San Pedro’s Living Treasures

On March 1, the San Pedro Historic Downtown Waterfront District will host the Living Treasures Dinner at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown San Pedro, kicking off the year-long celebration of our port town’s 125th anniversary. While there are plenty of living treasures in San Pedro who could be on this list, the following select few are being honored for their contributions to our community.

(photos by Joleen D'Rage)

Jean Wilder

Jean Acalin Wilder has lived her entire life in San Pedro. She was born in 1928 to Italian and Dalmatian parents. She lives in a beautiful 100-year old Craftsman house built in 1913 that has a spectacular view of the Cabrillo Beach breakwater. The home sits on two lots in the Point Fermin area that was given to her husband’s family by George H. Peck, one of San Pedro’s notable real estate developers. Jean and her husband, Charles Wilder Jr., had six children together – five boys and one girl, all of which were born at the old, brick, San Pedro Hospital.


Joe Marino

Joe Marino moved to San Pedro with his family from Rockford, Ill., at the age of 13. Marino, a Sicilian, has lived in town now for more than 72 years, and says he’s “in love with the town of San Pedro and the community at large, as the community has come together to make this a great place to work and live.” Marino spent 48 years as an educator and worked as a local elementary school teacher for 10 years –at Leland, White Point, and Crestwood – and as a school administrator for 25 years. After retiring from the LAUSD, Marino mentored college students studying to be schoolteachers at Cal State Dominguez Hills in 1992, and did so for 13 years. Marino was honored as LAUSD’s Principal of the Year in 1987 and was Honorary Mayor of San Pedro from 1988-1989. Joe is married to his lovely wife, Marian. Together they have two children and three grandchildren.

Harry Hall

Harry Hall will celebrate his 100th birthday this June, which makes Harry and the Angel’s Gate Lighthouse the exact same age. Born and raised in San Pedro, Hall’s parents came from Swedish immigrant families that settled in Minnesota. Hall made it to San Pedro when his family moved there in 1905. At age 9, Harry fell in love with the violin after a salesman knocked on the family door selling violin lessons. This love would lead Hall to become a professional violinist and teacher, teaching lessons at Vine’s Music, Compton College and a private studio in Palos Verdes Estates, just to name a few. He even conducted a 2,000-violin orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl in 1948. Hall married two times, and is twice widowed, but says he feels blessed to have had two wives who both shared his passion for music and his love of San Pedro. Amazingly, Hall is still playing the violin around town. You can find him at such as the Harbor Terrace Retirement Community, First United Methodist Church and a downtown favorite, The Whale and Ale.


Anne Gusha

You can still find Anne Gusha behind the counter of Williams’ Book Store on 6th Street in downtown San Pedro. At 93-years-old (and still counting), the Seattle-born Gusha is best known as the current owner of the historic, and historically independent, bookstore. Soon after she was born, she moved to San Pedro from Washington with her Croatian family in 1920. Gusha first stepped foot in the bookstore when she was eight. In 1941, Gusha began working at the store for then-owner Ethel Williams. When Williams retired in 1980, Gusha and her son, Jerry, took over the store, calling it their own. Gusha has spent much of her time on philanthropic causes, such as Soroptomist International, Los Angeles Harbor, and has worked hard to promote literacy and women’s issues. Anne was married in 1945 and has three children.


Muriel Olguin

Muriel Olguin says that San Pedro “was the best place to raise kids and build careers while living in one of the most beautiful places.” Born in our port town in 1923, Olguin, 89, bounced around the Harbor Area before settling in San Pedro, where she’s lived for the past 65 years. Her life with her late husband, John Olguin, was the stuff of legend and romance novels, and was chronicled in San Pedro Today columnist Jack Baric‘s San Pedro documentary, Port Town, where the couple’s love of sleeping outside under the stars and rowing their 15-foot rowboat to the Isthmus at the West End of Catalina Island was featured. An artist and philanthropist, Olguin completed a Master of Arts degree in 1958, at a time when “mothers didn’t go to college with children and a husband at home,” she says. She was a founding member of the Angel’s Gate Cultural Center, the Rembrandt Crew that started the Palos Verdes Art Center, and with other artists, The Loft in downtown San Pedro. Both Muriel and John Olguin, for the majority of their lives, have immensely and unselfishly contributed to San Pedro and the surrounding communities. Together they had three children and a very active home life in San Pedro.


