2012: A Year in Review (December 2012 Cover Story)

Photo by John Mattera

It was a year of incredible change and transformation for San Pedro.

A year of gains, losses and continued tradition. The waters brought us a new resident, a home for artisans was built, and a new councilman was chosen to lead us. We faced the challenge of the land sliding beneath us, out of control skateboarders, and the constant threat of crime. We saw a lighthouse and a church reborn, milestones surpassed, and parking meters meeting their maker. Even through the good and the bad, when 2013 rolls around, history will look back on 2012 as the year it all started coming together for San Pedro.

The previous year did not end well. We were still reeling from the Paseo del Mar landslide that happened in November 2011. At the time, no one had any answers as to why the land toppled into the sea and we were still getting used to having a neighborhood divided by the ocean cliffs. And then things got worse.

Eva Tice

San Pedrans were stunned and saddened by the killing of Eva Tice, a 60-year-old mentally disabled woman who was stabbed walking home on Pacific Ave. from a Christmas Eve church service. Police would later announce a $50,000 reward for information leading to her killer, who fled the scene and still has yet to be found.

Photo by John Mattera

The good news arrived, when, after months of campaigning and a special run-off election against Assemblyman Warren Furutani, former LAPD Harbor Division Senior Lead Officer Joe Buscaino was sworn in as councilman of the city’s 15th District on January 31, replacing Janice Hahn, who won a seat on Congress the previous year.

Residents also freaked out for a bit when false rumors of a serial killer in the Harbor Area spread on Facebook. It turned out to be the end result of a game of telephone after a young woman was found slain in Wilmington.

Later in January, talks began about a proposed a skatepark in Peck Park. After months of planning, the project got a monetary boost from the Tony Hawk Foundation in October. Construction bids should go out this month. Supporters hope the project will be completed before overpass construction will temporarily close the existing Channel Street Skatepark later next year.

Speaking of skating, the increasingly familiar sight of packs of un-helmeted skaters “bombing” hills at high speeds in traffic around town became a forefront issue this year when Caleb Daniel Simpson, a 15-year-old from Palmdale, became the second teen to die engaging in the activity in San Pedro. A few months earlier, 14-year-old Michael Borojevich died after he crashed skating near 25th St. and Western Ave. The deaths gained widespread media attention and prompted officials to eventually ban bombing throughout the city in August.

In February, the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities announced its new home at the Warner Grand Theatre. In November, the theatre company announced an indefinite suspension, pulling out of the Warner Grand and leaving existing subscribers in the dark.

Photo courtesy of Boys & Girls Club

Students at San Pedro High School and the Boys & Girls Club got a visit from ballerina and alumnus Misty Copeland, a soloist in the American Ballet Theatre. Copeland returned to her hometown in February to share her experiences getting her start at the Boys & Girls Club and rising to the top of the ballet world, where she is ABT’s first African-American female soloist in decades.

After months of restoration work, St. Peter’s Church, San Pedro’s oldest place of worship, reopened its doors on Easter Sunday at its new home at Green Hills Memorial Park. Originally built in 1884, the church was moved to Green Hills in 2011, where it underwent badly needed repairs.

A much-improved Angels Gate Lighthouse was unveiled in April after a six-month restoration project spearheaded by the Cabrillo Beach Boosters, who fixed the lighthouse’s rusting exterior. Steel reinforcements, a new paint job and zinc coating were just some of the repairs made to help protect the lighthouse from erosion for another 25 years. The Boosters also hope to restore the crumbling interior in time for the lighthouse’s centennial next year.

Point Fermin Lighthouse also made headlines this year when in May, the federal government declared it to be surplus property, basically putting it up for grabs for new ownership. A handful of groups and nonprofits have applied, including the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks and the Point Fermin Lighthouse Society. We’re still waiting to see who will be chosen to run one of San Pedro’s iconic landmarks.

Arguably, the biggest story of the year for San Pedro was May’s arrival of the historic battleship USS Iowa in the Port of Los Angeles. Only two years ago, the Port had rejected a proposal to berth the ship as a floating museum and tourist attraction. Robert Kent, who founded the nonprofit that spearheaded the effort, got the community to rally around the project, eventually getting the Port to come around. With funding in place and the Port’s blessing, the Pacific Battleship Center made a bid for the ship, and was later granted it by the Navy. Repairs were made in Northern California before the ship was towed to Los Angeles.

