Bruins & Trojans Unite for a Cure

Jack Baric and James Brown showing their respective college pride. (photo by John Mattera)

Although there are multitudes of great places in San Pedro to meet friends, it can be easily argued that the social center of our town is the San Pedro Brewing Company. The conversation at the bar leans pretty heavily toward sports and especially the debate between Bruin and Trojan fans over their teams – this is especially true because Brew Co. owner, James Brown is as proud a UCLA alum as you’ll ever want to meet. It’s why I took such great joy in getting him photographed in this magazine a few years ago wearing the shirt of my alma mater, USC. We made a bet over the annual rivalry football game – the alum whose team lost would have to be photographed in the rival’s shirt. I can’t recall what year JB had to do it, but let’s do some football math – the original version of the publication launched in 2002 and the Trojans won that year and in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 so we know it wasn’t in 2006 because that’s the only year UCLA has won since 1998.

This year the bet returns, but with a twist. First, I must give kudos to UCLA because it’s the first year in a long time that they’re playing exciting football and it’s shaping up to be one of the best rivalry games in ages. However, our bet will be a little different this year. We are competing to see who can raise the most money for cancer research, the San Pedro Bruins vs. the San Pedro Trojans. JB is generously supporting a film and philanthropic project that I’m a part of. I’m making a documentary film called A City Divided about the history of the USC vs. UCLA football rivalry and the film will serve as a catalyst for a campaign called Rivals United for a Kure with proceeds going to Kure It, a non-profit dedicated to cancer research. Kure It will equally donate all its profits from the project to the UCLA and USC cancer research centers.

The campaign’s co-chairmen are former USC All-American quarterback Paul McDonald and former UCLA star quarterback Matt Stevens. Paul and Matt are the radio announcers for USC and UCLA football and have been speaking about the campaign on the air. The message is especially poignant from Matt because he survived a very tough battle with cancer and is an eloquent spokesman. The red carpet premiere for the film will be a Rivals United fundraiser on November 12 at Club Nokia at L.A. Live and JB has agreed to coordinate buses from Brew Co. for the premiere. Tickets for $60 will include a ride on the chartered bus, admission to the screening, and admittance to the after-party, featuring a number of former USC and UCLA players. I’m hoping that all our friends, Bruins and Trojans, are going to show the entire city of L.A. the Pedro spirit that we are so proud of by rocking the balcony that night with loud competing chants of “We are SC” and the UCLA eight clap – and, more importantly, leading the way in stepping up to fight a terrible disease that has touched us all.

Locals that attend the film will see a lot of faces they recognize. Being a born and raised Pedro Boy, I found a way to sneak a lot of locals into the film, including interviews with John Papadakis and JB (he took the role of UCLA pop-off!), cameos from the Bebich brothers, Fong sisters, Michael Varela, Ron Galosic, and a host of kids from some of the following families; Baric (that’s me), Setlich, Pirozzi, Desai, Lusic, Sestich, LaPine, Basich, and Danelo. I’d especially like to thank the Danelo family for allowing me to include the moving story of Mario Danelo, their son/brother – and San Pedro’s friend/star. The tribute to Mario in the film illustrates how we put aside the rivalry and united together as a community to honor a young man when his life tragically ended short. Mario’s brother, Joey (a very devoted Bruin!) is fantastic in the film talking about his brother.

I’ll leave you with our slogan…a city divided becomes a city united as Bruins and Trojans join together to fight cancer. We will unite, we will fight, and we will win. spt

For more info about the non-profit, please visit www.rivalsunitedforakure.org. For more info about the San Pedro Rivals United Challenge and tickets to the premiere, please visit www.sanpedrobrewing.com.

Jack Baric can be contacted at jackbaric@hotmail.com.

Beauties Below Gaffey: Harbor Farms Part II

Bruhnke’s urban minifarm in full bloom. (photos by Sierra Haase)

Last year, the concept of Harbor Farms was born when Rachel Bruhnke, a high school teacher, purchased a three-bedroom, two-bath house with a huge back yard on 17th Street, and began her dream of having her own little urban mini-farm.

Outside, she planned on installing solar panels and rain gutters. Inside, she planned to incorporate certain things such as a Hot Box to warm food, and to use her basement to store canned food and harvested vegetables. She wanted to ensure she and her daughter lived as environmentally friendly as they possibly could by collecting grey water, saving rainwater and composting. She also hoped to reach out to the community to teach other homeowners how to utilize their land to grow food and to become individually sustainable.

I interviewed Rachel in the July 2011 issue of San Pedro Today, and since then much has happened and been achieved. Always wanting to teach and share, as a class field trip for her Environmental Engineering class she walked her students to her home so they could watch her solar panels be installed. The rain gutters are up and collecting water that she uses to water her vegetation in three different containers: one in the front yard and two in the back. She hired a friend to install a wood and wire fence around the front yard that the plants can cling to as they grow, and she now has tomatoes, herbs and a borage plant that attracts bees.

She never installed her Hot Box, but thinks she might use the space for a solar dehydrator to dry herbs and veggies. She has acquired two coveted chickens that she collects eggs from, and since last July has grown a plethora of fruits, vegetables and herbs, including pumpkins, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, artichokes, chard, sweet peas, cabbage, thyme, sage, mint, and much more. In April, she showed me her small greenhouse where she was starting tomatoes, cucumber, squash, cantaloupe and lettuce from seed. She now knows how to can, too, thanks to a seasoned Italian neighbor, and is ready to give Tomato Salsa as Christmas gifts. She plans on holding canning workshops in the future.

