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 email@example.com.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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 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 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 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.
(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.
For John Papadakis it has always been about remaking San Pedro into a seaside destination – a city that people will write home about.
A long-time San Pedro Booster, Papadakis was also the owner of what he describes as “San Pedro’s greatest destination ever,” Papadakis Taverna. But his plan for San Pedro, as the chairman of the Los Angeles Harbor-Watts Economic Development Corp., a public-private partnership to bring development to the area, isn’t moving has quickly has he had hoped. But that hasn’t stopped him from making a difference.
Instead, it led him across the bridge to Long Beach, where an opportunity arose for him to be a part of something much bigger than himself when he was appointed to the Board of Directors for the Ronald McDonald House.
Several months later, in need of cash to get the project on its feet, Papadakis suggested a fundraising event at his San Pedro staple – it was a hit.
The event, which saw more than 80 people in attendance, including Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster and then state senator Alan Lowenthal, now a congressman, raised $40,000 for construction of the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House. According to Cheri Bazley, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House, it was the first funding ever raised for the project.
“John’s event started it all,” she says. “This was the seed money, if you will, it was critical and very significant in launching the campaign to build the house. His fundraiser was crucial.”
The Ronald McDonald House, located at Atlantic and Vernon Street, two blocks south of Miller Children’s Hospital, opened its doors in December 2011. In that time, the house has served hundreds of families who have children with critical and life-threatening illnesses.
The house provides inexpensive, and often free, lodging for families who travel long distances while their children undergo treatment. The houses alleviate the stress family members would have to endure by sleeping on cots at the hospital or incurring the additional expense of finding a local hotel. The facilities provide them with the added comfort of being surrounded by those who understand and can relate to the ordeal of having an ill child.
But raising the initial money to fund the construction of the house was just phase one for the board of directors. Papadakis, who still serves on the board and is a founder of the Ronald McDonald House, says that “now the key is being able to continue to raise the finances to sustain the house.”
Papadakis came up with an idea, the Heart of the House effort, as it is known, a slogan Papadakis coined himself, to continue to raise money in a sustaining effort. Bazley says it’s these donations that are critical and essential for the Ronald McDonald House to continue to operate.
“We operate on a $1.1 million budget,” she says. “More than 80 percent of our funding comes from private individuals. It is essential that we reach beyond the Long Beach community to raise awareness and raise this money because our services are very far reaching.”
That’s where Danny Salas comes in.
Salas, who grew up poor on the docks in San Pedro, says he struggled to afford so much as a hook when he was a little boy. But through hard work and dedication, Salas, with his wife and children, has become quite the success story.
Growing up in San Pedro, Salas said he wanted to do something on or near the water. So, in the mid 90s, he started a sports fishing charter business at Ports O’ Call. His business boomed. He went from one small boat to seven large boats, including an 80-foot dinner cruise liner.
“I had the opportunity about 12 years ago to move my business to Long Beach and work directly with the city and the Aquarium of the Pacific,” he says.
Salas and his business, now called Harbor Breeze Cruises, made their move to Long Beach in 2000 and have continued to grow with various cruise offerings and fishing excursions.
“It’s tough to start a business, any way you look at it, but our business has seen growth beyond our wildest dreams – I started out as a boy on the docks with nothing, and now I am able to give back.” And that’s what Salas did.
A few months back, Salas received a phone call from Papadakis, the pair met through a mutual friend and San Pedro native Van Barbieri, who passed away suddenly of pancreatic cancer. Salas calls Barbieri the “angel that introduced John and I,” an introduction Salas says that without “the donation may not have been.”
Papadakis simply told Salas about the Ronald McDonald House and the Heart of the House campaign, and without asking many questions, Salas agreed to a luncheon with Bazley. Upon showing up for lunch, shaking hands and only saying “Hello,” Salas handed Bazley a check for $10,000.
“He acted out of faith,” says Papadakis.
Salas was the first contributor to the Heart of the House campaign, and when you break that down, it equates to two San Pedrans raising the first amounts of money in two great efforts.
“The Ronald McDonald House is just a beautiful home,” says Salas. “It took a great deal of effort to get it going, but funding is still needed to make sure it can operate each and every day. There are a lot of costs involved, and this Heart of the House program is there to make sure the house is always maintained.”
“Danny’s donation was incredible,” Bazley says. “Both John and Danny recognized that our mission, to serve the families with critically ill children, is very important. We are almost fully serviced by private funds and its donations like Danny’s that allow us to continue to serve the many families in need.”