On June 9, the ship made its final journey down the main channel to its permanent berth as thousands of spectators on shore lined Harbor Blvd. The ship hosted a Veteran’s reunion and opened for public tours in July.

On the heels of the Iowa’s arrival, the Historic Waterfront Business Improvement District (commonly known as the PBID) put on a Swingin’ Salute Block Party in downtown San Pedro. Residents decked out in their 1940’s best came out for free swing music and dance lessons under new decorative lights crisscrossing over 6th St. The San Pedro Bay Historical Society also put together a series of historical window exhibits displayed in shops downtown.

Also in June, nonprofit Harbor Interfaith Services opened a new, three-story facility on 9th Street, where it relocated its headquarters and expanded services supporting struggling families.

Seven months after a 600-ft. stretch of Paseo del Mar slid into the ocean after a rainstorm, the City released a geotechnical report assessing the causes of the landslide and future of the site. Both natural and manmade factors like irrigation and wave erosion played a role in the slide, but no further ground movement was detected. The City later secured funds to stabilize and grade the area and install drains. Whether or not the road will be re-routed is to be determined with the input of a new 50-member community advisory committee appointed by Councilman Buscaino.

Photo by John Mattera

Another major story of the year happened in late June, when the first of two WWII-era warehouses near 22nd Street Park re-opened as Crafted, an indoor craft marketplace dreamt up by the same developer as Santa Monica’s successful Bergamot Station. With a 35-year lease, dozens of vendors and far-reaching media coverage, Crafted has already proven to be a one-of-a-kind regional draw. After gripes about its $5 parking fee, Crafted gave away free one-year parking passes to local residents and later offered free parking on Fridays.

After planning this year’s Taste in San Pedro festival for Ports O’ Call Village, the Chamber of Commerce announced its cancellation in July. It would be the first summer without one in more than a decade. The Taste wasn’t the only foodie event cancelled this year. Weeks later, organizers of the Ćevapčići Festival announced its cancellation due to lack of funds. It was especially a bummer since the Balkan sausage fest had some big press lined up. The Port’s annual Lobster Festival went on as usual, drawing thousands of sea foodies to the waterfront.

In early August, an 18-year-old former Mary Star of the Sea High School running back confessed to stealing cash registers from several businesses on Western Ave and Gaffey St. He ran into a slight problem when his dad recognized him on the surveillance video that made the media rounds and convinced his son to turn himself in.

More than 600 parking meters were axed in downtown San Pedro and Wilmington this summer, a move by Councilman Buscaino’s office after a study concluded they did more harm than good. Rates on remaining meters also went down. Business owners had long complained that the overabundance of meters and rate hikes discouraged consumers from shopping downtown. The issue was a talking point in the special election to replace former Councilwoman Janice Hahn.

This year’s Navy Days went much smoother than last, drawing 5,000 people over the course of two days (2011’s event was longer and larger, causing a traffic nightmare and long lines). Tour goers got an inside look at the USS Wayne E. Meyer destroyer and the Coast Guard Cutter George Cobb.

The same weekend, reports came pouring in of a man spotted jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge shortly after 12:30 p.m. on August 19. A few hours later, Port police announced they had recovered the body of Top Gun director Tony Scott, whose car was found on top of the bridge with a note left inside. His suicide drew national media attention. A coroner’s report later confirmed that contrary to reports, he was not battling cancer at the time of his death.

Photo by John Mattera

Thousands of young San Pedrans went back to school weeks earlier than usual this year, part of an early start schedule adopted by the L.A. Unified School District that’ll have them out for summer in early June (they were originally slated to get out by the end of May, but Prop. 30 changed that). This was also the first year for the new John M. and Muriel Olguin Campus of San Pedro High School, an environmentally innovative annex campus built to relieve overcrowding at SPHS. Shortly after school started, there was a bit of a traffic controversy in the surrounding neighborhood.

Also in August, San Pedro native and LAPD Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon announced his retirement after 34 years on the force. A few months later, he took a new job as Chief of Airport Police at LAX.

Seventeen-year-old Monica Bender, a senior at Mary Star of the Sea High School, made headlines when she swam the 20-mile Catalina Channel the last week of August.