Fresh eggs from Bruhnke’s two chickens.

Rachel is a busy mom who works fulltime, but still finds time to take care of her plants. When asked if it is a lot of work to up-keep the garden, she says yes, but also says, “Plants take care of themselves. My motto is Trust the Sun, Grow Food.” But that’s not all she does. She is starting an innovative consulting business called Rachel’s Greenhouse, where she teaches resilience, self-reliance and sustainability to people as a sustainability coach. To help prepare, she took a course at the Neighborhood Garden Academy in Los Angeles, the first of its kind, and volunteered to hold the graduation ceremony in her very own backyard.

She also has held several farmers’ markets and hosted garden tours. But here is the big news: Harbor Farms has turned into a group of urban mini-farms, as there are now 12 in all. They are located throughout San Pedro, including 14th and Mesa, 7th street, and at one of Rachel’s former student’s home on 30th street. Together they help residents install urban gardens on their own properties. The only requirement is that they be as public as possible with their garden in order to inspire others.

Graduation Ceremony for the Community Garden Academy in Los Angeles.

Rachel’s love for the environment and her compassion for the community is contagious, to say the least. I now have plans for a front yard garden of my own. spt

New Councilman Faces First Test With An Old Problem

When it comes to Ponte Vista, a relieved Janice Hahn must be sitting in her D.C. congressional office thinking, “Well, Joe, the ball’s in your court now.” For our new councilman, the honeymoon is over. Joe Buscaino‘s had it pretty easy so far, with nothing but one great photo op after another (USS Iowa, Crafted, waterfront development, downtown bistro lights, pulling out parking meters) – all positives and no controversies. Then, after a two-year break in the action, along comes the new Ponte Vista plan. Hahn did what she could to stop the Bisno disaster, then kicked that can down the road for her successor to deal with. And as we all know, it’s a can of worms that sharply divided the community previously and will probably continue to do so under the iStar banner. Janice can tell him that no matter what he does, he’s going to make a lot of people unhappy.

Unlike Bisno, the new developers at least have the decency to start with a fairly reasonable number of units, 1,135, but my concern, as it always has been, isn’t the number of units per se, but the density. That’s why I’ve always stood firm that the property should remain zoned R1 for single-family habitats. Since we all know the real issue is traffic, the main concern about Ponte Vista remains the number of cars it will add to the still overburdened Western Avenue corridor.

Do we really need more apartments in San Pedro? We’re already way overbuilt as it is. Business owners always want more customers, but our infrastructure can’t handle the current density. We’ve just crammed too many people into an area that wasn’t designed to handle them.

I actually agree with Louie Dominguez about the one key component missing from the iStar proposal. If city planners agree to rezoning, they should at least make iStar put senior housing back in the plan. Senior housing means lots of widows and no kids. That translates into fewer cars. And while senior housing may cut into iStar’s bottom line, it’s a boon for local real estate. Seniors will sell the single-family homes they no longer want or need, putting them on the market for families that actually could use the space.

So now Joe’s in the hot seat. Dealing with Ponte Vista may make him wish he was back on the beat.

A Childhood Trifecta

Almost every time I go shopping, I run into someone I know. It’s a San Pedro thing. Still, since I haven’t been to a class reunion since 1974, there are a lot of childhood friends I haven’t seen in a long time, which made recent events strike me as more than a little unusual. It started with the Harbor College Silent Auction fundraiser, where Lefty Olguin had invited his cousin to play some background music. It turns out this cousin is Mike Guerrero. I’d heard that Mike played gigs around town, notably Godmother’s, but I hadn’t seen him since we’d graduated together from San Pedro High in Winter 1969. It was fun catching up with someone I had known since our days together at Leland Street Elementary and being in the same Cub Scout den.

Then, just a few weeks later, I was at the reunion for Phil Scott’s San Pedro YMCA swim teams, where I ran into a number of “old faces” from San Pedro High days. And one of the faces I instantly recognized (which isn’t always easy after 43 years) was Joey Dragicevich, who only recently moved back to California after decades on the East Coast. Joey wasn’t just another Winter `69 classmate; he also was one of my Leland Street and Cub Scout buddies, along with Guerrero.

It took a tragedy to complete this story, but one of the first calls I received after Van Barbieri’s passing was from his brother Anthony. While Van and I got to know each other later in life, it was Anthony I graduated with and, yes, knew from Leland Street and that same Cub Scout pack that included Mike and Joey. Anthony has spent most of the intervening years in San Diego.

The odds that within a few weeks I would run into any two of these people I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years has to be extraordinary. The odds of running into all three have to be astronomical. Seeing all three childhood playmates once more as we near our dotage was just plain heartwarming.

