Photograph Like a Champion Today

San Pedro Today photographer John Mattera gets the opportunity of a lifetime

The photographer at Notre Dame, 20 years apart (1993 and 2013)

Being born and raised in San Pedro, it’s a common joke amongst our community to say that we all are connected to each other by just a few degrees of separation.

For those of us who have lived here all or most of our lives, many of us are still close friends with people we met during elementary school. Some friends are so close they’ve become family.

Along with being a very close-knit community, San Pedro is also a huge sports town. We are dedicated fans to many of the same pro teams: Dodgers, Angels, Lakers, Clippers, Kings, Ducks and even the Raiders and Rams, even though those franchises left Los Angeles many years ago.

There is one sport though that truly divides our town and even some homes and families: college football. Nothing can compete with the commitment and crazed devotion of a college football fan from San Pedro. No matter where you go in town, whether it be a home or a business, you can tell where their allegiances fall. From James Brown’s unbridled passion for UCLA at the San Pedro Brewing Co. to San Pedro Today‘s Jack Baric towing the USC line, with plenty of other colleges represented in between, this town’s passion for college football has been passed down from generation to generation.

It’s pretty obvious which teams dominate our Port Town though. It’s a three-headed monster of big name college football programs: UCLA, USC, and the University of Notre Dame.

I fall under the fan category of the latter team – the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. You can say I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid since my early Catholic school days at Mary Star of the Sea. Along with all of the history and tradition that surrounds Notre Dame, they also are the number one university in the country for graduating its student athletes year in and year out. It’s no surprise that they are one of the top school’s in the country.

We all know that the cross-town rivalry between UCLA and USC is a heated one, but did you know who USC’s biggest rival really is? That would be Notre Dame – a Catholic University located in South Bend, Ind., just a short drive east of Chicago.

The Notre Dame/USC rivalry started back in 1926 and is often called the greatest inter-sectional rivalry in college football. Both schools have each won 11 national championships, with the Fighting Irish claiming seven Heisman Trophy winners, one more than USC.

I’ve been lucky to see Notre Dame play many times. I went to my first Notre Dame/USC game in 1990 at the Coliseum and have attended each game played there since. I’ve also seen several games in South Bend when both teams have faced off against each other at Notre Dame Stadium, too. Last year, as per usual, I attended the rivalry game, but this time I wasn’t watching from a Coliseum seat. At the request of San Pedro’s own Shelley Smith of ESPN, I was able to obtain a media field pass to photograph the entire USC season of homes games for ESPNLA.com, which of course included the Notre Dame game.

Mattera on the field at Notre Dame Stadium.

My assignment for that rivalry game was to cover USC wide receiver Marqise Lee for an upcoming ESPN L.A. article. It was a dream come true to finally photograph a Notre Dame/USC game. The Fighting Irish defeated the Trojans to finish the season 12-0 and advance to the BCS championship. Unfortunately, the Irish lost horribly to Alabama in the BCS Championship game in Miami. Sadly, I was there for that, too.

I always dreamt of one day photographing a game in South Bend, not as a fan in the seats, but on the cool, green grass of Notre Dame Stadium. I had already photographed games at the Coliseum and the Rose Bowl, but my dream shoot always seemed out of reach. Luckily though, this past October, with the help of my friend Shelley once again, I was able to fulfill this longtime dream by being asked to cover another Notre Dame/USC game for ESPNLA.com, this time inside Notre Dame Stadium.

It had been more than 20 years since the last time I stood on Notre Dame Stadium’s field. My first experience occurred back on November 13, 1993, after the much hyped “Game of the Century” featuring #1 Florida State vs. #2 Notre Dame. Once that game clock ran out, I joined more than half of the stadium in storming the field in chaotic celebration. The Irish won in the last few seconds and took over the #1 rank in the country immediately after.

Cut to nearly two decades later – October 19, 2013 – and I’m back on the field of Notre Dame Stadium, the house that Knute Rockne built.

I’m the first to admit that I get too anxious on Notre Dame game days. I just wanted to get into the stadium and soak up the perfect college football atmosphere. Nothing beats football on a Saturday in South Bend – the fanfare, tailgating, bands, cheerleaders and famous leprechaun mascot all added to the spectacle of the day.

Once I had my media pass and obtained my green photo vest, I was ready to hit the field. Walking though the tunnel and realizing I was making the same walk that so many legendary Fighting Irish and Trojan football greats had made was surreal.

The only thing missing was slapping the famous Play Like A Champion Today sign inside the Notre Dame locker room before running through the tunnel. It’s a tradition that the Irish players do every time they enter and depart the locker room. Luckily though, I actually did that the following day when I toured the locker room.

Once on the sidelines, I heard the yellow-jacketed ushers directing us to our spots and welcoming all those that passed by. “Welcome to Notre Dame Stadium” was heard countless times. Many friends of mine who have also been lucky enough to attend the Notre Dame/USC game in South Bend have commented on how nice and welcoming the people in South Bend are. I can attest to that fact.

As the 237th consecutive sold out crowd of 80,975 people made their way into the stadium, you could feel the electricity build. This was the first night game of the year at Notre Dame Stadium. Both teams came running onto the field as their respective bands played their school’s fight songs. Players from both teams sprinted to the far end zone and took a moment to kneel and pray before kickoff. It was officially game time.

