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.

A Film Festival For The Community

Ziggy Mrkich and Renee O'Connor, co-directorsof SPIFF (photo by John Mattera)

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.

Seeing San Pedro’s Future Through Its Past

Celebrating a 125 years of San Pedro, for me, begins with thoughts of my grandfather, Domenico Costa, emigrating from Ischia, Italy, back in 1920, and my father Tony in 1956.

Both of them came to San Pedro at drastically different times but at the same age of 18. My grandfather arrived when San Pedro was in its Golden Age, the years following World War I where the port was growing dramatically and surpassed all other west coast ports in handling of tonnage in 1923. Like many emigrants from Europe, he became a fisherman at a time when the Los Angeles Harbor was becoming a leader in the industry.

My father came to the United States at a time when life in Italy was still recovering from the effects of World War II and at a time when our fishing and canneries were beginning to thrive. His fascination with radio growing up in Ischia led him to attend a technical trade school in downtown Los Angeles in the evenings where he would learn to repair radio and televisions and operate his local business, Tony’s TV, for 40 years.

Today, many of our local jobs are based around the import and export of cargo and raw material, as well as local companies and small businesses that support the industry. The local, regional and national impact of the goods movement industry is tremendous. For example, it is forecasted that for every single waterfront-related job 10 more are created in the region and over 40% of the nation’s cargo passes through our port. The methods in which cargo is transported today has also changed dramatically over the years. The crate-by-crate approach of the 1950s to the containerization and technology tracking cargo of today are indications of where this may evolve to within the next 10 years.

San Pedro is in the middle of a new development era. A couple of years ago, there was no thought that we would have the USS Iowa as a floating museum on our waterfront or that we would see Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles established. Five years ago, no one predicted that Marymount College, now a four-year university under the new name Marymount California University, would have a San Pedro-based campus on 6th Street offering Bachelor and Masters Degrees. Finally, 10 years ago predicting that the Southern California Marine Institute would consider moving from Terminal Island to the San Pedro side of the channel was unheard of, but here we are in the middle of the Port of Los Angeles’ $500 million, 28-acre development effort of the AltaSea Marine Research Innovative Center, ironically situated just a stone’s throw away from where a vibrant fishing fleet once operated some 40 years ago.

All of the indicators point to San Pedro heading towards a technology-rich and higher-educated local workforce to support jobs and industries that are on our horizon. It’s this challenge of preparing the next generation’s workforce for these future jobs that we must collectively work together to achieve. As San Pedro transforms to a destination for high-tech jobs, we must continue to innovate and find ways in which to expose our youth to science, technology, engineering and math. Also, we must focus today’s work force to ensure that they are well prepared for the technology that will come to our port while we find ways to attract new jobs to our waterfront.

These new industries will need a safe environment to build upon, so we must address the crime that we read and hear about each day. It’s no secret that we are being pulled on by both ends of the spectrum as we battle for this transformation to take hold. We must be persistent because the future is upon us and we must secure it. While other cities are maintaining the towns of today, we must continue to build San Pedro as a technology hub for tomorrow while making it a global destination and crown jewel at the tip of Los Angeles. spt

Anthony Pirozzi can be contacted at apirozzi@yahoo.com.

San Pedro: Constantly Evolving, Yet Grounded in History

“Like the Pacific Ocean lapping at its shores, the community of San Pedro is ever-changing… the only constant is that its culture, economy and environment are, as always, tied to its port.” Those were the opening words of an article on San Pedro’s past and future that I wrote a few years back for a Chamber of Commerce publication. On the occasion of San Pedro’s 125th anniversary, it seems appropriate to revisit some of what I learned while researching that article.

Every community evolves based on changes in economic trends, demographics and technological developments. San Pedro is not unique in that respect. However, we are certainly unique in how those factors, in combination with our geographic location, have shaped the community that San Pedro is today and will become in the future.

Historically, our economy has evolved through multiple stages: ranching, trading in hides and lumber, military activities, fishing, canning, shipbuilding, and international trade. All have had their impact on the community, and each one, to a greater or lesser extent, has been dependent on the fact that we are located adjacent to one of the world’s great ports.

Each economic era brought new demographic elements to the community. Originally populated by Spanish and Mexican ranching families, the advent of military activities and large fishing and shipbuilding industries brought new immigrants from around the country and around the world. Today, San Pedro is truly an ethnic melting pot with many residents tracing their heritage to Spanish, Mexican, Italian, Slavic, Japanese, Norwegian Swedish and other immigrants. The blend of traditions, ideas and cultures that derives from that mix has given San Pedro a flavor all its own, and an energy and open-mindedness that’s seldom found in more homogenous communities.

