It was founded to celebrate the diverse culture and community of San Pedro, and after its successful inaugural event last October, the San Pedro International Film Festival is back for its second annual event.
San Pedro has always had a rich film history, in fact, several movies — the original King Kong, Chinatown, The Usual Suspects, Pearl Harbor, and (500) Days of Summer — and television shows — NCIS, Mad Men and Dexter — have been shot on the streets of the city.
It’s the films, and the community of San Pedro, that the San Pedro International Film Festival was founded to celebrate, and founder Ziggy Mrkich proved last year that she is up for the job.
Mrkich is no stranger to the film festival circuit, she has more than a decade of festival involvement on her resume, and after a successful inaugural event, she is “very excited,” for this year’s festivities.
“We had a very successful first year,” she says. “And I am dedicated to continuing this festival and continuing to showcase films, really good films, from the festival circuit.”
“San Pedro has a long and rich history in the cinematic arts. With dozens of feature films, television shows and commercials shot here every year, it’s fitting that we now are host to a festival that celebrates the city’s diverse culture and community, and its contributions to film,” says Los Angeles City Councilman, Joe Buscaino.
Last year’s event, which drew more than 700 people, was the Los Angeles premier of Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. The film went on to win several major awards, including Lawrence’s Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.
“I was very surprised, but extremely happy to acquire the film as part of our first year,” Mrkich says. “We were very proud to have had the opportunity to be the first in the area to screen it.”
This year’s festival will feature screenings of both documentaries and short films. Mrkich says they received more than 550 submissions. One of the hardest parts of the festival planning is securing feature films for the weekend, she says.
“I handpick the feature films based on the attention the films are getting at other festivals, namely the Toronto Film Festival,” she says. “In addition, I really try to include films that are already getting Oscar buzz.”
She says oftentimes it is difficult to secure the films, but it’s this that makes her job “exciting.”
“It’s actually really very hard to secure feature films,” she says. “I do get a lot of ‘No’s,’ but programming isn’t easy at any festival, but it all works out in the end, you just have to know going into it that you will not get to screen every film you want.”
The workload lightened a bit this year for Mrkich when she brought Renee O’Connor on board.
The duo says the goal of this year’s festival is to “provide a service to the community by attracting new visitors to San Pedro, and exposing them to films they may otherwise not see.”
O’Connor, a director, producer and actress best known for her role as Gabrielle in the television series Xena: Warrior Princess, is facilitating the filmmakers for various panels. She says the panels will include information on producing small and large budget independent films.
“I am passionate about helping fellow filmmakers,” she says. “These panels will allow for future filmmakers to be in the same room as current filmmakers — it’s oftentimes hard to get into the industry, and this will provide an opportunity for people to share their experience of how they did it.”
The San Pedro International Film Festival is featuring screenings at the historic Warner Grand Theatre, as well as new outdoor screenings, pop-up screenings and a special screening aboard the newest addition to San Pedro, the historic Navy battleship, the U.S.S. Iowa.
In addition, Mrkich and O’Connor will be paying tribute to legendary filmmaker Tony Scott, who died in San Pedro last August.
Scott, a renowned presence in Hollywood, spent over 40 years working in the business, carving out a career as both a director and producer. Top Gun, arguably his best-known film, starring Tom Cruise, grossed more than $350 worldwide.
Scott also directed Days of Thunder (also starring Tom Cruise), Beverly Hills Cop II, True Romance, Crimson Tide (starring Denzel Washington), and Spy Game (starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt), among many others.
“The tribute will include a brief retrospective of Scott’s work and his contributions to the San Pedro community,” O’Connor says. “Tony Scott shot several films in San Pedro, and has a very strong tie to this community and we want to honor that, and thank him for his contributions to the city.”
Scott’s family, including widow, Donna Scott, is expected to be in attendance.
O’Connor and Mrkich say they are “overly excited” about this year’s festival. “This is the community’s festival,” Mrkich says. “We have an open door for people who want to volunteer or be involved — this is a festival for the community, and that is why we are including a local program.”