Being on the field for a sports event of this magnitude is an amazing experience. You could smell the freshly cut grass caress the crisp, cloudy Midwest sky. It even drizzled slightly, which made shooting the game a little more interesting. Luckily, I came prepared with proper rain gear for my camera and lenses. I wasn’t in sunny Southern California, obviously.

Surrounded by a slew of photographers from the around the country and several television cameras, I took my shooting position in the corner of the south end zone. From my point of view, I could see the famous campus landmarks of the Golden Dome of the administration building and the “Touchdown Jesus” mural of the Hesburgh Library. The famous mosaic mural towers over the north stadium wall and depicts Jesus with his hands raised just like that of a referee signifying a touchdown.

Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees delivers a pass during the first half of ND’s 14-10 victory over the Trojans. (photo by John Mattera)

I was nervous knowing how evenly matched these two teams were. Like most rivalries, season records could never predict the outcome of this special game. This was also the first game in which USC interim coach Ed Orgeron had taken over for the fired Lane Kiffin, so you knew the Trojans had something to prove.

A lot of the early game time action was directed toward my end zone, so I was able to capture many great images right off the bat, including Notre Dame’s opening drive, which stalled as the Trojans stopped the Irish on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line.

The first half of the game ended with Notre Dame leading 14-10. That was all the offense we would see for the night. In the second half, both offenses were stagnant. Notre Dame lost their starting quarterback to injury and USC’s offense could not put it in gear and failed on countless third down conversions.

During halftime, I was lucky to meet several of the ushers who were working in the end zone I was in. Many of these people have been involved with Notre Dame football longer than I was born. Their eyes had seen so much historic moments in Notre Dame Stadium, both good and bad. We shared a couple stories and laughs and before we knew it, the bands were heading off the field and the second half was just underway. Hopefully, I’ll be back one day and run into them once again.

Notre Dame survived the second half without their starting quarterback Tommy Rees, and won 14-10 over the Trojans. It was gut wrenching watching how slow the clock moved during the second half, especially when a team is just running the ball to run out
the clock, which is exactly what Notre Dame did.

I made sure to soak up every moment I had on the field that night. I even attended both of the coach’s press conferences and then, when the crowd dispersed and all was said and done, I finally made my way one last time through the tunnel. I was the last photographer to leave the field. As I was walking off, I heard one of the usher’s say, “Have a great night.”

I just looked back at him and smiled and said, “I already did. You do the same now. Good night.” spt

Notre Dame and USC have met 85 times and Notre Dame currently leads the series 45-35-5 (*including a 2005 USC victory that was vacated due to NCAA penalty).

A Tasteful Romance: Andria & Roberto Lo Grande – November 3, 2012 (Wedding)

Photos by John Mattera Photography

Andria (Trani) Lo Grande went to the Taste in San Pedro in April 2009 expecting to sample the different flavors of town. Little did she know that in addition to savoring the various delicacies San Pedro is known for, she’d also meet her future husband, Roberto.

Andria was introduced to Roberto while hanging out with friends at the Taste. At the time, Blackberries were still popular, so Roberto didn’t hesitate to ask for Andria’s “BBM” (Blackberry Messenger) name. That night, Roberto BBMed Andria and after two weeks of messaging back and forth, they went on their first date to Sushi Fiori in Redondo Beach.

“It was really sweet how he asked me – he asked me in Italian,” describes Andria, daughter of Phil Trani and Michelle Katrich. “He’s full Italian and I’m part Italian, part Croatian.”

The date went well and was a somewhat new experience for Andria as she didn’t really date much prior to Roberto, son of Sal and Maria Grazia Lo Grande. Although always a little “standoff-ish,” Andria decided to venture into a second date two weeks later, where the two enjoyed a night at the movies.

During this time (and in typical San Pedro fashion), one of Andria’s friends was dating one of Roberto’s friends, so they all spent a lot of time together. Then, Roberto had Andria meet his family in November of 2009, and a few days later, asked her to be his girlfriend.

“It was like I had to pass a test before he made the commitment,” Andria jokes.

Andria continued to make the grade in Roberto’s eyes, which was made evident during an October 2011 trip to Vegas for Andria’s and a friend’s birthday. While hanging out with a group of friends in their hotel room, Roberto got down on one knee and popped the question.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” says Andria. “We were all just so shocked!”

Andria said yes, of course, and the couple married on November 3, 2012. Their ceremony was at Mary Star of the Sea Parish. Andria’s grandfather, Marijan “Mutt” Katrich, walked her halfway down the aisle, while her father walked her down the rest of the way. There were more than 350 guests in attendance and their large wedding party consisted of many relatives and friends.

On Andria’s side were Maid of Honor Cassie Redlew; bridesmaids Shannon Fredericks, Nicole Trani, Paola Palma, Cara Williams, Rindy Vidovich, Christina Lo Grande, Melissa Malahni, Stephanie Fiamengo, and Carly Potter; and flower girl Lauren Fredericks. On Roberto’s side were Best Men Sergio Lo Grande and Gaetano Lo Grande; groomsmen Phil Trani, Salvo Cracchiolo, Giuseppe Napoli, Paolo Funiciello, Pay Lopez, Jason Dorio, Joe Agrusa, and Eddie Sullivan; and ring bearers Jack Fredericks and Max Trani Hardin.