Van Fare-well

Even though he may have lived most of his adult life on the Hill, everyone knows Van Barbieri’s heart was always in San Pedro. It was said in many different ways, but Van was a Real San Pedran. In his 72 years, he managed to have three successful careers, first in journalism with the News-Pilot (where many remember his “Van Fare” column), then as the longtime publicist for Olympic boxing that earned him hall of fame recognition, and finally in real estate. What with all of his other civic activities, including the Sportswalk and DB Club, it’s no surprise Mary Star was nearly filled for his funeral. If we are judged by the number of friends we have, Van truly was a champion. spt

A Lifetime in the Making

(photos by John Mattera Photography)

Ryan and Jenna Lusic’s love was a lifetime in the making. Having both come from Croatian families and being raised in San Pedro, Ryan and Jenna grew up knowing each other, and working alongside the other’s family.
The history between their families runs deep, as both of their didas (grandfathers) were involved with the Dalmatian-American Club. Ryan’s dida ran the catering for the club with Jenna’s mom and aunt both waitressing for him. When he passed away, Ryan’s dad and two uncles took over and Jenna, her sister and cousins began work there while Ryan bartended. Likewise, Jenna’s dida was the manager at Glendale Federal Bank where Ryan’s mom worked for many years.

However, it wasn’t until Jenna and Ryan worked together a second time that they realized they wanted more than a friendship.

Jenna, 26, daughter of Tim and Margie Meadows, began working at the Trump National Golf Club when she was 18. Ryan (or “Hatch” – a nickname given by his dad when he was born because of his “hatchet head”), 31, son of Nick and Kris Lusic, began working at Trump when he was 20. But because he is five years older than Jenna, he had already been working at Trump for three years by the time Jenna joined the staff.

The staff would often get together after work to hang out, which resulted in Hatch and Jenna’s friendship blooming into something more. In May 2006, they began dating. As Jenna would puts it, “Everything just fell into place.” So much so, they got their first dog, Bailey, together the very next year. In 2008, they took their relationship to the next level and moved in together. Then came their beautiful daughter Camryn in June 2009, an addition to their lives that brought much joy.

“We knew we did things a little out of order,” admits Jenna. “But to us, we were committed to each other, and marriage wasn’t a big priority at the time.” That is, until Hatch surprised her with a marriage proposal in October 2011.

Here’s how it went down: Hatch and Jenna, as well as all of Hatch’s family, met at Trump’s for dinner, celebrating his sister and brother-in-law’s seven-year wedding anniversary. The setting wasn’t unusual to Jenna as they often went to Trump’s for dinner. Hatch took Camryn to the back to show her off to the cooks (one of which was Jenna’s cousin Matt). This too was not unusual as Hatch still worked at Trump’s and liked to show Camryn off whenever she was around. Five minutes later, Camryn waddled of the kitchen holding a black box. Close behind were Hatch and Matt, who had a dessert platter in his hand. When Matt put the plate down, Jenna read “Will You Marry Me, Jenna?” spelled out in chocolate syrup. Hatch got down on one knee and proposed only to be answered with an exclamatory “YES!”

“Hatch did such a good job of surprising me,” says Jenna. “He really threw me off by using his sister’s anniversary as an excuse and having his whole family there.” It wasn’t long after that they decided to get married on April 14, 2012, a date that has significant meaning as Jenna had to get married on an “even numbered day.”

“I have a weird superstition with even numbers,” she explains. “I was born on February 4, 1986, was one of four kids, and had an even number on my basketball jersey in high school. I’m sure it’s the OCD in me but everything has to be even numbered – even the number of the gas pump I pull up to. So my wedding day was no different.” Not only is April 14 an even date, it’s also Hatch’s birthday, a factor that made the day even more special.


Having grown up in San Pedro, Hatch and Jenna couldn’t imagine celebrating their day anywhere else. Their ceremony, which was at Trump’s, hosted 300 guests and featured numerous meaningful moments, including Hatch walking Camryn down the aisle, something he was adamant about doing knowing he’d only get the chance to do so one other time in his life when she gets married. Then, as Jenna began her walk down the aisle – to the tune of Prince’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” – Hatch met her half way, coming to the altar as one. Additionally, their close friend Jason Dorio conducted the ceremony, and Jenna’s grandmother Joann and uncle Mike said a prayer and shared a blessing during the ceremony.

Hatch and Jenna also wanted to include all of their closest relatives and friends within the bridal party. On Jenna’s side were Maid of Honor Andria Kordic (Hatch’s sister) and Bridesmaids Katie Barich, Kelsie Barich, Christina LoGrande, Heather Thomas, Leea Sarmiento, Selena DeHart, Meghan Smith, Krysalynn Brown, Cara Williams, Danielle Herrera, and Breanna Stipicevich. Junior bridesmaid was Karly Kordic, and the flower girls were Camryn Lusic and Kelsey Kordic.


On Hatch’s side were Best Men Steve Kordic and Chris Lusic, and Groomsmen Matt Meadows, Rick Sysak, Bobby Fain, Danny Fain, Rob Piñel, David Hernandez, Ryan Diaz, Matt Bommarito, Aaron Reynolds, and Danny Sandoval. The ring bearer was Steven Kordic.

The day continued with the reception at Michael’s Tuscany Room, where guests enjoyed taking photos in a photo booth and danced well into the night. “Everything about our day was great,” gushes Jenna. “Our bridal party was amazing and everything just went our way.”


The newlyweds honeymooned in Las Vegas for three days, where they stayed at the New York New York Hotel and Casino and went zip lining and rode roller coasters.