O’Connor says that anyone who has never been to a festival should experience it just once. “This is a great opportunity to come and experience what a film festival can create,” she says. “You can come in off the street and sit down and be right next to the person who wrote and directed the film you are about to see — it’s wonderful.”
Mrkich adds, “The San Pedro International Film Festival is a win-win for audiences and filmmakers. We support filmmakers by providing an audience and platform for films, and the audience can see films they otherwise might have missed.”spt
The San Pedro International Film Festival will take place the weekend of October 4-6 at various venues in downtown San Pedro. This special edition of San Pedro Today includes the complete program and schedule for the festival. For more news and info, visit www.spiffest.org.
San Pedro has more than one big birthday this year. Not only does 2013 mark the 125th anniversary of its founding, and the centennial of the Angel’s Gate Lighthouse, but this November, the Vincent Thomas Bridge is turning 50.
Dubbed “The Bridge to Nowhere,” “San Pedro’s Golden Gate,” and mistakenly thought by some to be named after a non-existent saint, the bridge that would become an icon of not only San Pedro, but the Harbor Area opened for business on Nov. 15, 1963, after a years-long push by the State Assemblyman it was named after.
The Road to “The Bridge to Nowhere”
For decades, San Pedrans used ferry service to cross the main channel to work in the canneries and naval shipyard on Terminal Island. As the Port grew, the concept of building a bridge was discussed as early as the 1920s, but when talks about building a connection got serious over the next few decades, the idea was to create an underground tube or tunnel like they have in New York City.
San Pedro’s hometown State Assemblyman Vincent Thomas, the son of Croatian immigrants, was met with skepticism and doubt that a bridge was necessary for his district, and would spend much of his career pushing through legislation to win the project’s approval. In 1958, a bill calling for the bridge’s construction was finally passed and won the support of the Board of Harbor Commissioners, which agreed to furnish rights of way. So began the $21 million San Pedro-Terminal Island Bridge project.
The official groundbreaking took place in May of 1960, but a slow bidding process meant construction wouldn’t begin until a year later, starting with the substructure. Next came the towers, pilings, 1,270 tons of tediously spun suspension cables, a concrete deck that was built from the towers in and paved, and finally the bridge’s signature green paint job that entails never-ending re-painting (no, really).
A resolution was passed to name the bridge after Assemblyman Thomas, who was still in office (he would serve 19 terms totaling 38 years). Designed by the Bridge Department of the California Division of Highways (or what we know today as CalTrans), the Vincent Thomas Bridge was the first and remains the only suspension bridge in the world to be supported entirely on pilings. It was the first suspension bridge in the United States to be welded instead of riveted, and is the third longest suspension bridge in California, after the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Late on the evening of Nov. 14, 1963, the Islander ferry made its final trip across the main channel, and at the stroke of midnight following a ribbon cutting ceremony, the bridge was officially opened to motorists. Assemblyman Thomas paid the first 25-cent toll.
The bridge exceeded traffic and revenue expectations, seeing 3.3 million motorists in its first year – almost one million more than projected. Within a few years, it became clear that a freeway connection would be needed, and in 1968, Governor Ronald Reagan was the keynote speaker at the official groundbreaking ceremony for the freeway link.
The bridge underwent several changes in the 1970s. Vertical safety screens were added in 1976 after longshoremen were so frustrated with dodging bottles thrown from cars above that they refused to work beneath the bridge. Two years later, a concrete center divider was added between the four lanes.
In 1983, the bridge toll was doubled to 50 cents, but lifted for eastbound traffic. It would be eliminated all together in 2000 and the tollbooths demolished.
In 1988, the bridge was closed for a 25th anniversary celebration that drew thousands and kicked off a fundraising effort to permanently light the bridge. At dusk, the bridge was lined with people carrying lights in a symbolic lighting ceremony.
In 1996, the bridge was named the official welcoming monument of the City of Los Angeles. A year later it underwent earthquake retrofitting.
