A Place Of Gratitude

November is the month of Thanksgiving. Our Thanksgiving holiday can be traced to a 1621 celebration in Plymouth, Mass. by the Pilgrims at their first harvest in the New World. This feast lasted three days, and was attended by approximately 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native-Americans, who had donated food to their new neighbors during their first winter here.

Our annual tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday in November began during the Civil War when President Lincoln declared a national day of “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

In San Pedro, many of the new immigrants from Croatia, Italy, Portugal, Japan, Mexico, Norway, and other seaside nations didn’t get off a boat and stay on land like the Pilgrims. They went back to sea on fishing boats and worked hard so that they could provide for their families. In the process they built a town. This is something that those of us who love San Pedro should always be thankful for.

Although the American tradition of Thanksgiving was brought to the New World by Pilgrims from England, ceremonies of prayer and thanksgiving are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times.

In Ancient Greece, Thanksgiving was Thesmophoria, a festival to honor the goddess that taught mankind to tend the soil. Southwest Native-Americans perform a corn dance to give thanks for their crop. The Jewish people celebrate Sukkot, which marks the end of the end of the agricultural year and celebrates the final harvest before winter. Many Asian cultures have festivals of gratitude for their rich rice harvest.

For many years, the San Pedro festival of thanks, which heaped gratitude toward the heavens for our harvest, was the Fishermen’s Fiesta. Our local crop was fish and in many ways, both literal and figurative, it fed our town. Because the great majority of the fishermen in our fleet were Catholics, the central piece of the Fishermen’s Fiesta ceremonies was the blessing of the fishing boats by the cardinal or bishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. The men and women saying their prayers of thanksgiving on those days were in many ways San Pedro’s Pilgrims and just like the Pilgrims had their Plymouth Rock, we have our port.

Another set of San Pedro Pilgrims that helped build our town from its very first days, and have emerged as the economic engine that have driven our local economy after the fishing industry shrank, is our longshoremen. They also have an annual day of thanks that honors the deep struggle of their forefathers to ensure good compensation for the harvest of their labor. It’s called Bloody Thursday.

Every year on July 5, ILWU members gather at a picnic to remember the men that were killed in the Big Strike of 1934, a labor struggle that was won by the longshoremen and created the conditions for a waterfront that has greatly prospered our community.

As we embark on a new era in San Pedro, the coming waterfront development at Ports O’ Call and the construction of AltaSea, a world-class marine research center at City Dock 1, provide us the exciting opportunity to start dreaming of new Pilgrims that will join our fishermen and longshoremen in building the next chapter of what we will be thankful for in our community.

This Thanksgiving, while the rest of the nation carves turkey and looks back at Plymouth, I think it might be appropriate for us San Pedrans to include a side dish from the sea and to take a long and reflective look at our beautiful harbor that has given us so much to be thankful for. spt

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

Party Like It’s 1988

Happy 125th Birthday, San Pedro! There’s no way to predict what the next 125 years will bring, but I strongly believe that in the next 25 years we will do much more than in the previous quarter century. And, contrary to some local critics, we’ve come a long way in that time.

Consider this: In 1988, when we celebrated San Pedro’s Centennial, anyone venturing into downtown at night would have found a virtual ghost town, which was considered too dangerous to visit after dark. The only place of note to eat and/or drink at night around this time was Papadakis Taverna.

Everything changed almost immediately after 1988 when Alan Johnson opened John T’s, which was later taken over and changed to the San Pedro Brewing Company by James Brown. Suddenly, young San Pedrans had a downtown place for drinks at night. The crowd soon invaded Tommy’s next door (now Crimsin) and the spark was lit for a downtown scene where one can now eat and drink at numerous locations.

The fact that downtown is a much better nighttime place to visit than it was 25 years ago flies into the face of the nostalgia you often hear from old-timers. True, retail isn’t nearly as strong as it was in the years prior to the opening of malls like Del Amo, but that’s the case in downtowns all across America. And the next 25 years will get better – much better.