Currently, Hatch and Jenna reside in San Pedro and are excited as Camryn enters pre-school this year. Jenna is a hair stylist at Andre’s Hair Studio, and Hatch is still bartending at Trump’s, works as a longshoreman, and sometimes DJs at places such as Crimson and San Pedro Brewing Co. on the side. There’s also a possibility of Baby #2 sometime next year.

“It’s funny how you can go your whole life thinking marriage was just about a piece of paper,” says Jenna. “But it really is more of an affirmation to each other. It’s special to be husband and wife and it makes the everyday routine more meaningful.” spt

 

 

Nightmare Parking at Field of Dreams

As much as I love to watch my children play soccer, every year I secretly wish they would decide to play flag football instead, in a field where I can park close by and watch games under a shade tree. For years, I have endured the nightmare parking situation at the Field of Dreams so my children can play soccer in San Pedro. But getting to the treeless field is like a trek to the outback and it leaves me feeling like a pack mule carrying chairs, coolers, and umbrellas a mile to practices and games.

There are 1,400 youth registered to play AYSO soccer at the field just below the flaming refinery flare and across from the butane tanks, which is another story altogether. The field has 150 parking spaces and on game days the lot is open to only coaches and referees. All of Westmont Drive and part of Gaffey Street is used as employee parking for the warehouses above the fields, leaving very little parking options for soccer families. It would probably be easier if I could figure out how to parachute in with my children and chairs.

Street parking on Westmont is a popular parking ticket trap with confusing signs whose arrows point across the street and at hills instead of the street. It is anybody’s best guess where it is legal to park. Knowing this, I have been extremely cautious where I park but still end up with a parking ticket while parked against a curb not painted red. The parking enforcement vultures are there every week, preying on hard working families who honestly are confused by the inconsistent red curbs and confusing signs. Wouldn’t it be better to have the city directing the thousands of people at the field instead of taking advantage of them? I fought my ticket and won but still the curb is not painted red.

To make matters worse, Recreation and Parks, who maintains the field owned by the Bureau of Sanitation, fails to keep the pedestrian gate open, which creates a dangerous situation for the families walking in. There is a narrow opening in the lot with no curb or sidewalk forcing families to walk inches away from moving vehicles. With only one way into the narrow lot, it is like entering the Bermuda Triangle at peak practice times, cars go in and do not come out. Some vehicles are too large to turn around so they have to back all the way out after dropping off their children. There is no loading area on the street making drop offs very challenging, especially with big rig trucks speeding down the hill.

My children have had such great experiences playing soccer but this parking fiasco needs to change. Collaborating with other parks and schools would be a good start. My son’s team once tried to hold a practice at Peck Park but we were asked to leave the empty park by two park employees. Possible solutions could be to have some games at other local parks or have a shuttle service (red trolley) and create an exit at the back of the field’s parking lot. The field is at full capacity with children playing soccer in every possible area so cutting into the field to add more parking would only create new problems.

The youth and families of San Pedro deserve a better situation. With Councilman Buscaino’s office actively looking for solutions, I feel like maybe after all these years we finally may see a positive change (no pressure Joe). For starters, they can take the overgrown city tree in front of my house that will not be trimmed for another 50 years by the city and move it to the Field of Dreams for much needed shade.

Anyone else with similar adventures at the Field of Dreams can contact Councilman Buscaino’s office with feasible solutions at (310) 732-4515. spt

Jennifer Marquez writes about low-cost and free events in her blog www.grassrootsmama.com. She can be reached at jennifertmarquez@yahoo.com.

New Campus Offers New Problems

(photos by John Mattera)

Students who left behind 75-year-old San Pedro High School to attend its new $80 million annex at Angel’s Gate that officially opened in August say they have faced a myriad of emotions leaving their flagship school.

Introduced with great fanfare at a dedication ceremony last month, the John M. and Muriel Olguin Campus – which was built to relieve overcrowding at San Pedro High – has some students saying they are nervous, scared and delighted all at same time to attend the $80 million facility at the Upper Fort MacArthur Reservation.

The state-of-the-art-campus comes complete with ocean breezes, a competitive swimming pool, a gymnasium and a 780-seat amphitheater. It also comes with a history of raising public ire from some nearby residents, many of whom wrangled so hard against the complex from its inception that they won Los Angeles Unified School District concessions such as no night lighting and an attendance cap of 800 students.

While quiet for awhile, the rumpus resumed immediately once the school opened Aug. 14 when it became clear that one concession school officials made would be broken – the use of Alma Street which skirts the west side of the campus.

Using busses along Alma is a must, explains Sandra Martin-Alvarenga, the school’s magnet coordinator. Each day, two busses do round-trips three times to the flagship campus, a straight shot from Alma to 17th Street. Students at both schools can take advantage of courses or extracurricular activities where they are offered.

The ride is five to eight minutes verses using the Gaffey and 37th Street exit “which is a meandering ride” out of Angel’s Gate and difficult for the buses to navigate, Martin-Alvarenga says. “We’ve got to get these kids to school on time. We are also trying to optimize the campus. We’re not an exclusive school. We want to give as many students to come here we can.”

The use of Alma reignited long simmering tensions between some neighbors and the school. Homeowner Dan Malstrom, one of many residents perturbed with this new twist and fears there’s more to come, argues this just stirs “the residual hate” that Los Angeles Unified provoked to build the campus – an action that upset many in the neighborhood who feared the annex would decline property values, take views and endanger the safety of the neighborhood.