Matty Domancich

Kuzma Domancich, best known around town as “Matty,” is as true a San Pedran as they come. Born of Croatian parents and raised in San Pedro for the past 90 years, Matty remains one of San Pedro’s greatest, active, goodwill ambassadors. Domancich founded and became the first President of San Pedro High School’s Pirate Booster Club in 1958, an all-volunteer, fundraising organization originally established to provide moral and monetary support to some of the high school’s athletes and their needs. Today, it has expanded its support to include all SPHS sports, academic clubs, theater arts and many other campus-sponsored activities. It is also believed to be the LAUSD’s oldest booster club. Domancich also served as a past Honorary Mayor of San Pedro from 1989-1991 and is a past “Exalted Ruler” of the San Pedro Elks Lodge. If you’re old enough, you may remember Domancich’s two Shell Gas Stations – one on Gaffey St. and the other on Pacific Ave. After Shell told him to stop providing full-service to his customers, Domancich became angry, immediately closed-up shop, and went on to open the Bike Palace. Today, you can find Domancich selling historic photos of San Pedro with the proceeds going to the San Pedro Elks Lodge, who in turn funds scholarships for local students. Domancich was married to his late wife Mary and they had one daughter.


Goldeen Kaloper

Goldeen Kaloper turns 96 this month. Born in Zlarin, Croatia, Kaloper came to the United States with her family at the young age of 12, first settling in Seattle, Wash. In 1942, Kaloper met her second husband and they moved to San Pedro. Both were widows with small infants at the time, and built a long and happy marriage of 65 years. Together, they had five children. She was one of the “cannery girls” and worked there for 24 years. The Kaloper home was a center for hospitality, especially for fishermen whose families were still back in the “old country.” God and family are the two most important things in Kaloper’s life. She believes this is what makes San Pedro great – as long as people have a deep faith, and love for their families, problems can be solved. She says the secret to a long life is, “Eat healthy, wish good for everyone, and God bless my children who take care of me!”


Thelma Gatlin

Thelma Gatlin was born in Shreveport, La. on July 15, 1924. Born Thelma Johnson, she was one of 18 children. Gatlin moved to San Pedro in 1942 to work in the shipyards during World War II. She soon married John Gatlin in 1944 and had they had children. At 88 years of age, Thelma is still very active in the community and serves on several boards, including the Toberman executive board and First Neighborhood Council in San Pedro. In the past, Gatlin served on the first board for the Central Neighborhood Council, and was one of the first recipients of the YWCA’s “Racial Justice Award.” She has also served as the President of the San Pedro YWCA board, President of the Women Church United, Vice President of the Republican Club in San Pedro. Today, you can find Gatlin as an active member of Ocean View Baptist Church.


Helen DiMaggio

Helen DiMaggio is 94-years-old and the wife of the late Neno DiMaggio. Half Mexican and half Croatian, she is the daughter of Andrew & Mary Fistonich who founded Star Fisheries Inc. in 1921. After her father Andrew passed away, her husband Neno assumed leadership of the company. With her husband at the helm, DiMaggio worked behind the scenes for 39 years, along with her sister, Anita Mardesich, who continued in the family business with subsidiary, American Fisheries. DiMaggio has been active in many community groups including San Pedro Peninsula Cancer Guild, Little Sisters of the Poor Auxiliary, the Assistance League of San Pedro, Mary Star of the Sea Church and Holy Trinity Church. She is past president of the prestigious Rotary Ann’s and was an active member of the former Women’s Chamber of Commerce.


Nicoletta “Nikky” Troy

Born in San Pedro on January 12, 1924, 89-year old Nicoletta Troy grew up with four siblings, speaking both Greek and English. Nikki was born at one of the Papadakis family homes, by the help of a midwife, and is cousin to San Pedro community leader, John Papadakis, former owner of Papadakis Taverna. She began working at the age of 12 at her father’s restaurant on Beacon Street, known as the City Hall Café. At just 4′ 10″ tall, she fondly remembers standing on a box in the kitchen to cook hamburgers and hot dogs for their customers. She worked side-by-side with her father until she graduated high school and continued working as a waitress throughout her adult years, at restaurants such as The Fireside, a carhop located on the corner of 6th St. and Gaffey, Cigo’s Restaurant on 9th St. and Pacific, and the legendary Ante’s, from which she retired at age 75.

