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)

Check My Custom Machines

Ron Binkley photographed with his latest project, a canary-yellow 1938 Cadillac La- Salle, 2-door Opera Coupe. (photo by Valerie Electra Smith-Griffin)

The layers in-between the lip-smacking cake that’s our town are its people, such as Pedro-blooded Ron Binkley, a non-stop cars and electronics tinker who once played a mean electric keyboard and danced the night away with an alluring woman known only as Midnight at the now vanished Canetti’s Restaurant.

It’s a typical gray mist-laden morning, and Binkley replaces the baritone, two-tone foghorn once known as “Moaning Maggie” with the commanding startup of his most reliable 1971 Ford Torino Station Wagon, its wheels whirling off to San Pedro’s Sacred Grounds, his personal haunt for his ritualistic cup of high octane. It’s a happening destination where he celebrates the day with relished camaraderie consisting of long-time friends and his kids who enjoy sharing the day with Pappy. After toasting the sunrise with Columbian and cream, he returns to his home that’s chockfull of cars, a mish-mash of machinery and a plethora of photographic memories spread across a thick wooden table that is laden not with salt and pepper shakers, placemats and artificial fruit, but hundreds of faded Kodacolor, sepia-tone and grainy black and whites of cars, machinery, wars past and family, collaged and creating a watercolor wash that are the festive colors of Binkley, whose lead foot is glued on the accelerator pedal of life; his fervor for all things cars, and the restoration of engines and drive trains ever-smoldering.

The Gilbert Electric Train Set, Slinky, or that extra special toy packaged with a barrage of sexual curiosity questions, the Doctor and Nurses Kit, magnetized many kids of the 1940s but not necessarily so for our mechanical-minded Binkley. Reflecting on his mother’s memory, Binkley says, “In 1940, at the age of three, I found car parts in an alley and, using a board, rolled them up into my crib.” For Binkley, his fascination with vehicles and machinery visibly evolved from a curious childhood habit into a lifelong emotional, and some might add, spiritual attachment.

In his early teens, Binkley worked as an usher at the Warner Grand Theatre where he played piano for the 1950 movie premier, South Sea Sinner, which also starred Liberace. Other jobs included Howard Cross Auto Repair and 7th Street Garage. In 1959, his strong interests in electronics and aerospace were further stimulated at Ryan Aeronautical Company, best known for building Charles Lindberg’s “Spirit of St. Louis” for his illustrious 1927 transatlantic flight. Always one that harbored a now realized yearning to witness man’s flight to the moon and beyond, he worked on the Doppler Radar for the Lunar Lander until he was drafted into the army, then returned to Ryan and onto Vickers Aerospace as an instrumentation technician on the Gemini Space Capsule. He retired in 1998 as foreman of the Radar and Antenna Restoration Division in the Electronics Weapons Facility at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard.

Binkley’s cars read like classic commercials from Cal Worthington and his fantasy dog Spot, but unlike Worthington, he won’t stand on his head, and don’t expect to see a Smart Car, which to Binkley, is an abomination of the greatest kind. As we peruse his aisles we see his 1968 Buick Special complete with a Buick 350 V-8. Interested in a 1931 Model A, or perhaps a Ford 1955 F100 Truck? The head-turning 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood Convertible that was advertised last week flew off the lot, but that snazzy 1938 Cadillac 75 series Coupe that was one of forty-two cars ever built, and survived the London Blitz, is waiting for you to drive it away, as is the 1964 1/2 Mustang and the 1940 Cadillac ’62 series with a L-Head V-8.

“My cars must have noise, that’s why I install duel exhaust and headers on all of them. It’s like beautiful music to my ears,” says Binkley.

Perhaps a 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster is more to your liking, or a head-turning 1969 purple Cadillac El Dorado with a no-nonsense 472 engine. Yearning to nourish your inner diva? Try an eye-popping 1961 Chevrolet Impala Convertible, it’s the one Binkley used to chauffeur former Councilwoman Janice Hahn in the San Pedro Christmas parades, and it comes complete with a 348 V-8 engine and 4-barrel carburetor. Still perplexed as to what honks your horn? Try a 1938 Cadillac La Salle Opera Coupe, complete with a 1942 military tank engine, or its earlier LaSalle cousin from 1937. If you crave a 1936 Ford 4-door sedan with the 1949 Olds V-8 and 1937 LaSalle transmission, sorry pal, that one flew off the lot as fast as its scorching wheels could go.

In addition to the artful cars just mentioned, Binkley is also the proud owner of two, 700 pounds each, solid stainless steel, early model nuclear submarine periscope foundations, complete with floor plates that display 360 degree markings. Perhaps they’ll eventually come in handy as lawn statues. Seriously, pink flamingos are so yesterday.

Binkley reflects on his prize car. “Without hesitation, one of my favorites was the one I purchased from Cecil Thomas and Sons on Pacific Avenue in San Pedro. A 1936 Ford 4-door sedan for $49.” Being the modification surgeon that he is, he rebuilt the engine with an Oldsmobile overhead valve V-8, a rear-end from a 1941 Cadillac LaSalle transmission, duel 4-barrel carburetors and a drive shaft from a 1932 Cadillac V-12. The track of Lions Drag Strip (1955-1972) in the Wilmington district, adjacent to Long Beach, whose slogan was “Drive the Highways, Race at Lions”, paved the way for the revamped car. “My lifelong friends, Billy Stecker, the late Jack Stecker, Frank Iacono and Tom Taros are 1940s and 1950s drag racing world icons and without Taros, all the hot rodders wouldn’t have a place to go.”

Lions Drag Strip is now a ghostly image in Binkley’s rearview mirror and his Canetti’s nights are kept alive in lively remembrances at Sacred Grounds with friends who frequently slip in a friendly barb of, “Can’t you find another subject besides cars to talk about?” Ignoring the question, he downs his final sip of Columbian and cream, eager to make a mad dash home and determined to breathe new life into his latest project, a canary-yellow 1938 Cadillac LaSalle, 2-door Opera Coupe. Care for a ride anyone? Take Binkley’s word for it, once you hear the engine roar and caress that velvety burgundy mohair interior, you haven’t lived! spt