Concerns about the safety of Alma, a somewhat narrow residential street, is another reason the artery shouldn’t be used, they argued. Malstrom has collected 200 signatures from surrounding homeowners against the opening of Alma Street – even for the busses.

“LAUSD made a promise that they would keep that gate closed,” Malstrom contends. He adds he’s a product of the magnet and believes in the school. “They need to keep that promise now so the community can heal. If they don’t keep this promise what’s next?”

He continues, “There’s more to this issue than just the busses that people don’t understand. It’s not just about two busses that pass by six times a day. It is also about other school traffic, such as delivery and commercial trucks as well as other vehicles using the gate when it’s left open. It’s about safety versus convenience.”

Now entering the fray are area residents whose children attend the Olguin campus. They want to drive in at nearby Alma to drop off their children rather than detour around to Gaffey Street – an issue Principal Jeanette Stevens has yet to determine. Stevens oversees both campuses.

The new state-of-the-art San Pedro High School campus annex comes complete with ocean breezes, a competitive swimming pool, a gymnasium and a 780-seat amphitheater.

Having attended numerous past community meetings often punctuated with a drive from residents to prevent the school’s development, Coastal Neighborhood Council president June Burlingame Smith says she’s not sure where the latest issue will head.

“If both sides are willing to listen to one another respectfully, and all options are on the table from the beginning of the dialogue, and if both sides are honest, a solution can and will be found,” Smith says. “If one side says there is no room to negotiate, then it will be usual trench warfare.”

Still up for debate is whether the school should open both the pedestrian gate and allow all vehicles to use the Alma entry. Slugging through that while trying to get a new campus off the ground isn’t easy, Stevens says.

“For the most part, the Olguin campus is up and running smoothly,” Stevens says. “There are issues around the Alma gate. However, most of the small problems have been solved. Students are in their fifth week of school. Classes are settled, sports are in full swing at both campuses and the shuttles are making their routes in a routine manner. Now we are fine tuning to ensure that each campus experiences the luxuries of the other.”

While adults argue about the school operations, students are deciding what they think of their new digs. San Pedro’s marine magnet and police academy are housed at the new annex because they draw students from across Los Angeles – the most equitable way the district could determine who attends.

Twin girls who will finish there as seniors offer opposing perspectives. “I have never been in a school that’s so nice and privileged,” says Jessica Martin, 17. “I definitely feel sorry it’s only for a certain amount of kids and I feel we are being segregated. Some of our magnet kids already have big heads and this is going to make them bigger.”

Natalie Martin, Jessica’s twin sister, thinks differently. While she believes it will be challenging – especially shuttling back and forth for classes between the two schools – she likes change. “I did enjoy San Pedro High, but I welcome the change,” she says. “I like this school. It’s eco-friendly. This school is open and beautiful and colorful. I feel I deserve to be here. I worked hard for it in my classes.”

San Pedro High will continue to act as the mother ship for the annex. While students worry about schedules and shuttling between schools, teacher Jennifer Ritz says with any new school there will be blips in the chart. “Every good system has to go through a period of trial and error,” says Ritz, an advanced placement world history teacher who said she too will miss the flagship campus. “Everything that’s successful takes time.”

Mother Carolyn Johnson, and her daughter, senior Maureen “Mo,” 17, a competitive rower, were pleased when they toured the campus. “Even though there’s inconvenience and transition, I’m excited for her,” Johnson says of her daughter. “It’s new and exciting and it has a new energy.”

Several Police Academy seniors hope the new campus will put them on better footing than their old high school where they often were embarrassed to wear their uniforms and believed other students considered them less than equals.

Cadet Jose Hernandez, 17, says, “At our old school, other kids were like, ‘You are not part of us.’ It was awkward just going in your uniform. It’s just a stereotype that we’re not smart.”

For once, “It’s more like our school,” says Cadet Jeremy J. Garcia, 17, also a senior. “We’ll be able to do a lot more. We’ll have our own field. Our own obstacle course. We’ll even have our own role call room. Before we were just sideliners.” spt

Space Shuttle Endeavour Returns Home

On April 12, 1981, the maiden voyage of space shuttle Columbia not only marked the day twenty years prior when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the earth, but also began the first of 135 STS missions to and from space with a reusable spacecraft. One of the most complex machines ever devised the space shuttle was the only spacecraft capable of delivering and returning people, large payloads and scientific experiments to and from space. So, when NASA announced that the California Science Center in Exposition Park would be awarded Space Shuttle Endeavour it not only complimented Southern California’s rich aerospace history but also the dedication and commitment of thousands to shuttle missions over the past 30 years.

The arrival of Endeavour is also a homecoming for one of the nation’s space shuttle fleet that were built and maintained in Downey, Canoga Park and Palmdale by our regions once dominant aerospace industry. Up until the early 1990s, the aerospace industry not only dominated the Southern California job market but the industry itself transformed the city as a whole. Companies such as Rockwell International, The Boeing Company, Lockheed Martin Corporation and Rocketdyne employed thousands who all contributed to the shuttle program. Edwards Air Force Base served as the shuttle’s second home and alternate landing facility if bad weather was forecasted for Cape Canaveral, Fla. On those occasions sonic booms would quickly catch our attention and would be overcome by a strong sense of pride that “our” shuttle was landing.