Technological change has also had a major effect on San Pedro. Ships have gone from sail, to steam, to diesel power, and have grown from small schooners to megaships. That has enabled the pace of international trade and activity at our port to increase exponentially and, with the advent of containerization, automation has made it possible to handle enormous volumes of cargo. The downside has been that automation brought with it the negative effects of fewer local jobs and the added pollution produced by diesel-powered ships, trains, trucks and cargo handling equipment.

Looking to the future, San Pedro will continue to evolve economically, environmentally and socially. To become sustainable in all three areas will require the creation of a new, well-paid local job base and the elimination of the negative environmental effects produced by the large industrial port. Knowing that, port management and the community have come together on several sustainability initiatives primarily centered on diversification of port-related activity.

Current and future community development plans include a bridge-to-breakwater waterfront promenade and Red Car route, the USS Iowa, a new downtown harbor and plaza, a completely redeveloped Ports O’ Call Village, Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles and AltaSea (a world-class marine research institute). These waterfront venues are designed to create new jobs based on tourism, arts and culture, recreation, academics and marine research. PortTechLA, a public/private technology center and business incubator founded by the San Pedro business community in cooperation with the City and Port of Los Angeles, will develop and grow new technical, manufacturing and export jobs by attracting companies with technologies that help port tenants meet challenges with the environment, clean energy, logistics and homeland security.

This is a very dynamic and exciting time for our community. However, as our economy grows, we add new community assets, and become more environmentally sustainable, one thing is sure to remain constant… that unique sense of community that has marked our entire history. People make a community. And there is no better community in which to live, work and play than San Pedro. spt

Herb Zimmer owns PriorityOne Printing in downtown.

Historical San Pedro Poems Still Ring True on 125th Birthday

In honor of San Pedro’s 125th birthday, I’m offering a couple of historic poems that speak volumes about our town and, despite their age, haven’t lost relevance.

The first is “To Their Memory,” written in 1924 by Minna Irving as a tribute to the 48 sailors who died in an explosion aboard the battleship USS Mississippi during gunnery practice off the coast of San Pedro on June 12 of that year. As part of the Pacific Battle Fleet, the Mississippi called San Pedro home from 1919 to 1940; when the rest of the fleet relocated to Pearl Harbor, the Mississippi went to the Atlantic and escaped that disaster.

The funeral for the Mississippi crewmen at San Pedro’s Trona Field was one of the largest events in town up to that time. In a sad postscript, an almost identical accident occurred during the war off the Gilbert Islands; another explosion in the same turret killed 43 sailors on Nov. 20, 1943.

The poem has added poignancy today with the addition of the USS Iowa to our waterfront. The Iowa suffered an eerily similar peacetime tragedy in 1989 when an explosion in No. 2 turret during gunnery practice off Puerto Rico killed 47 sailors.

I don’t know where the poem first appeared, but this version comes from Harvey Beigel’s classic Battleship Country, which details the long history of the Pacific Fleet in San Pedro.

The “Missy” is the proudest ship
That rides the billow’s crest,
In gunnery she’s unexcelled,
Her skippers are the best.
Five years she’s held the “Iron Men”
For athletes none can beat,
And in efficiency but few
Approach her in the fleet.

A greater pride is hers today
Though it is dimmed with tears,
For in her log a list of eight
And forty names appears —
Her seamen, unafraid who met
Man’s ancient grisly foe,
And passed with steadfast shining souls
To join the watch below.

Calm were the blue Pacific swells,
Clear was the azure sky,
Peace spread her wings above the world,
No enemy was nigh,
The Mississippi’s mighty guns
At target practice roared,
When Death, a silent visitor,
Unbidden came aboard.

Through hatches battered down he went
In Turret No. 2,
Where round the giant guns they served
Stood all the gunner’s crew,
Some thought of home and little ones
Beyond the ocean’s rim,
Some thought of service-stripes to earn,
But no one thought of him.

Within that chamber wrought of steel
He grimly took command,
And turned its deadly forces loose
On that devoted band.
They saw him then—a dreadful shape,
They felt his scorching breath,
And knew him by his shroud of flame
And veil of smoke as Death.

They died as men in battle die,
Each sailor at his post,
Fit mates of Lawrence, Hull, Paul Jones,
And all that hero host,
With Skrynas at the telephone
His last report to give,
While Ensign Erwin stepped aside
That other lads might live.