For more than 30 years, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California has served more than 50,000 families through Ronald McDonald houses in Los Angeles, Orange County, Loma Linda and Pasadena, and Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times, where children with cancer and their siblings can enjoy normal childhood experiences with kids just like them. There are more than 270 Ronald McDonald Houses in more than 30 countries.
Bazley says the Ronald McDonald House has 23 guest rooms, and a commitment from local hotels to ensure that no family is ever turned away. “We have been operating at about 80 percent capacity,” she says. “We have had several weeks that we have been completely full. A large population of our families comes from Los Angeles County, and we have had 12 San Pedro families stay with us.”
Papadakis says it is unique that San Pedro residents cross the bridge to donate. But he said it is important, not only for the cause, but for the idea that San Pedro needs this same type of development.
“The Ronald McDonald House serves a very important function, it allows families who have very critical ill children to stay with their children,” he says. “Some 40 years ago Long Beach was a very dirty, dangerous, tough town, but they transformed themselves and captured their water line and made it people and family friendly. This is exactly what San Pedro needs to do. We need to become a great seaside city, a destination city. It is good for San Pedrans to see this, open their minds to it and respect it. We need to continue to sustain this house. It stands for so much humanity and goodness from one man to another to provide a place to a family in a very difficult time. I can’t think of a better function than to give when someone is in need.”spt
For more info or to donate, contact the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House at (562) 285-4300 or visit www.longbeachrmh.org.
Last month’s San Pedro Today article recalling the slaughter of the innocent and devout Eva Tice in downtown San Pedro made my blood boil once again. For it is the byproduct of a deepening (by the decades) of poverty, and the drug addiction, crime and violence that has become our harbor side reality.
This was not always our identity. In the first two-thirds of the last century, our waterline was our key to prosperity, for it offered a diversity of industrial and commercial economic opportunity from the Bridge to the Breakwater and beyond. We were busy working.
However, by offering no vision for the type of public use that creates the commercial growth that would ensure a bright future, the City of Los Angeles (who holds the reins) instead created a social service and industrial dumping ground in its own southern section and seaside soul. So, for well over half a century we have suffered with a well-earned dangerous and dead end image that headlines continue to shout.
Look in on all other west coast ports to observe commercial seaside commerce and abundant economic activity – regional prosperity. The cry in the Harbor Area must be for economic justice that overcomes the anomaly of our seaside poverty.
The surest path to community safety and the seaside promise of prosperity is the full development and complete transformation of the Los Angeles waterfront. Our prominent institutions: the hospitals, schools, Boys & Girls Clubs, Marymount College, and other such institutions, must be promoted and economically nurtured in strength in order to safeguard and serve our social wellness and welfare. The development of the waterfront, which started as the Bridge to the Breakwater Grande Promenade Plan fourteen years ago, is the key to the economic health of the entire Harbor Area.
Our main street areas have degenerated into swap meets. The few waterfront commercial businesses that currently exist only serve weekend crowds, and those crowds represent a limited demographic that does not circulate into downtown or spend a dime elsewhere. All of the businesses that do not cater to that limited demographic have died (Simon’s Banquet Center is a recent example), thus the emptiness throughout the area.
Shouldn’t the waterfront serve and benefit all? Shouldn’t it be open and connect to all? Aren’t we good enough to attract people from all over the world? As a great people attraction that included visits by presidents, celebrities, astronauts, generals, admirals and heads of state, the Papadakis Taverna, which started in an empty building on a very rough corner of downtown in the early 1970s, did. And it did it for nearly four decades. That is how Sixth St. between Centre and Mesa came alive with people places. Why can’t our waterfront become an infectious welcome beacon for everyone?
The waterline must serve as a doorstep to all. Our port becoming a statewide seaside destination will engender the commercial growth that has escaped us for decades. For it will attract the great diversity of people that comprise what we call Southern Californians – not to mention the millions of folks who visit annually, as tourism is L.A.’s biggest business. Finally, it will create a locally based business community with the blessing of a diversified and bona fide job market.
Our history is our waterline. Simply put, the path to prosperity begins at our waterline. The rocky, bloody path to poverty begins there as well, as we have observed. What we make of it now, and whom we make it for, will determine our future.
There are those who will deny what I have expressed here and fought for all these years. You will have to take a good look at them and ask yourself why. I looked through and past them long ago.
Here’s to a new year, a new urban waterfront mecca, a bustling, busy international city by the blue Pacific, and economic justice to the long-suffering people of the southern portion of Los Angeles.spt
John Papadakis was the owner of Papadakis Taverna and is founder of the Bridge to the Breakwater Plan.