The presence of Endeavour at the California Space Center will not only provide a learning experience for students and pride for those who designed, built and launched it, but will also be a constant reminder of those brave astronauts who perished aboard Challenger in January of 1986 and Columbia in February 2003, including local Hughes Aircraft Payload Specialist Greg Jarvis who was a member of the Challenger crew.

The last of NASA’s shuttles to be built, Endeavour was the second to the last of all space shuttle flights, STS-134. Atlantis STS-135 would be the final flight and mission of the space shuttle program. In 25 missions over 20 years, Endeavour logged more that 122 million miles in space and circled the globe at 17,500 mph, but it will be the last 12 miles that may be the most memorable for this shuttle. As Endeavour made its grand entrance to the west coast this month a top a modified 747 flying as low as 1,500 feet passing by some of California’s points of interest as well as over the very facilities that gave life to the shuttle program here locally.

Among others, the shuttle derived technologies that have been used in developing an artificial heart and limbs, three-dimensional biotechnology, a light for treating tumors in children, improving crime prevention and wildfire detection to name a few. Endeavour’s final journey will be a reminder of the last 30 years of space shuttle missions, a sign of American ingenuity, pride for thousands who dedicated decades to its success and will remind us of a shared commitment to sending humans into space and returning them safely to earth. This will be the legacy of America’s space shuttle program.

We experienced the exhilarating triumph and dealt with two heartbreaking shuttle tragedies together. Endeavour’s presence will tie us all together to this as well as this great national accomplishment. The ending of the shuttle means the beginning of a successor to once again have American’s send astronauts into orbit and beyond to do what we do best, explore. Godspeed, Endeavour and welcome home. spt

Check My Custom Machines

Ron Binkley photographed with his latest project, a canary-yellow 1938 Cadillac La- Salle, 2-door Opera Coupe. (photo by Valerie Electra Smith-Griffin)

The layers in-between the lip-smacking cake that’s our town are its people, such as Pedro-blooded Ron Binkley, a non-stop cars and electronics tinker who once played a mean electric keyboard and danced the night away with an alluring woman known only as Midnight at the now vanished Canetti’s Restaurant.

It’s a typical gray mist-laden morning, and Binkley replaces the baritone, two-tone foghorn once known as “Moaning Maggie” with the commanding startup of his most reliable 1971 Ford Torino Station Wagon, its wheels whirling off to San Pedro’s Sacred Grounds, his personal haunt for his ritualistic cup of high octane. It’s a happening destination where he celebrates the day with relished camaraderie consisting of long-time friends and his kids who enjoy sharing the day with Pappy. After toasting the sunrise with Columbian and cream, he returns to his home that’s chockfull of cars, a mish-mash of machinery and a plethora of photographic memories spread across a thick wooden table that is laden not with salt and pepper shakers, placemats and artificial fruit, but hundreds of faded Kodacolor, sepia-tone and grainy black and whites of cars, machinery, wars past and family, collaged and creating a watercolor wash that are the festive colors of Binkley, whose lead foot is glued on the accelerator pedal of life; his fervor for all things cars, and the restoration of engines and drive trains ever-smoldering.

The Gilbert Electric Train Set, Slinky, or that extra special toy packaged with a barrage of sexual curiosity questions, the Doctor and Nurses Kit, magnetized many kids of the 1940s but not necessarily so for our mechanical-minded Binkley. Reflecting on his mother’s memory, Binkley says, “In 1940, at the age of three, I found car parts in an alley and, using a board, rolled them up into my crib.” For Binkley, his fascination with vehicles and machinery visibly evolved from a curious childhood habit into a lifelong emotional, and some might add, spiritual attachment.

In his early teens, Binkley worked as an usher at the Warner Grand Theatre where he played piano for the 1950 movie premier, South Sea Sinner, which also starred Liberace. Other jobs included Howard Cross Auto Repair and 7th Street Garage. In 1959, his strong interests in electronics and aerospace were further stimulated at Ryan Aeronautical Company, best known for building Charles Lindberg’s “Spirit of St. Louis” for his illustrious 1927 transatlantic flight. Always one that harbored a now realized yearning to witness man’s flight to the moon and beyond, he worked on the Doppler Radar for the Lunar Lander until he was drafted into the army, then returned to Ryan and onto Vickers Aerospace as an instrumentation technician on the Gemini Space Capsule. He retired in 1998 as foreman of the Radar and Antenna Restoration Division in the Electronics Weapons Facility at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard.

Binkley’s cars read like classic commercials from Cal Worthington and his fantasy dog Spot, but unlike Worthington, he won’t stand on his head, and don’t expect to see a Smart Car, which to Binkley, is an abomination of the greatest kind. As we peruse his aisles we see his 1968 Buick Special complete with a Buick 350 V-8. Interested in a 1931 Model A, or perhaps a Ford 1955 F100 Truck? The head-turning 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood Convertible that was advertised last week flew off the lot, but that snazzy 1938 Cadillac 75 series Coupe that was one of forty-two cars ever built, and survived the London Blitz, is waiting for you to drive it away, as is the 1964 1/2 Mustang and the 1940 Cadillac ’62 series with a L-Head V-8.