Following the ceremony, a pre-reception was held at Phil Trani’s Fine Food & Spirits in Long Beach, which is Andria’s father’s restaurant.

“We wanted our guests to have a place where they could go and be entertained since there was a large time gap between the wedding and reception,” explains Andria. “Everyone was able to enjoy drinks and appetizers, and we had a mariachi band that played for everyone and continued to play at the reception.”

Andria’s grandfather was a commercial fisherman and fell in love with the mariachi music he would hear while working on his ship. For Andria’s mother’s and aunt’s weddings, he hired mariachis to play at their receptions, so Andria wanted to carry on the tradition at her own reception.

Roberto and Andria’s reception was held at the Hilton Long Beach, where the couple entered dancing to Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” They then shared their first dance to Steve Tyrell’s version of “The Way You Look Tonight,” followed by the father-daughter dance to Tim McGraw’s “My Little Girl.” Also featured at the wedding were a variety of Italian and Croatian cookies, which were homemade by family members.

Following their special day, the couple spent a week in St. Lucia for their honeymoon.

Currently, Roberto and Andria reside in San Pedro, and Roberto is a superintendent on the docks, while Andria is a registered nurse at San Pedro Hospital. They hope to buy a home and start a family soon. spt

Downtown Hasn’t Shaken its Vacancy Problem

The number of For Rent signs in downtown hasn't changed much in more than five years (photo by Megan Barnes).

Downtown San Pedro looks a lot different than it did half a decade ago. Trolleys run up and down cleaned streets under crisscrossing lights that have given the area new charm. Just two months ago, the streets were blocked off for a festival celebrating the town’s 125th anniversary that drew thousands.

But despite all the momentum, there remains an undeniable, and quite visible problem: a number of “For Rent” signs still hang in shop windows up and down 6th and 7th streets. In August, Williams’ Book Store closed its doors after more than 100 years, and Jolly Burrito packed up and moved to Pacific Avenue.

“Nobody’s going to rent an empty space when on both sides of it is a business that’s suffering or another empty space,” says Warren Gunter, owner of P&M Management, which houses businesses like Niko’s Pizzeria and The Surplus Guy. He says two of his 12 spaces are currently vacant.

Gunter himself owned the former San Pedro Jewelry Mart on 6th Street. He thinks a lack of advertising to attract new day-to-day customers is what keeps tenants with staying power, and who will increase property values, from opening up shop.

“You could fire a cannon down the sidewalk. There’s no traffic downtown because there is no effort to bring in new customers on a day-to-day basis. The idea of these two-day parties that bring a lot of people downtown — well what happens the rest of the 365 days of the year?”

But others say the pre-Del Amo Mall days of residents doing much of their shopping downtown are over and it’s time to find a new brand or niche market to draw visitors. With the success of the First Thursday Artwalk and two new theatre companies moving into an already theatre-rich area, downtown seems to be shaping itself as an arts and dining district.

“There’s a certain charm around here. I think more and more people will think of this as a place to come eat and retailers will be more of the funky stuff,” says Alan Johnson of Jerico Development, another major commercial real estate company downtown, and one of the developers overseeing the makeover of Ports O’ Call Village. He estimates vacancies are about what they were when the Business Improvement District, or PBID, was formed six years ago, but says the area is making progress finding its new identity.

“Galleries and funky little shops will appeal to a crowd that’s looking for something different because we’re not going to be Hermosa Beach, we’re not going to be Long Beach; we have to carve our little niche.”

But downtown’s thriving community of artists and galleries isn’t necessarily open to the public on a regular basis, adding to the number of closed storefronts. Some are only open during First Thursdays.

“I hear a lot of concern about that, but otherwise they might not be occupied, so I think it’s actually a real plus,” Johnson says. “I think they really are central to the community we are.”

Inconsistent business hours are a problem among businesses downtown across the board. Some of downtown’s strongest businesses are restaurants with regular hours.

“I think the businesses that are going to survive are going to be the ones that create regular hours and a product that people will want to buy,” says Eric Eisenberg, owner of the Renaissance Group, which owns much of the commercial real estate downtown.

He estimates his vacancies might be better than what they were six years ago. The Renaissance Group recently hired a new marketing director who’s brought in a surge of inquiries through online marketing. A new vegan smoothie shop recently moved into the old Jolly Burrito location on 6th St.

“Do we have more vacancies than we’d like? Absolutely. But the reality is we’ve started a new type of advertising and I think if you talk to me in two months you’re going to see a lot of the vacancies rented.”

Eisenberg’s glass-half-full view of the vacancies is shared by others who stress that downtown’s transformation will take time.

“For the first five years we’ve concentrated on infrastructure, making the district an appealing place to come to, and now it’s time to start marketing,” says Valerie Goodman, PBID’s marketing director. “There are a lot of communities that have been really successful in reinventing themselves and attracting businesses, like Pine Street in Downtown Long Beach, but it takes time and doesn’t happen over night.”

PBID has received some criticism for its focus on beautification.

“No potential business is going to say, ‘I’m going to open a business because there’s twinkle lights and a red trolley car that runs up and down the street empty most of the time,’” Gunter says.

Johnson, who has also been doing business downtown for 30 years, however, thinks it’s a logical approach.