 

Florence Collins
(no picture available at press time)

Ninety-eight-years-old and still going strong, Florence Collins was born in San Pedro to Italian/Ischian parents on May 28, 1914. She attended Fifth Street School, San Pedro’s original elementary school, which was located where the San Pedro Courthouse sits today. Florence was also in the first graduating class of Dana Middle School. A young wife and mother during the Great Depression, she and her husband, Bill Collins, lived on 9th St., which at the time was referred to as “Dago Flats.” Her husband was a sailor stationed with the Pacific Fleet in San Pedro, which was eventually moved to Pearl Harbor before WWII. His ship, the USS West Virginia, was sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. For two weeks, Collins did not know whether or not her husband had survived. It turns out Bill was knocked unconscious below deck, but was carried up top by a fellow crew member and thrown overboard, which saved his life. Collins has been a lifelong member of Mary Star of the Sea Church, and has several dozen grandchildren, great grand-children and great, great grandchildren, almost all of whom still reside in San Pedro.

Repairing The Ring

photo by John Mattera

Although the Korean Friendship Bell’s home has always been on the bluff in Angel’s Gate Park, the very first time it was rung was almost 6,000 miles away in Seoul, Korea. United States and Korean officials ceremoniously rang the bell before it made its voyage across the Pacific on the Fourth of July, 1976.

The creation and erection of the bell was unlike any monument in the US. The bell was given by the Republic of Korea on the bicentennial celebration of American independence. In creating this bell, they tapped a lost art. When the 17-ton bell was cast, it had been over a thousand years since a bell of that size had been cast in Korea. The bell was modeled after the Bell of King Seongdeok, which was cast in 771 AD.

When the bell arrived in the Port of Los Angeles, it took two weeks to unload 28 cargo containers of materials. Korean stonemasons and carpenters worked 14-hour days to construct the belfry, platform and steps.

Finally, in October of 1976, four months after its first ring, the bell was officially dedicated, and struck on American soil.

Now, almost four decades have passed with little or no maintenance to keep the bell in good condition. Bird excrement is caked onto the belfry, there is obvious deterioration of the protecting layer on the bell and deviants have even marked the inside of it with graffiti. For nearly a year, the bell could not be rung because the link needed repair. The link is the wooden structure holding the bell to the belfry, which had fully broken causing the bell to twist.

The bell was in obvious need of a protector. That’s where Ernest Lee and the Korean Friendship Bell Preservation Committee come in.

The committee of 33 formed in 2006 with hopes of getting the bell back to its former glory.

“The bell called out to us,” says Lee. “ When you see the bell, you feel heartbroken with the shape that it’s in, and still awestruck with its beauty. Rather than just aching about it, we thought, let’s do something about it and have a long term plan.”

Rarely seen photographs of the construction of the Korean Friendship Bell belfry circa the mid-1970s. (photos provided by Korean Friendship Bell Preservation Committee)

While there are organizations that are designated to take care of city or federal landmarks, Lee says they don’t have the trained personnel to do it. Bell making is a particular craft, so the committee did their research.

“We found the company that originally worked on the bell,” says Lee. “All but one of the masters had passed away. We spoke with the surviving member of the group who, in 2011, sent his protégé here to give us an estimate to refurbish the bell.”

The budget based on his estimate: about $360,000.

Lee explains that the reason for the high price tag is that all of the key time frames for maintenance were missed.

“The salt air and strong winds of the area obviously don’t help,” he says. He stresses the need for caution with restoration. “First we want to do no harm. We have to work in careful and steady steps.”

Indeed, if the restoration is done hastily using craftsmen who are unfamiliar with the art of bellfounding, they may do irreversible damage. Besides it being an ancient craft, the bell is also covered with intricate artwork and an inscription engraved in relief on the bell. The bell is made of copper and tin, with gold, nickel, lead and phosphorous added for tone quality.

“The bell was designed to be an instrument,” says Lee. “It has a narrow tube inside and the bowl at the bottom for acoustic resonance.”

