Downtown’s Living Museum

The "Once Upon A Book..." display at Williams' Book Store in downtown is one of many window displays the San Pedro Bay Historical Society have used as a living museum to tell the history of San Pedro.

In an effort to celebrate the past and the present of a city that so many have called home, the San Pedro Bay Historical Society has used the beauty of photos and downtown storefronts to give the residents a history lesson.

In lieu of an actual museum, the San Pedro Bay Historical Society has created a museum on the canvas of the downtown area through the project “Windows Into the Past.”

The project is the brainchild of Doris Theriault, a lifelong San Pedro resident and volunteer at the San Pedro Bay Historical Society.

As with most non-profits, money has always been a struggle for the historical society, but Theriault said she didn’t want money to be the reason San Pedro didn’t have a museum.

“Why not use the canvas that is already here,” she says. “I woke up one morning, and thought that the windows of businesses downtown would be a perfect canvas to create a museum for all of San Pedro to enjoy.”

Theriault and her colleagues at the San Pedro Bay Historical Society started approaching downtown businesses, going through photos and creating themes.

“It was a relatively simple process,” she says. “The history is great, the businesses were accommodating and the public’s response has been overwhelming.”

The project commemorates and celebrates San Pedro’s 125 year past, while educating both residents and tourists about the most critical points in the city’s history.

“The project has been a great success,” she says. “It’s allowed us to tell San Pedro’s story through photos – it’s been great for not only participating businesses, but each of San Pedro’s residents who have taken in photos and learned a bit more about the city they call home.”

“Windows Into the Past” has created a series of historical exhibits, each of which have the goal to tell a story and give a lesson of the past, in downtown business windows.

Lucero Newcomer, owner of the Le Grand Salon Lucero in downtown, says her customers have really enjoyed the display, titled “Smiles of the 70s.”

She says that all of her customers have asked about it. Adding that it is “really nice to have it, to be involved in such a cool celebration.”

“It’s really nice to have [the display], it’s beautiful,” Newcomer says. “We love our community, we love our old town – and this is a way we can contribute and help to celebrate San Pedro and all of its history.”

Vinyl historical posters line other businesses to continue the history lesson.

In all, there are 97 different themed windows at 55 locations in the downtown area. At these 55 locations, 17 have 2-D designs and 10 have 3-D designs. In addition, there are 29 locations that have posters, all of which are different and unique, these celebrate the 29 cultural landmarks in San Pedro.

The San Pedro Bay Historical Society received three grants from the Business Improvement District, which helped pay for the film that the photos were printed on. They also received a grant that will help produce the brochure that will be used and distributed for a walking tour.

Theriault says there was no shortage of themes, as San Pedro’s 125-year history is vast.

“We tried to focus on the crucial parts of the city’s history – development of the port, early modes of transportation, restaurants and more,” she says. “Once we had our themes, we tried to pair them with downtown businesses that matched the theme.”

Jerry Gusha of the soon to be closed Williams’ Book Store, says the window display, titled “Once Upon a Book,” has been a great addition to the store.

“Customers really seem to enjoy it,” he says. “It’s been very nice to look at, and it’s a nice way for us to contribute to the neighborhood and the city in which we live.”

The project kicked off last year, in May, and businesses have been eager to participate, says Theriault.

“The feedback has been positive,” she says. “These are photos that most people have never seen, and pieces of information that people, in most cases, didn’t know much about. It is exciting, and a great way to educate the residents and celebrate the city at the same time.

“This is our outdoor museum and it’s very exciting,” she says. “We were able to celebrate our city in a museum that we built on the storefronts of our businesses.” spt

San Pedro Still Lifes

photo by Benjamin Mayer

They’re the things we see every day, yet don’t.

The places we take for granted, like the homes and cars we pass while going to work every morning. Or the strip malls we drive by while running errands, unnoticeable unless we have a reason to give them our full attention.

For German-born photojournalist Tim Maxeiner, it’s these simple, nondescript spots that he finds interesting. So interesting that he put together a photo book featuring still lifes of various San Pedro homes and automobiles, aptly titled (from a German translation) Home Alone.

“I like to take pictures of every day things that are somehow fascinating to me,” he says over coffee at Sacred Grounds one morning last month, “because it makes life more fun if you’re fascinated by really simple things you see every day, you know?”