“To me, you don’t just market and scream at people 100 times to come down here,” he says. “You make something that people are going to want to come to and then you market it, so I think we are doing it in exactly the right order.” spt

Cirque du Soleil Redefines World Music with ‘Totem’

photo by John Mattera

Since the Cirque du Soleil production Totem opened in San Pedro on Oct. 11, its acrobatic, multi-sensory narrative of the evolution of mankind has captured the imaginations of audience members of all ages. Close your eyes, though, and you’ll be captured by its exotic, percussive soundtrack – composed by the Montreal-based Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard, who work together under the moniker Bob & Bill – which mirrors the show’s evocative imagery and atmosphere.

Incorporating indigenous music from across the globe, the rhythmic, multi-cultural music of Totem is “a trip around the world, starting from the first nations to today’s modern world,” Dubuc and Lessard said in a recent interview conducted by e-mail. That trip includes such seemingly disparate elements as Spanish flamenco, Native American influences and African rhythms, yet the pair manages to weave everything together in a way that effectively reiterates the Totem story of humanity.

Although tackling such a grand existential project might seem overwhelming, Dubuc and Lessard – who met while attending college and for 15 years have worked together scoring video games, TV shows and films – said they simply followed the script. “Like the evolution of mankind, we started from the beginning,” they said. “It’s the same process as writing for a movie – we have to follow the emotion curve of the performance by creating some (high) points in the music.”

When crafting ideas together for Cirque du Soleil, Dubuc plays keyboards while Lessard drums and sings. “We shoot different ideas and keep the ones we think sound the best,” they explain. “Then, our goal is to synchronize the music with the acrobatic acts. We’re inspired by the script, images from the creation of the show and costume designs, and we also like to bring the acrobats in our studio and work closely together.”

Although Dubuc and Lessard had previously served as musical directors and arrangers for several Cirque du Soleil productions and even produced the soundtrack to the touring production Kooza, Totem – the performances of which feature a live band with multiple vocalists, percussionists and guitarists, including former Genesis and Spock’s Beard singer/drummer Nick D’Virgilio – was the first Cirque show the pair composed. They have since written music for two additional Cirque shows (including another touring production, Amaluna) and are currently working on another Cirque project in development, they say.

“Writing music for Cirque du Soleil is very close to who we are,” they say, noting that Totem took them two years to compose. “Since the beginning, our dream was to write music for big shows like Cirque du Soleil, and it’s a great opportunity for us.”

With its global worldview, it’s hard to imagine a grander platform for Dubuc and Lessard than Totem. By incorporating sounds from numerous cultures past and present and using a wide variety of indigenous musical instruments from Mexican basses to Indian sitars, the show’s music is the aural equivalent to a voyage not only around the world, but also through time. In fact, its seamless meshing of traditional tribal music with contemporary influences makes you wonder if music has truly always been – and will always continue to be – the universal language. spt

Performances of Totem continue in San Pedro at 3011 S. Miner St. (near Berth 46) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 10. Tickets range from $55-$135. For more information, visit cirquedusoleil.com.

Clay Marshall is a San Pedro-based freelance writer who has written for Billboard, Guitar World and the L.A. Weekly, among others. He can be reached at portsounds@gmail.com.

It’s Not About Burning Calories

If you want to lose weight so you can feel confident and have energy without wasting time on methods that don’t work, then read on. What I’m going to tell you may completely change how you look at weight-loss.

Last month, I talked about the comfortable rut. It’s the place so many of us find ourselves in where we aren’t happy, but things haven’t gotten bad enough to change. If you are fed up and ready to end the rut, I want to set you on the right path and keep you from wasting effort and failing because you followed the wrong map.

I am going to assume your goal is fitness. You want a flatter stomach (maybe even abs), a firm butt, better arm definition, and it’d be nice to stop feeling so dang tired all the time.

Oh, and you don’t particularly have a lot of time in the week to do it.

Sound about right? Okay I’m going to show you a few common misconceptions people have about weight-loss and exercise. It may even explain why you’ve failed in the past. Here goes…

Losing weight – Perhaps the most important idea in regards to fitness is this: You do not try to lose weight. You try to lose body fat. There’s a big difference.

Losing weight is easy. Skip dinner and run on a treadmill for an hour. Do that for a month. You will lose a ton of weight (plus your sanity) and start to resemble a bag of skin propped up by a coat hanger.

The problem with most approaches to weight-loss is that it’s a short-term solution focusing solely on getting the number on the scale to drop. It puts you on severe calorie restriction (shakes, appetite-suppressing pills, long bouts of cardio) so that you can get the gratification of dramatic weight-loss.

However the results never last because a.) Nobody can live like that long-term, b.) Your body adapts and it stops working, and c.) Losing a ton of weight quickly means much of that weight is lean mass.

When you lose twenty pounds in three weeks, only a portion of it was fat. Any extended period of severe calorie restriction is almost always followed by a re-feeding period. Meaning, these people almost always gain the weight back. Only now they have less lean mass, making it easier to put on more fat than before.

It is true that to lose weight you need to create a deficit by consuming less calories than you burn in day. The problem is that people take this to an extreme and try to burn as many calories as possible. This leads directly to the second myth: Exercise is for burning calories.

Running or doing cardio alone for the sake of burning calories is a terrible method for burning fat. Your body is an adapting machine and will adapt to virtually anything thrown at it and will steadily get better in any routine until it becomes virtually effortless.

Your body must expend energy (calories) in everything it does. However, your body is a shrewd machine designed to survive so it will constantly try to save energy when and where it can.