Everything starts with the port. There are currently two major developments – AltaSea and Ports O’ Call – that will not only change the face of the waterfront, but all of San Pedro, especially downtown.

AltaSea will greatly expand the current Marine Research Institute by relocating at City Dock 1. The research center, which is a collaborative effort of eleven major universities, including USC and UCLA, will feature seawater labs, classrooms, lecture halls, an interpretive center, and an opportunity to develop the world’s largest seawater wave tank.

A world class research center will drive to San Pedro a large wave of academicians, vendors, businessmen, and professionals that will either work at AltaSea, service its operational requirements, or create business partnerships that leverage the research being done there. The most natural place for these newcomers to locate their offices will be in downtown. And more people in more offices will establish the environment for a better variety of places to eat and drink in downtown… and at Ports O’ Call.

Ports O’ Call will create a waterfront dining and shopping experience that will spark tourism, as has happened in other port towns such as Seattle, Sydney, and Barcelona. However, the key to making our area a regional attraction will be our ability to integrate for visitors a seamless experience where they can traverse between a great waterfront and a vibrant downtown scene.

The reason I was so inspired by the choice of the L.A. Waterfront Alliance as the Ports O’ Call developer is that the team includes Eric and Alan Johnson. The Johnsons own property throughout San Pedro and understand the importance of an integrated plan linking the waterfront and downtown. What other outside waterfront developer would have been such a strong advocate for downtown? Alan has a vision for downtown that includes one-way streets with better parking, enhanced public performance space, wider sidewalks that allow for sidewalk dining, and transforming alleys into pedestrian walkways – much like in Old Town Pasadena (I’d add bringing the Red Car up 6th Street to Centre).

In addition, Alan is on the board of Marymount University and is very active in helping the college establish a film school at the Klaus Center on 6th Street, which could assist in Mayor Garcetti’s idea for making San Pedro one of the city’s entertainment corridors.

It all adds up to a downtown on the upswing… it should be a great quarter century for our town!

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

Garcetti: A Vote For San Pedro

For years, San Pedro has been disillusioned when it comes to getting attention during election season in Los Angeles. In fact, the last time we felt special was when we had both James Hahn serving as the Mayor of Los Angeles and his sister Janice Hahn as our Councilmember. This was our opportunity to truly shine and experience a rebirth for San Pedro and revitalize our downtown and our waterfront.

The momentum shifted when Mayor Hahn lost to current mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and in the past eight years the emphasis on developing our waterfront lost some of the urgency that the project had during Hahn’s term. Although much has been accomplished, there is much more to complete. The question we must ask ourselves when deciding who to vote for in the upcoming Mayoral election is which candidate has the experience to take our waterfront to the next level, as this is really what’s at stake in this election for San Pedro.

Our waterfront has been the lifeblood not only to San Pedro and the Harbor Area, but to the entire Los Angeles region. It is estimated that for every one waterfront job, 10 regional jobs are created. In these tough economic times, it will be essential that the next mayor understands what is required to keep our port competitive as we battle the challenge from a widened Panama Canal, due to open in 2014.

In addition, there is the potential to have a world-class marine research center at City Dock #1 that will provide knowledge-based jobs locally like we have never seen before. A world-class center would put San Pedro on the global stage for ocean research and development as it would be the launching port for many future deep sea explorations. The center would be a catalyst for numerous small businesses to open in support of this new local industry and it would create educational opportunities that would make our waterfront a premiere West Coast hub for oceanography and maritime studies at every level, from kindergarten all the way up to university doctorate programs.

Finally, the next mayor must understand the importance of revitalizing the waterfront with the goal of becoming one of the best and most famous waterfronts in the world. We need a mayor that is not afraid to build our waterfront into becoming an international tourism destination, not just a local attraction for folks that live 30 miles from the water, but even for those that live 30 hours from it.

This is why I am supporting Eric Garcetti to become the next Mayor of Los Angeles. This was a tough decision because I personally like both candidates, but if you equate the future potential of our waterfront as a world destination to what has actually happened in Hollywood with its development over the past 10 years, then you too would support Garcetti.