“My cars must have noise, that’s why I install duel exhaust and headers on all of them. It’s like beautiful music to my ears,” says Binkley.

Perhaps a 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster is more to your liking, or a head-turning 1969 purple Cadillac El Dorado with a no-nonsense 472 engine. Yearning to nourish your inner diva? Try an eye-popping 1961 Chevrolet Impala Convertible, it’s the one Binkley used to chauffeur former Councilwoman Janice Hahn in the San Pedro Christmas parades, and it comes complete with a 348 V-8 engine and 4-barrel carburetor. Still perplexed as to what honks your horn? Try a 1938 Cadillac La Salle Opera Coupe, complete with a 1942 military tank engine, or its earlier LaSalle cousin from 1937. If you crave a 1936 Ford 4-door sedan with the 1949 Olds V-8 and 1937 LaSalle transmission, sorry pal, that one flew off the lot as fast as its scorching wheels could go.

In addition to the artful cars just mentioned, Binkley is also the proud owner of two, 700 pounds each, solid stainless steel, early model nuclear submarine periscope foundations, complete with floor plates that display 360 degree markings. Perhaps they’ll eventually come in handy as lawn statues. Seriously, pink flamingos are so yesterday.

Binkley reflects on his prize car. “Without hesitation, one of my favorites was the one I purchased from Cecil Thomas and Sons on Pacific Avenue in San Pedro. A 1936 Ford 4-door sedan for $49.” Being the modification surgeon that he is, he rebuilt the engine with an Oldsmobile overhead valve V-8, a rear-end from a 1941 Cadillac LaSalle transmission, duel 4-barrel carburetors and a drive shaft from a 1932 Cadillac V-12. The track of Lions Drag Strip (1955-1972) in the Wilmington district, adjacent to Long Beach, whose slogan was “Drive the Highways, Race at Lions”, paved the way for the revamped car. “My lifelong friends, Billy Stecker, the late Jack Stecker, Frank Iacono and Tom Taros are 1940s and 1950s drag racing world icons and without Taros, all the hot rodders wouldn’t have a place to go.”

Lions Drag Strip is now a ghostly image in Binkley’s rearview mirror and his Canetti’s nights are kept alive in lively remembrances at Sacred Grounds with friends who frequently slip in a friendly barb of, “Can’t you find another subject besides cars to talk about?” Ignoring the question, he downs his final sip of Columbian and cream, eager to make a mad dash home and determined to breathe new life into his latest project, a canary-yellow 1938 Cadillac LaSalle, 2-door Opera Coupe. Care for a ride anyone? Take Binkley’s word for it, once you hear the engine roar and caress that velvety burgundy mohair interior, you haven’t lived! spt

The Need to Modernize San Pedro High School

The educational facilities we provide our students have come a long way since I graduated from San Pedro High School in 1992.

After a group of community members recognized the need for a new local high school to educate underserved students in small, innovative learning environments, the Port of Los Angeles High School was opened in 2005. Today, POLAHS is an independent, college preparatory charter high school, home to 950 students.

In 2007, both Mary Star of the Sea High School and Rolling Hills Prep opened new campuses in San Pedro. Mary Star’s new campus on Taper Ave. opened to 500 students a year after being named one of the top 50 Catholic High Schools in America and Rolling Hills Prep off Palos Verdes Drive North opened to 250 students.

Last month, the opening of San Pedro High School’s John M. and Muriel Olguin Campus ushered in a new era for our students. It is the most modern and most green campus in the district and will be capable of generating 80% of its own power. It is the new home to 500 students who are enrolled in Marine Science, Mathematics Magnet or Police Academy Magnet courses.

While the addition of four new, modern campuses in less than ten years is an amazing feat, we have more work to do. We must ensure that the students attending the original San Pedro High School get their fair share of modern education technology and make sure there is not an inequity developing between the old and the new campuses.

Modernizing the original San Pedro High School campus needs to be our next step and we know how to do it. In 2009, voters approved Measure Q, a $7 billion bond that will pay for modernization of existing campuses. Measure Q is meant to resolve the inequity between the 125 new schools the LAUSD has recently built and the older 700 campuses, including SPHS, which need attention.

I agree with, and support, School Board member Dr. Richard Vladovic’s vision for San Pedro High School. This vision includes modernizing every building with a new look, implementing the latest technology, including wireless Internet and plans to replace books with tablet devices allowing the students access to much more than just the written word. His plans also call for the removal of the temporary bungalows, returning open space back to the students and returning onsite parking back to the teachers.

Some other features being considered include creating a physical connection between Dana Middle School and San Pedro High School by constructing a new 9th grade academy between the two campuses.

The building of the new schools has allowed the LAUSD to move off of the year-round multi-track system that many agree was flawed. Today, LAUSD scores are on the rise, especially in San Pedro. Almost every elementary school is close to or above an 800 API.

Education is important to my family and me. My wife and both my sisters are teachers in the LAUSD, so I am very well aware of the challenges they and their students face on a daily basis.

When I attended San Pedro High School, I constantly heard, “You are the next generation, you are our future.” Now that I have experienced what that really means, I will do whatever it takes to ensure our students have the best learning environments that we can afford to give them.