When you first start running, your body is shocked by the change. You burn a ton of calories, sweat like crazy and after a couple weeks drop a ton of weight. But shortly after, doing generally doing the same workout stops working and you will plateau. This is the case with any exercise. Lack of variety will kill your progress.

Exercising to burn calories will have you focusing on spending longer and longer periods on the treadmill. Instead, what you should aim to do is increase your metabolic rate, the rate at which you burn calories all day in and out of the gym.

The right approach is adopting a well-planned strength and conditioning program that will add, not decrease, lean mass. You don’t need a gym or weights starting out either. You couple that with avoiding refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed food. Do that and you’ll be well on your way out of the comfortable rut. spt

Meeting the Challenge

Our organization has adopted a slogan this year called, “Meet the Challenge.” It is appropriate for so many reasons given the difficulties we and all nonprofits face in attempting to keep up with the demand for our programs and services in an era of a growing “working poor” class.

I am in my 19th year at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor – the challenges have been constant during this time and have become even more severe given the economic realities of the past four years and the difficulties, limitations and sometimes the outright danger a growing number of local families and especially their children must face. I grew up in San Pedro at a much better time – there are MANY more challenges today for our children to address and overcome.

I recently read two articles that reinforced this imperative to “meet the challenge.” In a recent op-ed piece titled “When School’s Out,” two researchers talked about the huge concern of working parents while they are on the job and their kids are out of school. Interestingly enough, Fortune 100 companies employed all the parents interviewed, so they had many resources at their disposal and yet were still anxious and sometimes desperate as to where their children could thrive during those most important hours of 3-6 p.m. Juxtapose that reality with another article stating that Los Angeles has the highest poverty rate among all California counties – a staggering 27%. If parents of Fortune 100 companies are extremely anxious due to uncertainty about where their kids are and what they are doing after school, just think what our growing number of working poor parents of San Pedro and our Harbor Area must feel who have many less options but all of the same concerns and needs.

This is one reason why our “Meet the Challenge” slogan is so very appropriate at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor. Because without the commitment of our Board, staff and our donors, we could not continue to make available the most up-to-date facilities nor sponsor the most comprehensive child development programming possible for over 8,000 youth annually, a number that is growing as our College Bound and Arts Academy programs attract continually more at-risk youth and provide a pathway to their development and success. One illustration: our high school and middle school attendance has increased by a combined 70% over the last two years alone. Now that is a challenge.

But “Meet the Challenge” is also most appropriate for the children we serve. Although we attract all types of youth, our members are more often than not part of our 27% poverty rate. They are often hungry, condemned to poor living conditions, are without basic medical, dental and vision care (another article stated that one in seven Los Angeles school children do not have the glasses he or she needs), may be living without a parent or are in foster care. These children are part of the vastly growing segment of highly at-risk youth. Still, day in and day out I witness our kids who “meet the challenge” and truly overcome such great odds due to their indelible spirit and the efforts of so many caring adults and supporters. These children could easily give up, but with the Club providing a safe place to go and a plethora of programs and activities that allow them to develop and succeed – they do “meet the challenge” and will soon be leading our community and possibly our greater Los Angeles area as productive, caring and involved adults.

These children do not need a handout; they just need a helping hand. If not us, who? If not now, when? spt

San Pedro Through The Eyes Of A Master

Evrika “Evo” Zatikyan may be a man of few words, but his paintings — more than 6,000 in the past 20 years alone — speak volumes. The prolific Armenian painter spends hours behind the canvas creating impressions of colorful everyday scenes that capture and explore the human experience.

In honor of San Pedro’s 125th anniversary, Zatikyan turned his eye on the town for a special set of paintings that were unveiled on Oct. 19 at the Croatian Cultural Center on 7th Street. It wasn’t his first exhibit at the center, but Zatikyan is the first featured artist in the Art Without Boundaries series, which collaborates with consulates to showcase international artists in both Los Angeles and their home countries.

“I’m touched by the city’s view, by its scenic sea, and I’m very fond of sea life,” Zatikyan says through friend and fellow artist Martiros Hakopian, acting as a translator, who will also be featured in the Art Without Boundaries series. “And the people here have a good energy.”

Zatikyan went to art school in Armenia and spent eight years imprisoned in Siberia for his politically themed paintings before coming to the United States 20 years ago. Today he paints on a daily basis and his work hangs in public and private collections throughout Europe and the United States, including Rutgers University.

He recently spent time in San Pedro that inspired several paintings of the Harbor. Cranes rise in the distance over colorful waters that reflect the busy port as undefined passersby go about their day. Ripples of water hug a scene that takes in sail boats against the Palos Verdes Peninsula. His style recreates a sensory experience of life on the waterfront and the spirit of a port town.

“I do everything under impressions, and the impressions here are really touching me,” he says. “The ocean always gives big energy, so I like to capture that.”

More than 50 people, including Armenian Consul Suren Vardanyants, attended the exhibit of his paintings of San Pedro. Zatikyan was presented with awards from the offices of Congresswoman Janice Hahn and State Senator Roderick Wright.

“I think it’s a great contribution to San Pedro,” says Maya Bristow, president of the Croatian Cultural Center. “Art Without Boundaries is going to create a dialogue for artists like Evo. It’s a cultural cross-promotion.”