After a 17-year-long effort and fundraising campaign, permanent blue lights were finally installed across the bridge in 2005. The 160 solar-powered blue lamps made of 360 LEDs each are switched on every night from dusk to midnight.
“Sure, it took us 17 years to light the bridge, but it was such a struggle for Vincent Thomas just to get it built, and what a visionary – both the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach wouldn’t be what they are today without it,” says Louis Dominguez, who headed the bridge lighting committee.
Even though the path to making the lights a reality wasn’t without its hurdles, he says they turned out better than he first envisioned them. “It was sort of cutting edge, especially for the environment, not having to use coal-powered electricity. It’s the first LED-lit bridge to use solar panels in the country.”
Today, the bridge is temporarily closed on Labor Day for the annual Conquer the Bridge five-mile run.
On Camera and in Headlines
Over the years, the Vincent Thomas Bridge has been a backdrop in a number of films, TV shows and even a Jessica Simpson music video. Action scenes from To Live and Die in L.A., Charlie’s Angels and Gone in Sixty Seconds were all shot on the bridge.
Last year, it made headlines when Top Gun director Tony Scott shocked onlookers and the world when he parked his Prius atop the bridge, climbed the fence and leapt to his death. Scott had filmed scenes near the bridge in the past and had talked about wanting to shoot on the bridge for a future project.
The bridge has seen a number of bizarre and headline-making incidents over the years.
In 1976, tightrope walker Steve McPeak and his assistant successfully walked the cables of the bridge and were arrested by California Highway Patrol officers waiting for them below. In the 1980s, someone shot out one of the bridge’s navigational red lights, which required a tedious and dangerous replacement job. In 1989, the bridge made headlines again when a series of collisions resulted in a 30-car pileup, although no one was seriously injured. In 1990, diver Lawrence Andreassen, a bronze medalist in the 1964 Olympics, died diving from the bridge’s west tower in an attempt to set a new world record for the highest dive from a bridge. He had completed a dangerous dive from the Gerald Desmond Bridge two years earlier.
From Idea to Icon
Like many architectural landmarks, the Vincent Thomas Bridge has become an icon for San Pedro that has been featured in countless logos and images over the decades.
Anne Hansford, archivist at the San Pedro Bay Historical Society, says the bridge had a significant impact on the day-to-day lives of San Pedrans. “If you worked at the naval shipyard, which many people here in San Pedro did, it made your day so much faster, it just made life so much easier if you were heading east,” she says.
Fellow Historical Society member Chuck Short agrees. “It did replace one of our icons that we all miss, the Islander ferry, but the bridge is much more convenient and has become one of few San Pedro icons that are so recognizable.”
The one thing most people don’t know about the bridge, Hansford says, is just how hard Assemblyman Thomas had to fight to make it a reality. “There was just no credible belief in Sacramento that it could be worth the money; they really had the attitude that it was a bridge to nowhere. It was a very hard struggle for him,” she says. “Now it’s become a very recognizable symbol and it photographs so beautifully from so many angles.” spt
Bridge by the Numbers
* The bridge is 6,060 feet long and its towers are 365 feet tall, 35 stories above water.
* The road is 52 feet wide.
* The bridge has 19 cables made up of 212 wires each.
* It was built to withstand 90 mph winds.
* The bridge is supported on 990 steel piles each supporting 145 tons.
* 32,000 vehicles cross the bridge on a given weekday.
* The bridge cost $21 million to build.
* It is the third largest span bridge in California, the first and only suspension bridge in the world to be supported entirely on pilings, and the first suspension bridge in the United States to be welded, not riveted.
* The original toll to cross the bridge in either direction was 25 cents.
* The first car accident on the bridge occurred on October 6, 1964 and the one-millionth car crossed the bridge on March 9, 1964.
* High wire artist Steve McPeak was fined $126 for walking the bridge’s cables with his assistant in 1976.
* The bridge is lit by 160 lamps, each composed of 360 LEDs.
Sources: Port of Los Angeles, San Pedro Bay Historical Society, San Pedro News-Pilot, Associated Press
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)