Korean craftsmen designed the belfry. Everything about the pagoda-like structure that houses the bell was done with purpose and symbolism. Creating the bell itself was not something that was done easily in Korea. Casting a bell that large is uncommon, and in the first attempt it was broken. The total cost for the bell and structure was over a million dollars, paid for by the Korean government.

With all of the painstaking attention to detail that was administered in its creation, it’s no wonder that there is a laundry list of repairs that the landmark must undergo to regain its full brilliance.

“We need to carefully sandblast the outer bell and fill holes,” says Lee. “There is bird-proofing that needs to be done, painting and the wooden striker needs to be replaced.” They already fixed the link in 2011, just in time for its 35th anniversary.

The road to getting the rest of these restorations will not be an easy one. The group of volunteers has worked tirelessly to get donations. One fundraising campaign was inspired by Lee’s friend and mentor, San Pedro icon, John Olguin.

“He used to say, ‘I’d rather get a dollar from a thousand people then have one person write a check for a thousand dollars,’” says Lee. “We fundraised all over San Pedro and Los Angeles, asking that people give a dollar donation for the bell.”

In following Olguin’s saying, they hope that with individuals reaching into their own pocketbooks, they will feel personally invested and connected to the cause.

The committee has about $280,000 for restoration. $5,000 came from residents in San Pedro and Koreatown and $275,000 has been allocated by the South Korean government. Although grateful for the large influx from the South Koreans, Lee believes that it’s time for the American government to take the reigns.

“We’re hoping that the city council will assist in matching what the South Korean government has donated,” says Lee. “It’s time to say it’s ours, we’ll take care of this magnificent gift.”

The committee is planning a fundraising golf tournament this spring to raise more cash. With the bell being such an iconic San Pedro landmark, Lee believes community members will step up.

“The meaning comes from the memory that attaches to it,” says Lee. Many San Pedrans find that meaning in the memories of family picnics on the great expanse of grass in front of the bell, flying kites, or even one of the many weddings that take place at the bell’s steps.

Deterioration of the wooden bell ringer (left), on the ceiling (bottom left), structural column damage and bell corrosion (right) due to improper upkeep and weather has taken its toll on the bell. (photos by John Mattera)

For Lee, the bell symbolizes an important friendship between two countries.

“If it were not for the United States involvement with Korean independence, I may not be here today,” says Lee. Lee’s parents emigrated from South Korea, which benefitted from the U.S. involvement in the 1950 Korean War. The U.S. defended South Korea against North Korean invasion, splitting the two countries at the 38th parallel or Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

According to the Department of Defense, the total American military casualties resulting from the Korean War were over 50,000. Since the Korean War ended in 1953, South Koreans have fought alongside American military in both Vietnam and Afghanistan.

The bell’s symbolism holds a significance that’s not lost on the committee.

“I feel as the other committee members do,” says Lee. “Honored and privileged to have this opportunity. We’re also painfully aware of the grave responsibility.”

They hope to start restoration as early as May, but funds will dictate their timeline. Their wishlist for the future includes the lower parking lot connecting to the bell and more wheelchair accessible areas. “I know there are Korean War veterans who are disabled and would like to get around up here.”

Most of all, Lee hopes to restore the bell so that future generations can see it as it was when it first traveled nearly 6,000 miles across the Pacific to the bluff at Angel’s Gate Park. spt

For more info, visit www.kfbpc.org or email info.kfbpc@gmail.com.

Tidepool Wonders

Come and explore the low tides of the season on the rocky shore with Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.

Bring your family and friends to the aquarium’s John M. Olguin Auditorium for an informative slide show, followed by a walk led by Cabrillo Marine Aquarium Education Staff and volunteers to the nearby Point Fermin State Marine Park.

The tidepools offer protection to a variety of local tidepool animals and seaweeds. Among the organisms are tidepool sculpin, sea urchins, sea hares, hermit crabs, feather-boa kelp, and an occasional octopus. An accessible pathway leads to the edge of the tidepools.

This is a free event; however, reservations are required for groups of ten or more. Young children must be accompanied by an adult. Non-slip shoes and outdoor clothing are recommended for navigating the slippery, rocky shore.