, but the whole San Pedro community what POLA High School is made of, that we are a competitive and good team. We will come with the heart to win and to just play to our fullest.”

“I think it will be a fun game to play in and I’m pretty confident our team will do just fine,” said Fiorenza. spt

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Albert Carranza, Jr. and Vickie Kinner from Harbor Area Paranormal.

“The place that lacks its ghost is a barren place indeed.” – John Hewitt

The Beatles’ “Paul is Dead” was spawned in 1969 and is perhaps one of the most incredulous music industry rumors ever circulated. A buzz that triggered frenzied fans to seclude themselves in darkened, candle-lit rooms, and engage in the meaningful sport of playing 33 1/3 LP records backwards, specifically to “Strawberry Fields Forever,” for the sole objective of hearing the last hushed monotone whispers of “I Buried Paul,” or perhaps to “A Day in the Life,” with ears strained to hear the crackling fire and agonizing screams that offered up “proof” that a car crash claimed the life of, until that moment, as previously perceived by his devotees, the immortal Paul McCartney.

Granted, using the primitive tool of fingers to listen to records backwards hardly compares to the high-tech ghost hunting equipment of today, although the chief objectives remain: to shape something from the invisible, and to make the inaudible, audible.

For the avid paranormal researcher, successfully doing so unearths a virtual mystical toy chest. As evidenced throughout history, folks have delved into unseen dimensions utilizing methods ranging from the solemn ceremonial séance, or teen party game, Ouija Board, to automatic writing, crystal ball or water gazing. In 2002, efforts to communicate with discarnate beings was developed with the “Ghost Box” or “Frank’s Box,” constructed by the electronic voice (EVP) enthusiast, Frank Sumption, for communication with discarnate beings. Although skeptics eagerly insist, and stand ready to prove, that all EVP’s or any “ghost evidence,” is attributed to natural phenomena or obvious hoaxes.

The U.S.S. Enterprise aircraft carrier played pivotal roles beginning with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, to the primary host for air attacks against Al Qaeda training camps and the Taliban military installations in Afghanistan. On a balmy evening in 1998, San Pedran and former Navy Aviation Electrician 2nd Class Vickie Kinner strolled about this historic ship. As she glanced over the ship’s aft section, she heard several distinct painful cries, as if someone was calling out to her. Were these cries from the Enterprises’ massive 1969 fire triggered by an exploding MK-32 Zuni rocket that killed 27 and injured over 300? At that moment, Vickie realized her life’s path: to discover the meaning of unexplained sounds, to investigate the paranormal, to organize her own team and provide positive aid to both those who were unquestionably lost souls, and the people that wanted reach out to them.

In 2007, with that motivation, Harbor Area Paranormal (HAP) evolved. Kinner is adamant that they “do not encourage people to ghost hunt unless they thoroughly study the subject and go with experienced folks. Additionally, we don’t want people to trespass for reasons of possible criminal and spiritual danger.”

Other ghost hunters of the nonprofit, no charge for investigations HAP, include Albert Carranza, Jr. who, along with Kinner, taps into their digital recorders, infrared cameras, electro-magnetic and electronic voice phenomenon field meters, (EMF and EVP) in attempts, to coin a phrase from AT&T’s 1979 slogan, “Reach out and touch someone.” HAP has been privileged to attend some of the explorations on the Ghosthunters and Ghost Adventurers TV series but they keep busy in our Harbor Area with ample ghost hunting explorations.

Kinner is unwavering in her opinion that, “San Pedro is very haunted.” An important objective of HAP, who is also an official member of the Southern California Paranormal Alliance, Inc., is to remain aligned with the scientific community via experimentation to prove or disprove the validity of paranormal claims. In addition to researching claims, HAP actively supports the troops, specifically the Marines as they adopted a unit from Camp Pendleton and provide shoes for the Wounded Warriors in Afghanistan. “We don’t seek out locations, if people need help they can contact us via our website,” said Kinner.