Zatikyan has been invited to give an exhibit in Armenia, and also plans to show in France and Croatia.

“He is a master of capturing the moment, he can capture moments better than a camera,” Hapokian says. “Why? Because the camera gives you dry images, but art involves emotion. It might not be photographic resemblance, but it’s character resemblance; the soul, the moment.”

Zatikyan spent 20 years painting 12 hours a day.

“I meet a lot of artists and Evo is one of a kind,” Bristow says. “It is very nice to celebrate his generosity and his vision of San Pedro. We are very happy to have him.” spt

The Art Without Boundaries series features artists from around the world and can be viewed at the Croatian Cultural Center (510 W. 7th St.) For more info, visit www.croatianculture.org.

Some Things Are Meant To Be


In March, I wrote a column about Tripod, our 14-year-old, three-legged dog. Originally, she wasn’t supposed to have been ours at all, but some things are just meant to be.

I found her in Banning Park as a four-month-old red-brown puppy with a broken left hind leg. We weren’t looking to adopt a dog just then and vowed to find her a good home. Before we began the search for an adopter, however, we took her to our veterinarian to see if there was a chance to save the injured leg. Unfortunately, it was beyond repair, but, if it was amputated, she stood every chance of living a normal life with just three legs. Amputation required a canine orthopedic surgeon, at a cost of $1,500.

Finding someone willing to take on a dog with such a hefty price tag was impossible. The alternatives were: 1.) Turn her in to the county shelter, virtually assuring she’d be euthanized, or 2.) Adopt her ourselves. Obviously, she was just meant to be ours, and for 14 great years Tripod was the belle of both our home and our print shop. Sadly, in July, we had to let Tripod go after her spinal cord became compromised.

I recount this story because history has repeated itself. After we lost Tripod, our friend Camilla Townsend asked her good friend, artist Stan Hicks, to do a watercolor painting of Tripod that we could hang in the shop for all her “fans” to see. The painting (which is outstanding) was unveiled during September’s First Thursday Art Walk at fINdings art gallery. Since Stan specializes in paintings of dogs, the show was also billed as a fundraiser for a local dog rescue service called Doggies 911 Rescue. In order to entice people to donate to that organization, Marilyn Vittone, one of the partners in Doggies 911 Rescue, brought an adoptable rescued puppy to the event: a five-month-old red-brown puppy with a fractured left hind leg in a cast.

She knew nothing of our history with Tripod, and to have chosen to bring that particular puppy from the scores of dogs in her care was, to us, like déjà vu all over again. The message couldn’t have been clearer: We were there to adopt this puppy… some things are just meant to be.

We named the puppy Alfie, but before he could come home with us, he had to spend two weeks at South Shores Pet Clinic until his cast was removed. During that time, we visited him often and got to know and really admire Marilyn, her partner, Masumi Hara, and Dr. Mark Weimer at South Shores. Doggies 911 Rescue’s motto is “No dog left behind,” and they specialize in homeless dogs with special needs that make them unadoptable. They rescue animals from shelters all over Southern California. With their personal funds, and with some limited outside donations, they fix whatever problems a dog may have before finding it a good home. For example, one night, while we were visiting Alfie, they brought in a small puppy for emergency surgery to remove nuts, bolts and metal scraps from his intestinal tract, which he had ingested while homeless and wandering the streets. He’ll be fine and will get a good home.

Even though Dr. Weimer and staff donate many of their services, Doggies 911 nonetheless accumulates huge medical bills. They’re constantly in need of donations. Please stop by and meet them and their adoptable dogs, Saturday mornings at Petco on Western Ave., or go to their website: www.doggies911rescue.org. You might find a new best friend that was just meant to be yours, or by donating, make it possible for someone else to find theirs. spt

Herb Zimmer owns PriorityOne Printing in downtown San Pedro.

Time To Salute A Different Kind Of Veteran

I usually try to use my November column to honor veterans, and this month is no exception. The only difference is that this column was written 70 years ago by one of those veterans that you don’t read much about – military nurses.

Berdine Stime was a lieutenant in the Army nurse corps when she wrote a letter that appeared in her local paper in Brookings, Minn. Stored away in an old trunk, it was just recently discovered.

It was while in New Guinea, in the rear of MacArthur’s advancing forces, that she ran into Vernon Nelson, an Army Air Corps mechanic. Vernon grew up in the same small Minnesota town as Stime and knew the family but had never met Berdine. They ended up getting married after the war and were living in Orange County when Vernon died at age 47, leaving Berdine with six children.

She came to San Pedro in the early `70s when her oldest son, Luthor, now well known for his dove release business, was hired as youth pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church. Berdine moved back to Minnesota in the `90s, then returned a few years ago and is living at Little Sisters of the Poor. Now 94, she has 19 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren, with three more on the way.

The following letter was edited only for brevity:

So far no hot running water, no iceboxes, no screens, so bugs and flies are numerous. No bathrobes, so when it rains the patients have to walk to the mess hall in their pajamas, through mud six inches deep! We use flashlights for throat examinations, etc., and a thousand and one inconveniences. But at least we have cement floors, a tin roof over our head, and enough equipment for essentials, with promise of better things to come. If it wasn’t for the heat, we really would have nothing to complain about, except the food, which isn’t too tasty but of good caloric value, and if we’re hungry enough, we eat it.

