Growing up, I always wondered how a lot of adults could be so clueless about celebrities that I couldn’t know enough information about. Would I ever be that clueless? Yes. It’s happening right now. I don’t know who anyone is.
It’s okay that I don’t know who the hottest TikTok or YouTube stars are. But if any of them were from San Pedro, you better believe I would make it my business to know who they were and what they did. It is literally my job to know it. Part of the mission of the San Pedro Heritage Museum is to celebrate the contributions that San Pedro residents have made to local, national, and global history.
Our first major attempt to fulfill this part of our mission is to dedicate a bronze statue to Charles Bukowski, the world-famous writer who has an impressive body of work that includes novels, short stories, screenplays, and thousands of poems. It was an extremely ambitious first step out of the gate for a fledgling organization, but Bukowski’s cult icon status made the effort seem less daunting. Bukowski’s work elicits strong feelings among its readers and so many fans feel it speaks to them in a very personal way.
Bukowski’s worthiness for a statue was not an issue any of the committee members thought we would have to address. We’re not making a statue for German tourists. We’re marking the spot where inspiration and genius met to create prose and poetry that will resonate with laughing hearts long after all of us are gone. Bukowski’s contribution to San Pedro might not be something tangible beyond the seekers who come here to feel close to him, but he has inserted San Pedro into millions of imaginations around the world simply by writing about his life here.
In his poem “Fear and Madness,” Bukowski proclaims his intention to get to the heart of his new adopted hometown:
San Pedro I will wring you out like a wet rag
San Pedro I will break you like a wild stallion
I will write about your bridge and your ships
I will skin your people down to the bone
I will make my stand here as I have made my stand elsewhere
I will learn these walls
Charles Bukowski brought San Pedro to the world through his poetry. All we want to do is honor that gift of art with a fitting work of our own that we can share with the world.
We don’t have to erect a statue to get Bukowski fans to come to San Pedro; they already come here looking for some sign of their hero. The statue is for San Pedrans to start seeing their worth. There is so much to celebrate about San Pedro, things that we take for granted or shrug our shoulders about until someone from out of town tells us it’s worthy of celebration. The museum is absolutely set on changing that. Going forward, it’s totally fine if Bukowski isn’t your cup of tea, but it will be the museum’s job to educate San Pedrans about him, his work, and ultimate contribution to the community. The statue is just the beginning.
Famous San Pedrans like Charles Bukowski, Misty Copeland, Robert Towne and Mike Watt make my job as a historian easy. Their work and fame won’t let them be forgotten any time soon, and San Pedro will always have its place in their legend. I’m more concerned about the great San Pedrans who are being forgotten as we lose the older generations who knew them best and felt their impact on the community the most. If the San Pedro Heritage Museum has the chance to be successful, no one will ever forget local icons like The Sepulveda family, Martin J. Bogdanovich, and John Olguin.
Big changes are on the horizon. Long-time Pedro families are capitalizing on the housing market and leaving town for more affordable communities, while home buyers from out of town are flocking to San Pedro because their money goes further here than anywhere else in L.A. Meanwhile, we’re losing that cohesive generation that connects us to this land and the memory of those great San Pedrans who made this town such a wonderful place to live. If we don’t start getting our history out there to younger generations and new San Pedrans, it will continue to die with those people.
I’m not afraid of all the new faces coming to town. Every one of them represents an opportunity for me to share our history and to invite them to adopt it as their own. When people feel connected to their community, they get involved. Luckily, there are enough great stories here for them to connect to. Will it be telling them about Martin J. Bogdanovich and StarKist, so they feel the history in every bite the next time they have a tuna sandwich? We’ve got military history, labor history, famous musicians, athletes and artists. Who knows, maybe it’ll be a poem at the Charles Bukowski statue.
The San Pedro Heritage Museum exists because there is a need to actively get our history out into the public. We can’t afford to be passive collectors anymore. If you believe in our mission, then please donate to the cause or volunteer. Don’t get hung up on one of our projects. Help us realize that big picture. spt