HAP’s website includes the results of several investigations, including the San Pedro Warner Grand Theatre. “The theatre is very active with the paranormal and we captured numerous EVPs and apparitions,” said Kinner. “While backstage and in the dressing rooms, one of our members heard what sounded like someone wearing dress shoes and moving very quickly. In the theatre smoking lounge, which is located downstairs below the popcorn stand, we heard disembodied voices and captured cold spots, and shadows.” Dimitri Nimoy, a former Warner Grand employee, cements these findings with his own. “One night, while working the concession stand, I felt a distinct finger poke on my leg,” he said. “I’ve seen theatre seats move, heard footsteps and mumbling voices. I’d be fixing the popcorn solo, yet I knew I was never alone.”

Anna, a local San Pedran, was a confessed skeptic until she heard the distinct sound of footsteps and saw shadowed images in her 80-year-old home. “After purchasing our home, we were told by a former member of the Cook family who owned Alma Market that she was aware of certain activity in the home,” she said. “I decided to consult with Kinner’s group and tap into their resources. When HAP entered my home they were immediately aware of energy and captured EVPs and an apparition. Their investigation uncovered what we knew was present and following the research I felt a sense of relief, I was no longer frightened and ceased living in a hostile environment.”

For obvious reasons, no hunt is typical, although HAP does adhere to a basic procedure. Most pertinent is the explanation to the client that the team is unable to “clear” a home of paranormal activity, as Kinner clarified: “We investigate and reach viable conclusions, be the end result paranormal or non-paranormal. Family and witness interviews are conducted and we walk through the location, and hear details of the experience. Afterwards, it’s time for the electronic equipment, our cameras, audio recorders and the other devices that we place near where the purported activity has been noted. We take notes on the environment, including baseline temperature room readings and ask the spirits questions to try to get them to manipulate our equipment or items in the room, such as opening doors, moving objects or other things noticed by the family. One of the main things we spend time doing is attempting to find non-paranormal reasons for the activity that has been experienced. Once our investigation is completed, we send an email to the family with a reveal of evidence, either non-paranormal or paranormal, and include suggestions for reducing or dealing with the activity.”

If uninvited guests are knocking at your door, Harbor Area Paranormal’s expertise will help solve the puzzle. Vanished are the days of ruining your record player needles and, as we all know, Sir Paul McCartney is indeed among the land of the living. spt

For more information on Harbor Area Paranormal, visit www.harborareaparanormal.com.

San Pedro Through The Eyes Of A Master

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zatikyan spent 20 years painting 12 hours a day.

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

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

Capturing The Port On Polaroid

Photographer Ingrid Dietrich (photo by Joshua Stecker)

Most prefer to be either in front of or behind the camera, not both, and not Ingrid Dietrich.

Dietrich, with her fiery red mane and sweet disposition, has made San Pedro her home since 2008. Her career has her spending time both behind the camera and in front of it — and in some cases, she coaches those taking to the fashion runway.

In 2004, Dietrich, 34, moved to the United States from El Salvador. She came to the United States with the goal of continuing her education and “exploring a new world of possibilities.”

It took less than a year for Dietrich to realize that California was, indeed, the perfect fit. She says Southern California is very similar in climate to Central America, which was a major draw in moving away from home.

“I fell in love with California. I always knew deep down I wanted to come here to study,” she says. “The ocean, the weather, the stability, I just knew it was the perfect fit, and the closest I could get to home without being home.”

Upon arriving, Dietrich studied business and entrepreneurship at Santa Monica College. She later received a Certificate in Business and Website Design, and most recently she graduated from OTIS College of Arts and Design with a major in Professional Photography.

After moving around the Los Angeles area, Dietrich made her home in San Pedro.

She moved to the portside community in 2008, but says she fell in love with the community shortly after arriving in California when she made the trip to San Pedro as a tourist.