When the evenings cool off, as well as they do, together with a beautiful moon coming up, the sound of waves against the beach in our backyard, and Dianna Durbin singing, “Way Down Upon the Swanee River,” what more can you ask for, except an ice cold Coke or laundry services, a little less mud and heat, or a few hundred other things? I don’t know myself whether I’m griping about this hole or praising the beautiful country. What’s your guess?

Incidentally, in case of any doubt in your mind because of preceding rambling, I still love nursing, New Guinea or not, and even though my glamour days of nursing are over, and I’m… perspiring very freely while giving baths, or just standing still (and in pants), I’m still thankful that I’ve been permitted to be of some service, and do not want to be any other place.

Last night we went on a five-mile jeep ride, but because of the general bumps and ruts and holes, it’s actually about 10 miles. Then the ride up the “stairs;” they have regular steps for the jeep to go up, only the steps zigzag, if you get what I mean. You go up a ways, then turn and go up a little further. I don’t know how we did it, but all the time while up there, we were afraid it would rain, and they say when it rains, the jeep just slides down very “smoothly.” What a country! Never lacks of variety or gets monotonous. But these jeeps are real corkers! When the kids don’t like the looks of the road ahead, they just go around it, right through the woods, fields or rivers…. The only annoying “animals,” besides lizards, snakes and spiders, are the airplanes that delight in swooping so low they almost crack up.

What a humbling and heartbreaking experience I had today with two new patients, just young kids straight from the fighting line, one with both legs amputated, and the other, a most handsome and intelligent boy with a gangrenous leg to be amputated in the morning. Pitiful! I could hardly keep back the tears. But the hardest to take was the cheerful and brave way they took it in spite of the pain. They barely spoke, just smiled when we smiled (because of the lack of words to express ourselves). I spent three hours trying to clean them up (it will take several baths to get them really clean). They had been washed once on the boat in four days. But it all seemed so vain when I knew I couldn’t do the impossible, restore the lost limb. Then stop and multiply their suffering and handicap by hundreds and hundreds more. It’s enough to make one go crazy just thinking about it. And then to think of how often I fret and gripe – what a heel I’ve been. I marvel at God’s patience and love! “It passeth knowledge, that love of Thine!” Last night I cried myself to sleep thinking about it all, but I guess that doesn’t help, does it? Think I had better do something worthwhile for them from now on.

Berdine was one of 74,000 women in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps during World War II; 201 Army nurses died. What they did was more than worthwhile. spt

Taking Center Stage: Downtown San Pedro’s Theatre Renaissance

(left to right) James Blackman (San Pedro Theatre Club, seated), Summer Cacciagioni (Encore Entertainers), Aaron Ganz & Paris Langle (TE San Pedro Rep) (photo by John Mattera)

As downtown San Pedro forges a path to reinvent itself, there’s been a quiet and unexpected renaissance along the way that is fitting for a district whose crown jewel is a landmark art deco theatre. In the past two years, four theatre companies have moved into downtown San Pedro – two in the past five months. Their range of casts and productions means downtown seems to be shaping itself as a unique performing arts district.

“I think these markets are all very shareable and each theatre has a unique experience. Right now they’re in perfect concert with each other,” says James Blackman, former director of the award winning Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities. After the company moved to the Warner Grand Theatre last year and went under not long after, he was considering throwing in the towel.

“I was eating at Niko’s late one night and I could hear “La Vie en Rose” playing on a Victrola up the street, so I walked up and saw people tangoing inside a storefront and thought, ‘There’s no other place in Los Angeles where you’ll find people dressed up tangoing this late on a Tuesday night.’ It was so beautiful. I thought, ‘I want to be part of a town that has this.’”

Blackman decided to stay and start over, building a theatre in a 1920s high-ceiling former department store space on Pacific Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets he named the San Pedro Theatre Club.

The lobby of the San Pedro Theatre Club.

Stepping into the lobby feels a bit like walking into a backstage area with rotating sets. The glimmer of the stage’s backdrop reveals an intimate venue with art deco touches and 78 high-back movie theatre seats.

“We’re trying to champion kind of an old form which is the old nightclubs of the 1920s and 1930s,” he says.

The theatre had its soft opening, a concert by jazz singer Windy Barnes, on First Thursday in August, and had its official premiere in September with the musical comedy, We Will Survive. Last month, it screened films in the second annual San Pedro International Film Festival.

The San Pedro Theatre Club recently held auditions for upcoming plays and musicals, and Blackman plans to have comedy nights, concerts and movie series as well. He says more than 1,500 of his Civic Light Opera subscribers are finishing out their season at the theatre club. When he gives them directions to San Pedro, he tells them to use the “guest entrance.”

“I say we have a service entrance and a guest entrance, and when I describe the route to them, I say, ‘Get off on Harbor Blvd. and you’ll see the San Francisco style bridge, then you’ll probably see passenger ships and the Bellagio-style water fountain and as you turn the corner, follow the row of lit palm trees all the way down to where the Red Car runs past the USS Iowa. Just before you get to the Maritime Museum, turn up 5th, 6th or 7th Street and go past the art galleries and specialty restaurants,’” he says. “It’s a sub narrative that sells the city as a destination, and sure enough, they’ll want to plan an entire day here.”

Blackman thinks San Pedro is on the cusp of an artistic revival that could make it Los Angeles’ newest arts destination.