After a string of residential burglaries over the summer had residents on edge, eight new police officers were assigned to LAPD Harbor Division to help curb property crime. Police eventually arrested an 18-year-old San Pedro man linked to one of the crime scenes.

Astronaut and first-mom-in-space Anna Fisher returned to her hometown in September for the fundraiser opening of Harbor Day Preschool. She also took time to speak with students at several high schools. In other San Pedro space news, the ashes of Allyson Diana Genest, an avid Star Trek fan from San Pedro who died in 1999, were sent to outer space with Space X’s Dragon launch in May. It was her dying wish.

Who could forget the refinery burn-off freakout on September 15? When a power outage set off a controlled burn-off at the ConocoPhillips Refinery in Wilmington, shooting flames and smoke high into the air, many residents wondered if there was a raging blaze to worry about. Some later filed complaints about pollution emitted during the burn-off.

On a related note, the Rancho LPG facility on North Gaffey Street – those two big gas tanks across from the Home Depot – got in trouble with air quality officials after neighboring residents reported smelling what turned out to be a gas leak in October. The facility has been subject to criticism and protest from neighboring residents for decades. Councilman Buscaino held a hearing addressing their concerns earlier this year.

Also in October, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor and Point Fermin Elementary School celebrated milestone birthdays, turning 75 and 100, respectively.

On Columbus Day, eight new inductees were honored at the annual San Pedro Sportswalk to the Waterfront. Later that the day, hundreds gathered outside the Italian-American Club for the councilman’s first Buscaino Block Party and Spaghetti Dinner.

After the Port put out a call over the summer for commercial developers to fix up Ports O’ Call Village, it announced in October that eight had taken interest. A decision on a developer should arrive early next year.

The San Pedro International Film Festival made its debut in October, screening dozens of films and hosting workshops.

On October 10, San Pedro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Betsy Cheek, announced her resignation after not having her contract renewed by the Chamber Board of Directors. The Chamber will begin the search for a new president/CEO early next year.

Many San Pedrans were bummed when organizers of the Railroad Revival Tour announced its cancellation weeks before it was set to roll through town (2011’s sold-out Mumford and Sons performance drew thousands to the waterfront). Willie Nelson, Band of Horses, Jamey Johnson, and John Reilly and Friends were set to perform at Ports O’ Call Village on October 27. Band of Horses still wanted to play however, putting on a show at the Warner Grand Theatre the same night instead.

Congresswoman Janice Hahn defeated Congresswoman Laura Richardson in early November in the race to represent California’s newly drawn 44th Congressional District.

Yet another version of the proposed housing development for the long-abandoned Navy housing property along Western Ave. surfaced in early November. The new Ponte Vista is more scaled back than previous incarnations and includes additional lanes to address traffic concerns that have shot down the project in the past.

This month, of course, marks two San Pedro holiday traditions, the 32nd Annual Spirit of San Pedro Christmas Parade, and the 50th L.A. Harbor Holiday Afloat Parade.

We know we missed a few items of note from the past year, but we couldn’t fit everything in. Needless to say, it’s been a year of intense change and challenges. Let’s hope 2013 is just as exciting and full of positive, forward thinking progress as we continue to push San Pedro towards a more prosperous future.

They Shall Be Missed

Sadly, we also lost a number of notable San Pedrans this year. Here’s a list of noteworthy deaths:

Steve Saggiani, longshoreman
Rudy Svorinich Sr., community leader and father of former Councilman Rudy Svorinich, Jr.
“Cheerful” Al Kaye, owner, Union War Surplus
Dr. H. Michael Weitzman, optometrist and philanthropist
Tom Phillips, painter of iconic San Pedro scenes and landscapes
Joseph M. Mardesich III, entrepreneur
Stancil Jones, longtime fire captain
Joe Caccavalla, Tri-Art Festival founder
Ray Patricio, community leader and nature preservationist
Dr. Jerry Blaskovich, dermatologist
Tony Perkov, owner, Ante’s Restaurant
Geoff Agisim, sea chantey singer
John Greenwood, school board member, community leader
Cindy Rutherford, owner, Century Motorcycles
(apologies to those we may have omitted by accident)

ON THE COVER: She’s Here! The USS Iowa Arrives in the Port of Los Angeles

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - The USS Iowa sits in its permanent location at Berth 87 in the Port of L.A. The battleship officially opens to the public on July 7. (photo by John Mattera)

THE USS IOWA ARRIVES CARRYING WITH IT THE HOPES AND DREAMS OF A PROSPEROUS FUTURE FOR SAN PEDRO

Robert Kent stands with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on the eleventh level atop the USS Iowa as it makes its final journey down San Pedro’s Main Channel. On shore, thousands of cheering spectators line Harbor Blvd. for a view of the ship’s arrival; it’s a proud day for the community that rallied together for a piece of military history. The WWII era battleship is finally making its home at Berth 87 in the Port of Los Angeles, where it will open as a museum ship this month.