As a councilman whose district included Hollywood, Garcetti must be admired for the transformation of Tinseltown during his terms, and I believe that the experience and leadership it took to get there is what San Pedro needs in its next mayor. Link this knowledge and experience with the passion, energy, and leadership of our own councilmember, Joe Buscaino, and we have a recipe for success. It is no coincidence that Buscaino has endorsed Garcetti for the May 21 run-off election. It is because they share the same vision for Los Angeles, especially growing our waterfront to become a world destination!

San Pedro is forecasted to be the swing district in this election. So, after all these years after being thought to be the stepchild of the city of Los Angeles, we could be the district that determines the outcome. This is a great position to be in. Eric stated when he was in San Pedro, “A lot of people call this area the tail. I see a different image: If the city of L.A. is like a kite, this is the anchor… The growth of this town began because this harbor was dug.” I couldn’t agree more. spt

Anthony Pirozzi is a member of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and past president of Eastview Little League. He can be contacted at apirozzi@yahoo.com.

Redeveloping Ports O’ Call

I know it sounds cliché, but where did the year go? As I reset my clock it seems like just yesterday I was turning it forward and getting ready for summer. Now the holidays are in full swing and before you know it will be summer again.

We have much to be thankful for during this holiday season in San Pedro and I would need more than just this column to describe all that is good with our town. It’s rare to find such a place like San Pedro with love and pride that goes well beyond words; it’s an emotion that flows through our veins.

On many occasions, I get asked about three particular subjects that spur emotion: Ports O’ Call, Ponte Vista and the Rancho San Pedro public housing projects. The future of the first two appears to have a tangible outcome whereas the third is uncertain. Ponte Vista with its new plans for a smaller foot print and adjusted turn lanes to mitigate traffic on Western may yield support from the original massive planned development once proposed, and the process held by the Port of Los Angeles to solicit a developer for much needed change at Port’s O’ Call is well underway.

Ports O’ Call development is the moment San Pedro has been waiting for and by the end of this year eight prospective developers will be whittled down to one to determine its future. Today, although the parking lots are packed every weekend at Ports O’ Call, it is rare that you will find many locals there unless a wedding or baby shower is being held. Since the taking down of the space needle to the closure of many of the small businesses that truly made Port’s O’ Call the place to be back in the 60s and 70s, the very mention of it is always followed with fond memories and a cautious optimism about its future. As I see it, it’s time to create a new Port’s O’ Call that will not only provide new memories for our generation, but for our children and grandchildren’s generation, as well. So the real question is what will make locals and tourists alike want to go to Ports O’ Call on any given day of the week?

A new Port’s O’ Call must reflect who we are locally and where we have come from internationally. It must incorporate ideas from successful developments that attract us throughout the year such as L.A. Live, The Grove, Third Street Promenade and The Block, to name a few. I believe anchor establishments such as a Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, BJ’s and Starbucks tied in with our historic Fish Market, Ports O’ Call Restaurant, Acapulco Restaurant and other successful establishments that have kept Ports O’ Call alive is the recipe for success. An added attraction like a concert hall should be considered as well as a convention center. Today, many of our local non-profits have to hold their annual fundraisers in Manhattan Beach, Torrance and Long Beach because San Pedro does not have a facility that can accommodate over 500 guests. A convention center that can accommodate such events must be part of the plan. In a nutshell, Port’s O’ Call must have the very amenities we seek in other cities in order to draw locals and tourists everyday of the week.

We must continue the momentum of moving our waterfront and town forward. We have seen the recent arrival of the USS Iowa and Crafted, Marymount College establishing roots on 6th street, downtown San Pedro being infused with new events and street lighting by the PBID, a marine research center in the works for City Dock #1, new schools have been built and much more is on the horizon. San Pedro is truly on the rise.

Our time has come to transition Port’s O’ Call into something that we can once again be proud of and transform it into an international attraction once again. The development of Ports O’ Call is the true catalyst that will breathe real life into our waterfront development efforts for generations to come. spt