Horatius at the bridge, El Cid,
Great Charlemagne of old,
Rustem the peerless Persian—they
Were men of god-like mold,
The crew of Turret No. 2,
Who perished at their guns,
When Glory calls the roll reply
With these illustrious ones.

Oh! It is not her battleships
That makes the Navy strong.
The thickness of her armor-plates,
Her batteries in song,
Her might is in her sturdy tars
To flag and service true,
Like those immortal men who died
In Turret No. 2.

Sounds Familiar

I can’t even remember where I got the following poem. It was published on a little notecard, the title simply “San Pedro,” with the copyright 1920. Earl Ihme is the author, and at the bottom it gives his address as 730 W. 21st Street. San Pedrans love their town, but as this poem amply demonstrates, it is not a recent phenomenon. San Pedro was only 32 years old and already affectionately called Pedro.

You ought to live in San Pedro,
Where the ships and the railroads link,
For the pulse is as throbbing in Pedro
As on anywhere else I can think.

Oh, we want to live in San Pedro,
Where the sky and the ocean meet,
Where the khaki and blue as “our hero”—
They are manning our fort and our fleet.

We are happy! — We live in San Pedro,
Where the sky and the sun is a smile,
Where the folks have the aim and the ether
O’ the works that are worthy of while.

Oh, we like to live in San Pedro,
At the door of an opening world;
For the future and flag of our Pedro
They shall yet to be fully unfurled.

Oh, we love to live in San Pedro!
We may move, we may roam everywhere,
We will always be longing for Pedro
For our home and our happiness there.

Some things never change. Happy birthday, San Pedro. spt

Redeveloping Ports O’ Call

I know it sounds cliché, but where did the year go? As I reset my clock it seems like just yesterday I was turning it forward and getting ready for summer. Now the holidays are in full swing and before you know it will be summer again.

We have much to be thankful for during this holiday season in San Pedro and I would need more than just this column to describe all that is good with our town. It’s rare to find such a place like San Pedro with love and pride that goes well beyond words; it’s an emotion that flows through our veins.

On many occasions, I get asked about three particular subjects that spur emotion: Ports O’ Call, Ponte Vista and the Rancho San Pedro public housing projects. The future of the first two appears to have a tangible outcome whereas the third is uncertain. Ponte Vista with its new plans for a smaller foot print and adjusted turn lanes to mitigate traffic on Western may yield support from the original massive planned development once proposed, and the process held by the Port of Los Angeles to solicit a developer for much needed change at Port’s O’ Call is well underway.

Ports O’ Call development is the moment San Pedro has been waiting for and by the end of this year eight prospective developers will be whittled down to one to determine its future. Today, although the parking lots are packed every weekend at Ports O’ Call, it is rare that you will find many locals there unless a wedding or baby shower is being held. Since the taking down of the space needle to the closure of many of the small businesses that truly made Port’s O’ Call the place to be back in the 60s and 70s, the very mention of it is always followed with fond memories and a cautious optimism about its future. As I see it, it’s time to create a new Port’s O’ Call that will not only provide new memories for our generation, but for our children and grandchildren’s generation, as well. So the real question is what will make locals and tourists alike want to go to Ports O’ Call on any given day of the week?

A new Port’s O’ Call must reflect who we are locally and where we have come from internationally. It must incorporate ideas from successful developments that attract us throughout the year such as L.A. Live, The Grove, Third Street Promenade and The Block, to name a few. I believe anchor establishments such as a Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, BJ’s and Starbucks tied in with our historic Fish Market, Ports O’ Call Restaurant, Acapulco Restaurant and other successful establishments that have kept Ports O’ Call alive is the recipe for success. An added attraction like a concert hall should be considered as well as a convention center. Today, many of our local non-profits have to hold their annual fundraisers in Manhattan Beach, Torrance and Long Beach because San Pedro does not have a facility that can accommodate over 500 guests. A convention center that can accommodate such events must be part of the plan. In a nutshell, Port’s O’ Call must have the very amenities we seek in other cities in order to draw locals and tourists everyday of the week.

We must continue the momentum of moving our waterfront and town forward. We have seen the recent arrival of the USS Iowa and Crafted, Marymount College establishing roots on 6th street, downtown San Pedro being infused with new events and street lighting by the PBID, a marine research center in the works for City Dock #1, new schools have been built and much more is on the horizon. San Pedro is truly on the rise.