Looking at Maxeiner, 26, you wouldn’t peg him as an artist. Standing a few inches taller than six-feet, the slender, messy bleach blonde haired photographer is just as comfortable catching waves on a surfboard as he is capturing moments with his camera.

The book is chockfull with images from various parts of San Pedro, including Point Fermin, South Shores, Vista del Oro and downtown. Each of the exactly 99 photographs includes one home or business and a car (or two) parked outside in front or on the side, depending on the angle.

Aside from a handful of businesses featured, no addresses, street names or license plates are visible. Unless you’re from San Pedro, the cars and homes could be from Anywhere, USA.

The project started as most projects worth their artistic merit do, with Maxeiner waking up one morning last year asking himself, “What am I going to do today?”

“I start walking around whenever I go to a new place,” he says. “So I took my camera with me and looked around and really liked the San Pedro architecture. It’s really diverse, from really old to brand new. And I always had this idea of old cars. I just like the look of old cars.”

photos by Tim Maxeiner

So Maxeiner started walking around town shooting photos. One photo turned into five, which turned into 20, which turned into something he thought might make for an interesting book. A noted photojournalist in Germany, he decided to pitch the idea to a few German book publishers. The imprint Delius Klasing, which touts itself as “Europe’s largest family-run special-interest media company,” responded right away and offered Maxeiner a book deal, printing a limited run of 2,000 copies of Home Alone.

But getting to that point took a bit of time. The way he explains it, Maxeiner’s journey from the outskirts of Frankfurt to San Pedro is something out of a movie.

He fell in love with surfing at an early age, after discovering the sport and living vicariously through surf magazines his father would buy for him. When he was old enough, he took a sojourn to France where he picked up the sport for real, learning to catch waves on the French beaches. But what he really wanted to do was come to America, more specifically… Southern California.

“Southern California is such a great place where you have all these possibilities,” he says. “That’s why everything comes from here, especially from this area. If you look at youth culture, skateboarding, surfing, music, the punk rock scene, it all comes from here.”

After finishing school and saving some money through odd jobs, Maxeiner took a trip to Canada and worked at a ski resort, knowing it was easier to obtain a work permit there than in the U.S. While in Canada, he and a friend decided they wanted to go surfing and drove to Baja California from Vancouver, hitting the waves at every surf spot along the way. Picking up the journalism bug from his father, Maxeiner decided to chronicle that journey and sold the story to a German car magazine.

After a few more back-and-forth trips and a few more bylines about the surf and car culture of America that he sold to various German publications, Maxeiner decided he wanted to make Southern California his home. Now an established photojournalist, Maxeiner obtained a journalist visa and established himself in San Pedro.

“I took a map of Los Angeles and I was like, what is Palos Verdes? And then I saw San Pedro next to the harbor,” he recalls. “I drove up 7th Street and saw a sign for a room for rent. I knocked on the door, talked to the guy and he said if I wanted the room, I could have it. I told him I’d call him later, then I left and drove up the hill and saw the coastline and instantly turned around, drove back to the place and said I’d take it.”

The rest, as they say, is history, which is also a subject near and dear to Maxeiner’s heart.

“I love history over here because it’s so young,” he says. “In Germany, everything is so old. Here, you can still talk to people who can recall what [the early days] here were like.”

To keep himself busy, Maxeiner is currently working on a photo project with the San Pedro Bay Historical Society and has been doing video work for a few local businesses.

On Saturday, April 13, Maxeiner will host an event celebrating Home Alone at the Le Grand Salon in the Arcade Building in downtown, located at 479 W. 6th St. Light refreshments will be served and books will be available for purchase.

“I’m really interested in the simple stories of life,” he says. “I want people to look through Home Alone and say, ‘I know somebody who lives in this house. I know somebody that owns that car.’ I’m really open to everything and if somebody asks me to take a picture of their family in front of their car, I’m honored to do it.” spt

Pedro Parking: A Photo Book Presentation of Home Alone is Saturday, April 13 at 6 p.m. at the Le Grand Salon (479 W. 6th St.). For more info on Tim Maxeiner, visit www.timmaxeiner.com.