I wish all the students at POLA, RHP, SPHS, the Olguin Campus and Mary Star High School all the best. You are our future. spt

Remembering Tom Phillips

Artist Tom Phillips (right) with Mrs. Mary Thomas (left) widow of Assemblyman Vincent Thomas, photographed at the Arcade Building in historic downtown San Pedro beside the original painting of “The Cinematic Bridge,” commissioned by festival director Stephanie Mardesich for the key art for the first official poster for the L.A. Harbor International Film Festival (LAHIFF), April 2004. (photo courtesy of LAHIFF)

Tom Phillips was happiest in his studio, painting. He was considered a bit of an introvert, and his love of art seemed to overshadow most other areas of his life. But it was this mindset, and dedication, that put Phillips on the map – early and often.

Until May of this year, when Phillip’s life tragically ended due to post-surgical complications after a lung procedure, he could always be found creating something – he could always be found pushing the limits of his artistic ability.

“He was selectively reclusive, his world outside of painting consisted of a small group of high school friends, myself and our son,” says Laura Davidson, Phillip’s ex-wife. “But he was very in tune with what he wanted to do and when he wanted to do it.”

With strong roots in San Pedro, and a lineage that can be traced back four generations to Southern California, it is no wonder that in the final stages of Phillips’s career, as well as some of his beginning work, he focused on painting pictures of his beloved city.

“He was very proud of his family and where he came from,” Davidson says. It was this love, shared through art, that have made Phillips’s paintings so iconic in San Pedro. From the decorating of the walls of the San Pedro Brewing Co., to his painting of the “Cinematic Bridge” that became the poster image of the Los Angeles Harbor International Film Festival, Phillips made is mark in San Pedro, and he made it through his painting.
After his passing in May, Davidson, their son, and Ron Sesco, owner of The Distinctive Edge Gallery, joined together to host a gallery in Phillips’s honor, to “cement recognition for his work.”

“Tom was one of San Pedro’s most renowned artists of the last 30 years and will be missed and remembered alongside the likes of Violet Parkhurst,” says Sesco. “Tom chronicled the essence of San Pedro history through his paintings of historical local buildings and landmarks that bring great memories of the past. His paintings also included farmland area of the Palos Verdes Hill where his great grandfather, Harry Phillips Sr., worked as a foreman on the Bixby Ranch in the early 20th century.”

“After his death, we found pieces he was working on and they were exciting,” Davidson says. “We were in awe.”
Upon deciding the date of October 27 for the show’s reception, Davidson, her son, and Sesco, whose gallery will host the event, are collectively deciding what works to feature. “This show is a celebration and recognition of his life. It’s for his clients to be able to come and view his work from beginning to end,” says Davidson. “It will be the fruits of his labor on the walls.”

Phillips, a native of San Pedro, was a man which life afforded many opportunities, who chose to live and die an artist in its truest form. His familial roots firmly planted in the ground of San Pedro, he kept this city forever close to his heart and made it an integral part of his work, says Davidson.

Phillips ex-wife speaks volumes on the life and work of her late husband. Their marriage ended amicably, resulting in one son. Davidson, who also has a background in art and a career in art galleries, says Phillips career took off almost immediately. “When his career first took off, it was at a furious pace. Everything he painted, he sold,” she remembers fondly. “He showed at the National Academy of Design in New York, two years in a row, on first submissions, which is unheard of. It’s an honor just to get in, let alone show work two years in a row, for a newcomer.”

When she saw his work at the beginning, she wondered why he wasn’t painting professionally – at this time he was pursuing a career in business law. This quickly changed, as Phillips followed his heart and dreams and was quickly rewarded with amazing opportunities. One of those opportunities came after an art show featuring three artists in the home of Sharon Disney.

“They wanted him to be part of WED Enterprises, doing illustrations and artwork, this was when EPCOT was being built at Disneyland,” Davidson says. “During his show in Sharon’s home, big wigs present, he was quickly offered a gig.” Although a tremendous career turn, Phillips declined in the interest of having sole responsibility of his work and his career. Davidson says that was one of many difficult decisions that paid off.

His career started booming, and around 1974, with Phillips selling paintings as fast as he could finish them, he was commissioned to do ranch pieces. Gene Autry even had a painting done by Phillips in his collection. Yet, even with such success, Davidson remembers these beginnings as humble. She says they were selling paintings out of their home, entertaining future buyers with “wine and cheese parties, and enjoying the rapid pace of life.”

A graduate of one of the best fine art schools in the United States – Art Center College of Design in Pasadena – Phillips knew that perfecting his technique, and always being open to learning new things was important to a life dedicated to art.

“His roots were always here,” says Davidson. “He loved San Pedro, and painting this city was always some of his best work.”

Now, as Davidson, their son, and Sesco, prepare to honor Phillips and his work one last time, they remember fondly the talent and drive he had.

“Picking the pieces to feature has been a real challenge,” explains Davidson. “We want the community, his clients, and those that never met him to have a chance to view the work that was his life. This gallery, this showing of his work, is the cement that will keep his name and his work in San Pedro forever.” spt

Tom Phillips (1948-2012) Exhibit & Sale Reception is Oct. 27, 5-8pm at The Distinctive Edge Picture Framing & Gallery (29050 S. Western Ave., Suite 113, Rancho Palos Verdes). Serious buyers & collectors, please call (310) 833-3613 for a preview and information.