“As native Angelenos, we go, ‘Let’s go check that out.’ We go to the new place. There are millions of us here and we look for day trips,” he says. “We go to someone else’s environment to enjoy an entire day and that’s an economy that is more than possible to bring in here.”

A few blocks over on 7th and Centre Streets, an acting school and small theatre company has turned a former doctor’s office into an intimate theatre space.

“San Pedro is everything I could’ve wanted in a potential home for a theatre company, there’s something about this rawness here,” says Aaron Ganz, artistic director of the TE San Pedro Rep, which moved to San Pedro in June after two seasons in La Crescenta as Theatrum Elysium.

The TE San Pedro Rep Team (left to right): Managing Director Chris Lang, Artistic Director Ganz, Communications Director Langle, Resident Designer Tamara Becker, Technical Director Richard Dominguez (photo by John Mattera).

The space features exposed red brick and wooden trusses, as well as a theatre library that is open to the public. Since moving in over the summer, San Pedro Rep has held acting classes and rehearsed its first upcoming production in its new home: Hamlet, which opens this First Thursday, Nov. 7.

“As a professional company, we choose works that have incredible meaning challenging the human experience. Everything explores the DNA of what it is to be a human being in the world,” Ganz says, adding that every seat in the tiny theatre is a front row seat. “We have a group of professional artists training around the clock, and we’re developing artists who are unabashed of sharing their soul.”

Tickets for the First Thursday debut of Hamlet will be pay-what-you-can, and regular ticket prices aren’t more than $25. “I don’t think theatres should just be for people who have money, and unfortunately that happens,” Ganz says.

Classes at the acting conservatory max out at 10 students, and the public is welcome to sit in on production rehearsals.

“When I came to Los Angeles, I was shocked to see what a big business acting classes were. We have small classes that allows us to really get to know and nurture our actors’ spirit,” Ganz says. “It’s great to have this community that has so much potential and is betting on the arts.”

San Pedro Rep is just around the corner from downtown San Pedro’s oldest running theatre company: Little Fish Theatre.

“I think it’s exciting to see all these theatres coming into downtown,“ says Lisa Coffi, who founded the theatre in 2002 after the success of Shakespeare by the Sea, which she started in 1998. When she opened Little Fish Theatre, downtown San Pedro was a much different place. “It was a spot that needed something open past 8 o’clock besides bars,” she says. “I felt it was right for theatre.”

Little Fish puts on 11 productions a year and is still thriving at almost 80 percent capacity, and most of its audience comes from the South Bay. Its next production, Every Christmas Story Ever Told and Then Some, opens Nov. 8.

“It’s a fast and furious mélange of Christmas stories performed by a three-member cast. There’s A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas – it’s like a campy abridged book of Christmas stories,” Coffi says.

Downtown San Pedro has also experienced a surge in youth theatre. Encore Entertainers, a Torrance-based all-ages theatre company, will open its seventh production at the Warner Grand Theatre, Peter Pan, on Jan. 10.

Encore Entertainers' production of Oliver!

“We’re starting season tickets this year and that is largely due to the tremendous support we’ve had in San Pedro,” says artistic director Summer Cacciagioni. “We’ve sold more tickets in San Pedro for a first show than most of our shows in Torrance and Redondo Beach, so the support has been tremendous; we love it.”

Encore will bring in a professional flying company for Peter Pan that will lift Peter and Wendy 15 to 20 feet in the air. Auditions for Encore’s spring production of Shrek: the Musical will take place in February or March

Cacciagioni, who has directed more then 60 productions, says the company offers opportunities for families and youth in a time when the arts are being cut from schools. “We’re the only group I know of that has all ages where families can perform together,” she says. “Thirty percent of our students receive some form of scholarship or financial assistance; we don’t ever want to turn anyone away due to a financial situation.”

Encore will have its annual fundraising gala on Nov. 10 at the Torrance Marriot, which will be hosted by Redondo Beach Mayor Steve Aspel.

“Most of our students won’t grow up and become professional actors, but we care about teaching them skills to become accountable, responsible, passionate people,” Cacciagioni says. “Especially with the Internet, the next generation of kids is being robbed of a lot of basic communication skills, and I feel like theatre is even more important than ever for them to learn those skills.”

San Pedro’s Scalawag Productions has put on three musicals at the Warner Grand Theatre since its founding in 2011. The company trains teens and young adults ages 14 to 22 for musicals. “Our high school and college kids want to perform, and there wasn’t a program for them,” says Scalawag Productions co-producer Gale Kadota.

The cast trains under a team of music, dance and theatre professionals for one musical production each summer. “We try to keep it as close to a Broadway experience as possible, and the casts are usually 35 to 40 members tops,” she says. “We believe they’re able to receive much better instruction in a smaller group rather than throwing 100 kids on stage.”

After performing Fame over the summer, the company is putting on a few fundraisers including a screening of White Christmas at the Warner Grand Theatre on Dec. 7. Auditions for next summer’s Guys and Dolls will take place in February.

Kadota thinks the theatre renaissance in downtown is much needed. “The whole idea with Scalawag was not only to have a home for kids, but to get downtown San Pedro active with theatre. We just need to keep bringing in productions and keep it alive.” spt

For more information and tickets, visit www.thesanpedrotheatreclub.com, www.sanpedrorep.org, www.littlefishtheatre.org, www.encoreentertainers.org and www.scalawagproductionco.org.