“At first I was a tourist, I traveled all over the community,” she says. “But then, in 2006, I took a helicopter tour from Long Beach and saw the city from above, and I just knew I had to move, and did so just under two years later.”

That year, Dietrich responded to an advertisement in the PennySaver for an in-home care assistant for a San Pedro couple. The husband is a quadriplegic, and his wife needed assistance in caring for him on days she needed to run errands.

“I was looking for a job, they had posted an advertisement, and I met them and it has been a perfect fit,” Dietrich says, adding that this San Pedro family was another big reason she decided to move into the community. “I love them, I really do, they are my family.”

Dietrich says she has grown a lot as a person since making the trek from El Salvador to California, but one thing has remained a constant, and that’s her love for photography.

It started back in 1987, when on a trip to Guatemala with her family, her father purchased her a “cute little purple pocket 110 film camera.” She said from that point forward, she never stopped taking pictures.

“There have been times in my life, while studying, that I really believed that architecture was my real passion,” she recalls. “At one point, I thought I would put down the camera, but then I had an architecture professor who made us pick up the camera, and it was this that changed my life.”

A Polaroid from Dietrich's "Port of Los Angeles - 1969 Land Polaroid" exhibition.

In October, Dietrich was a featured artist during the San Pedro International Film Festival, and this month, her current project, “Port of Los Angeles – 1969 Land Polaroid” will be exhibited at the Croatian Cultural Center.

“I have had many exhibitions all over Los Angeles,” she says. “But I haven’t had any in San Pedro, and I have wanted to share my work with this community for so long, so this means the world to me.”

Dietrich has been photographing San Pedro on her own time for many years, but it wasn’t until a friend gave her a 1969 Polaroid that she finally had a vision.

“For the past five years, I have dedicated six days each week to capturing the beauty of the city,” she says. “I am in love with the city, the magnificent, old architecture with a small town feel.”

The goal of the project was to bring out the “beauty of the old historical buildings in juxtaposition with the newest architecture of the city.”

To acquire this effect, Dietrich used a 50-year-old black and white Polaroid camera.

“I wanted to make the city look old,” she says. “I knew if I used digital photography to capture the old architecture and the new structures, I would have had to make modifications to make them look from the same time period, and I didn’t want that. I wanted the image to be pure, well planned, unique, somehow raw.”

Dietrich says the project was challenging because there is only one Polaroid — no negatives.

“This project really has made me pay attention to composition,” she says. “It was extremely challenging, but so rewarding, and I am beyond excited and honored to share the photographs with the residents of San Pedro.”

Dietrich, who has been featured in National Geographic three times, says her goal is to work full-time for the magazine that has been in publication since 1888.

“My dream would be to be hired by National Geographic,” she says. “But my goal, as of now, is to give back to the great community of San Pedro. I want my photographs to someday be my legacy, something I can leave with the community forever.” spt

“Port of Los Angeles – 1969 Land Polaroid” opens on First Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Croatian Cultural Center (510 W. 7th St.), and closes on Nov. 16. For more info, visit www.ingriddietrich.com.

Top of the Totem Pole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A 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.

Go Big Or Go Home: Gina & Sarah Di Leva – October 19, 2012 (Wedding)

photos by Jeff Loftin & John Mattera

Gino and Sarah (Brander) Di Leva never thought they would ever get married, especially to each other.

The couple met through mutual friends in 2003 and got to know each other well as they often enjoyed dinner and live music together with their close-knit group of friends.

“We started off with a quirky friendship,” describes Gino, son of Vince and Mary Di Leva. “We would tease each other and joke around about going out with each other until we eventually did.”

So the two headed to Rock Bottom in Long Beach for their first “date” without the rest of the gang. They said the experience was really nothing different from when they were with their friends, and they just enjoyed each other’s company.

But because of their independent spirits, Gino and Sarah were in no rush to commit.

“We saw our relationship as us doing our own thing while enjoying the other person’s company,” says Gino. “Neither one of us were in a real hurry, so we just took it one day at a time.”