Only two short years ago, Kent was pulling together every resource he could to convince the Port to reconsider making room for a battleship. “It’s real satisfaction,” he says, “We’re home. Our mission was accomplished.”

Veterans, dignitaries and community leaders roam the ship’s lower levels, getting a sneak peak before the ship opens to the public on July 7.

On the main deck, Yolanda Valle-Sedillo shows off a photo album of her older brother Charlie on the Iowa during the Korean War. He is among many veterans on board today wearing hats identifying their ships of service. “I remember seeing him in uniform coming up Sixth Street,” Valle-Sedillo says. “I thought, ‘Oh there’s my brother, he’s so handsome!’”

Robert Kent, president of the Pacific Battleship Center stands with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (photo by Joshua Stecker)

Charlie points down at the decks he hasn’t stood on for years. “They didn’t look like that!” he laughs. “We had a lot of fun out here. We had movies and you could even get a malt or a sundae. We had our own laundromat. This thing was a floating hotel!”

He and other Iowa veterans will be back in early July for a reunion. They’ll have access to the ship before it’s opened for public tours.

“We’ve created a tour called Tour Alpha, which is basically a trek around the ship all the way from the main deck, up to the flying bridge,” says Kent, President of the nonprofit Pacific Battleship Center, which runs the museum. “You get to see pretty much everything on the outside of the ship and then we’re allowing people to go inside into the main bridge, to the captain’s cabin and the officers boardroom.”

He’s crossing his fingers that the tour will also get to cover the crew’s galley.

Tour goers are strongly encouraged to buy tickets online ahead of time since space is limited. Four additional tours are also in the works, but each costs about a million dollars to put on. Kent hopes the next general tour will be open by next summer.

Half a Century of Service

Built in Brooklyn in 1940 for a cost of $110 million (it would cost $2.5 billion in today’s dollars to replace it), the USS Iowa was the lead ship of its class of fast battleships; so advanced that it was used for more than 50 years. The more than 15-story, 887 ft. long battleship was the fastest and most powerful of its time, nicknamed “The Big Stick.”

The ship earned 11 battle stars for its service, beginning in the Pacific Theater in WWII. It saw action again in the Korean War and was recommissioned for use in the Cold War. In 1989, a turret explosion killed 47 crewmen on the ship off the coast of Puerto Rico.

Saturday, June 2, 2012: The USS Iowa is towed past Angel’s Gate Lighthouse and into the Port of L.A. for the first time. (photo by John Mattera)

The Iowa hosted more U.S. presidents than any other battleship, beginning in 1943, when it transported President Franklin D. Roosevelt to a secret meeting in Tehran with Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Chiang Kaishek. A special bathtub was added to accommodate Roosevelt, who suffered from polio.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan boarded the Iowa to celebrate the restoration and centenary of the Statue of Liberty. President George H.W. Bush went on the ship twice, first for its recommissioning in 1984 and again for the memorial service for the crewmen who perished in 1989.

Saturday, June 9, 2012: (Left) More than 800 specially invited guests board the USS Iowa for its final voyage into the Main Channel. (photo by Joshua Stecker)

From Mothball Fleet to Museum

By 2001, the Iowa had joined other mothballed vessels on reserve in the Suisun Bay near San Francisco. Four years later, it was struck from the Naval Registry, becoming the last remaining battleship available for donation to become a naval museum. Groups in Stockton, San Francisco and Vallejo took interest.

Kent, who had successfully helped find homes for other decommissioned warships, originally worked with the group in Vallejo. But its bid was denied in 2007 over concerns

about fundraising needed for a massive dredging project. Kent decided Los Angeles was the best bet to save the Iowa from being scrapped. In 2009, he formed the Pacific Battleship Center and began looking for fundraising and real estate in the Port of Los Angeles.