Our time has come to transition Port’s O’ Call into something that we can once again be proud of and transform it into an international attraction once again. The development of Ports O’ Call is the true catalyst that will breathe real life into our waterfront development efforts for generations to come. spt

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)

New Councilman Faces First Test With An Old Problem

When it comes to Ponte Vista, a relieved Janice Hahn must be sitting in her D.C. congressional office thinking, “Well, Joe, the ball’s in your court now.” For our new councilman, the honeymoon is over. Joe Buscaino‘s had it pretty easy so far, with nothing but one great photo op after another (USS Iowa, Crafted, waterfront development, downtown bistro lights, pulling out parking meters) – all positives and no controversies. Then, after a two-year break in the action, along comes the new Ponte Vista plan. Hahn did what she could to stop the Bisno disaster, then kicked that can down the road for her successor to deal with. And as we all know, it’s a can of worms that sharply divided the community previously and will probably continue to do so under the iStar banner. Janice can tell him that no matter what he does, he’s going to make a lot of people unhappy.

Unlike Bisno, the new developers at least have the decency to start with a fairly reasonable number of units, 1,135, but my concern, as it always has been, isn’t the number of units per se, but the density. That’s why I’ve always stood firm that the property should remain zoned R1 for single-family habitats. Since we all know the real issue is traffic, the main concern about Ponte Vista remains the number of cars it will add to the still overburdened Western Avenue corridor.

Do we really need more apartments in San Pedro? We’re already way overbuilt as it is. Business owners always want more customers, but our infrastructure can’t handle the current density. We’ve just crammed too many people into an area that wasn’t designed to handle them.

I actually agree with Louie Dominguez about the one key component missing from the iStar proposal. If city planners agree to rezoning, they should at least make iStar put senior housing back in the plan. Senior housing means lots of widows and no kids. That translates into fewer cars. And while senior housing may cut into iStar’s bottom line, it’s a boon for local real estate. Seniors will sell the single-family homes they no longer want or need, putting them on the market for families that actually could use the space.

So now Joe’s in the hot seat. Dealing with Ponte Vista may make him wish he was back on the beat.

A Childhood Trifecta

Almost every time I go shopping, I run into someone I know. It’s a San Pedro thing. Still, since I haven’t been to a class reunion since 1974, there are a lot of childhood friends I haven’t seen in a long time, which made recent events strike me as more than a little unusual. It started with the Harbor College Silent Auction fundraiser, where Lefty Olguin had invited his cousin to play some background music. It turns out this cousin is Mike Guerrero. I’d heard that Mike played gigs around town, notably Godmother’s, but I hadn’t seen him since we’d graduated together from San Pedro High in Winter 1969. It was fun catching up with someone I had known since our days together at Leland Street Elementary and being in the same Cub Scout den.

Then, just a few weeks later, I was at the reunion for Phil Scott’s San Pedro YMCA swim teams, where I ran into a number of “old faces” from San Pedro High days. And one of the faces I instantly recognized (which isn’t always easy after 43 years) was Joey Dragicevich, who only recently moved back to California after decades on the East Coast. Joey wasn’t just another Winter `69 classmate; he also was one of my Leland Street and Cub Scout buddies, along with Guerrero.

It took a tragedy to complete this story, but one of the first calls I received after Van Barbieri’s passing was from his brother Anthony. While Van and I got to know each other later in life, it was Anthony I graduated with and, yes, knew from Leland Street and that same Cub Scout pack that included Mike and Joey. Anthony has spent most of the intervening years in San Diego.

The odds that within a few weeks I would run into any two of these people I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years has to be extraordinary. The odds of running into all three have to be astronomical. Seeing all three childhood playmates once more as we near our dotage was just plain heartwarming.

Van Fare-well

Even though he may have lived most of his adult life on the Hill, everyone knows Van Barbieri’s heart was always in San Pedro. It was said in many different ways, but Van was a Real San Pedran. In his 72 years, he managed to have three successful careers, first in journalism with the News-Pilot (where many remember his “Van Fare” column), then as the longtime publicist for Olympic boxing that earned him hall of fame recognition, and finally in real estate. What with all of his other civic activities, including the Sportswalk and DB Club, it’s no surprise Mary Star was nearly filled for his funeral. If we are judged by the number of friends we have, Van truly was a champion. spt

San Pedro’s Swinging Salute

San Pedro Historic Waterfront Business Improvement District (PBID) is pleased to announce a Friday night festive street party celebrating the installation of permanent Tivoli lights in downtown San Pedro and the USS Iowa’s arrival to San Pedro. Live swing music will be playing and local San Pedro restaurants will have food for purchase.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Half a Century of Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Mothball Fleet to Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The USS Iowa (photo by John Mattera)

A Part of Pedro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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