Being very driven in his music career, those around him knew Gino for his infamous one-liner: “I’m opposed to commitment.” Sarah was very aware of this and even heard it from Gino himself that he never wanted to get married. Likewise, Sarah didn’t grow up ever wanting to get married, but knew that if she ever did, it would be to Gino.

“We were both very independent, but had huge admiration for each other,” explains Sarah, daughter of Elizabeth Meyer. “I knew that if I were to ever marry, it would be to him. But marriage was never on the forefront of my mind.”

Despite their views on marriage, the two finally committed to each other in 2010. Ironically, as soon as Gino committed, Sarah moved to Australia for a year.

“I love Australia, and learning and tending to animals, and had the opportunity to live in Australia and work on a farm and travel throughout the country,” says Sarah. “But I could only call home once a week – and that was tough for us.”

In December 2011, seven months into Sarah’s year in Australia, Gino visited for five weeks, a trip that would take their relationship to the next level.

“I knew I was going to marry Sarah when I committed to a relationship,” explains Gino. “So I thought what better place to propose than Australia? I knew I had to go big or go home.”

And go big he did. Gino and Sarah took a plane to Ayres Rock in the middle of the Outback, where they had the choice to climb up the rock or walk around it. The two chose to conquer the six-mile walk around the rock, encountering numerous waterholes along the way. About three-and-a-half miles into their walk, they came upon a beautiful waterhole lined with trees that formed a tunnel.

Gino didn’t want to propose with others around, so he waited for the area to clear out. Once it did, Sarah pulled out Santa hats and thought it would be a good idea to take their Christmas pictures while there. Gino obliged and then told her he had a little gift for her, which was a “cheesy” bracelet, as he would describe it. He then said, “I have one more gift.”

He pulled out the box with the ring in it and got down on one knee and proposed. Sarah said yes, and again Gino said, “I have one more gift!” He pulled out his iPod and put the earbuds in Sarah’s ears and held her close and danced with her as she listened to the song being played, which was titled “U,” written and performed by Gino.

As this was all going on, not one other person was in the same area. As soon as the song ended, however, a large group of people entered.

“It was just a beautiful moment,” explains Sarah. “Everything about the day was just beautiful, from our sunrise tour to our engagement, to the dinner at sunset. It was just perfect.”

Less than a year later, the two married on October 19, 2012. Their ceremony was a traditional Catholic one at All Hallows Catholic Church in La Jolla in front of 100 guests. During the ceremony, Sarah’s friend Christina, who owns a bed and breakfast in Australia with her husband John, did a scripture reading. The church’s children’s choir performed various hymns and psalms, while Gino’s brother-in-law John Morreale and nephew Matthew Morreale played and sang “The Prayer” by Andrea Bocelli. Additionally, Monsignor Pilato, a longtime family friend and distant relative of Gino’s, presided over the ceremony.

Standing next to Gino and Sarah were their wedding party: Matron of Honor Kasie Regnier; bridesmaids Tarren Austad and Jenny Carlson; flower girl Ava Austad; Best Man Domenico Pilato; and groomsmen John Mattera, Tony “Mo” Di Leva, Anthony Di Leva, and John Morreale.

The reception followed at Green Gables Estate in San Marcos. Gino and Sarah danced to the same song Sarah listened to during the proposal. Gino also mixed a variety of songs together for the cake cutting, garter toss, bouquet toss, and more. For a surprise, Sarah strapped toys to her garter for Gino to find when it was time to remove it.

Gino and Sarah kicked off their honeymoon with a two-night stay in San Diego with Christina and John from Australia, followed by a week in Palm Desert. The couple currently lives in San Pedro, Sarah works at a physical therapy office in Redondo Beach, and Gino works as a disc jockey for Michael Angelo Music; operates M3 Workshops, Inc., a non-profit organization; and plays for various bands including Dr. Iven, Identity Theft, and Rodeo Drive. spt

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.