In early 2010, he made a proposal to the Port to provide a berthing site for the battleship, but it was struck down, citing interference with waterfront redevelopment.

A few months later, the Navy put out another call for bids. With a deadline in sight, Kent turned to the community to rally support for his proposal. It would take a lot of convincing to get the Port to reconsider; a museum ship wouldn’t be a moneymaker for the Port as much as it would be for San Pedro.

“Once the Port said no, I went to the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council and they passed a vote to support this project. Then right after that we were invited to the other neighborhood councils and it was pretty much unanimous support,” Kent recalls.

The response from not only San Pedro, but the entire Harbor Community was overwhelmingly supportive. Soon residents were collecting hundreds of petition signatures to sway the Port. Mayor Villaraigosa pledged his support and then-Councilwoman Janice Hahn got the L.A. City Council to pass a resolution backing the proposal. Endorsements even came from President George H.W. Bush and FDR’s grandson, H. Delano Roosevelt.

“At that point, the Harbor Commission was on notice that this really was a City and community-based supported project and they needed to listen,” Kent says. “And they did.”

In summer 2010, the Port decided to conduct a study on the financial feasibility of berthing the battleship. There were a few wrinkles to iron out, but on November 18, 2010, the Board of Harbor Commissioners unanimously voted to make room for the ship. The decision came in the nick of time, just days before the deadline for bids. Kent overnighted the Pacific Battleship Center’s application to the Navy. The only other bidder was Vallejo.

On September 6, 2011, the Iowa was officially awarded to L.A. by the U.S. Secretary of the Navy. “Without the community support for this project, this ship would not be sitting here right now and that is the absolute truth,” Kent says.

Former San Pedro Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Camilla Townsend, who was first approached by Kent three years ago, agrees. “I think the community had a big voice on this one, which was nice. It’s a good feeling for the community to be heard,” she says. “The credit really goes to Robert Kent. He’s worked tirelessly for eight years to make this happen.”

The Iowa underwent refurbishments in Richmond, Calif., before being towed to L.A. in late May of this year, passing under the Golden Gate Bridge on its 75th anniversary.

The USS Iowa (photo by John Mattera)

A Part of Pedro

USS Iowa fever swept San Pedro long before the ship’s arrival. A street party is set to take place on July 6 in downtown San Pedro to welcome the ship before its ribbon cutting the next day.

Business owners and community leaders have been important players in the push the bring the ship to the waterfront. “It’s a really big deal for us to have this ship, so we’re really excited both as business owners and as residents,” says Mona Sutton, owner the Omelette & Waffle Shop. “We finally have a good cornerstone attraction and a big piece of history.”

“I think our community is really happy and excited because it’s a good thing and we’ve been needing to see a positive thing happen in all of our revitalization,” says Townsend. “It’s going to be a beautiful sight here on the waterfront.”

The USS Iowa is now the premier surface warship museum on the west coast (the other two are aircraft carriers), making it a hot spot for veterans of not only battleships, but cruisers and destroyers.

Television production companies have already been calling asking when the ship will be available for filming. There is even a virtual reality experience in the works with a video game developer that will recreate some of the attacks the Iowa saw in WWII.

For many, the USS Iowa is more than a sorely needed tourist attraction, but a symbol of San Pedro’s own Naval history. “The Port of L.A. has a rich Navy history going back to the early part of the 20th century, where it used to house the city battle fleet,” says USS Los Angeles veteran Jim Whitt, who got to ride on the Iowa the day it settled at Berth 87. “There’s a very rich history, but all that has just about disappeared, so it’s nice to get some of that back.” Efforts to turn the USS Los Angeles into a museum ship never saw fruition and it was eventually scrapped. “This is kind of a second chance for us,” Whitt says.

Preventing the same fate for the USS Iowa, the world’s last remaining battleship, was a big part of Kent’s motivation.

“People ask me why I’ve been working 18 hour days, seven days a week pretty much for no pay for the last two years, living off my savings and putting in $250,000 of my own money for the project,” Kent says. “Well, I met a lot of crewmen along the way whose hopes were dashed so many times when each group that tried before failed. I was determined not to let the Pacific Battleship Center fail. I wanted these crewmen to finally get the satisfaction that their ship was going to be saved and be home again.” spt

For more info on the USS Iowa and to purchase tickets for tours, visit www.pacificbattleship.com.