After visiting Tarzana – during our October whirlwind trip to California, Arizona, and Nevada – we headed to San Pedro, which is kissing cousins to Long Beach. Stacey, Rich’s daughter, was staying on a tall ship affiliated with the Los Angeles Martime Institute (LAMI) in San Pedro (below).
Long before Los Angeles became a mecca of millions, navigating through miles of multi-laned bumper-to-bumper traffic, it was an oasis of adobe bungalows, Spanish-inspired, tiled buildings with narrow roads that wove through the foothills through orange groves, eucalyptus trees, and blossoming bougainvillea. The pace was slower. The west coast was new and clean, a haven from the crowded, grimy, tenement- and sweatshop-filled east coast cities.
Annexed in 1909 by the city of Los Angles, San Pedro was a major seaport. A working class neighborhood dominated by fishing. The hills circling the water are dotted with small homes once owned by fishing families that came from the Mediterranean and Adriatic. They established commercial fishing docks and helped turn San Pedro and Terminal Island into the largest fishing industry in the United States with nearly 500 boats and 15 canneries in the 1930’s.
The depleted ocean coupled with work moving offshore to lower-wage countries like American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the Philippines has reduced the size of the San Pedro fishing feet to a few dozen boats. These photographs by Wayne Oberparleiter capture what is left of the once mighty San Pedro fishery.
Location made San Pedro ideal for Navy ships. In 1934, fourteen battleships, two aircraft carriers, fourteen cruisers, and sixteen support ships were based in San Pedro. The charming downtown with tile-roofed two- and three-story buildings soon sported tattoo parlors and other haunts that buoy mariners.
The town and surrounding area seem to have frozen in time. The marinas, once crowded with fishing vessels, are now filled with pleasure boats, many in disrepair, long forgotten by their owners. Rich’s father once had a 45-foot sailboat, called the Pyewacket, moored in one marina now named the Dill Pickle Yacht club.
A short walk from the marinas is Ports O’Call Village, a tourist destination built in 1963, which I remember visiting as a child. At the time, it had quaint New England style shops and restaurants, cobblestone walkways, along with street performers. I recall being delighted with the plantings and had purchased a bouquet of dried straw flowers.
Many of the shops are now closed or rundown. The Los Angeles Board of Harbor, however, recently approved federal funding for the San Pedro Waterfront Project, which includes a network of public promenade and walkways, renovations to the Ports O’ Call Village, and other amenities to support more year-round tourism.
One facet of the area that is strong is the San Pedro Fish Market. In a warehouse-sized space are a dozen or so fish markets with large refrigerated cases and open tanks of fresh and prepared seafood. The variety of fish is extraordinary as is the selection of fried, steamed, and marinated platters of seafood and bowls of ceviche. For twenty dollars you can get a platter of steamed jumbo shrimp with garlic bread, bag of sliced lemons, and condiments. Seating is outdoors or under large canopies with rough wooden benches and tables, and roving seagulls looking for hand-outs.
We were at the fish market on a Sunday morning. As the sun burned through the fog, the tables at the Fisherman’s Market filled with Hispanic families who’d spread newspapers on the tables to create a “clean” eating area. Young girls in frilly dresses and long, lustrous ebony braids tied with showy satin ribbons darted between the tables, followed by rosy cheeked boys in pressed jeans and boots. One the tables were platters of seafood and pitchers of beer. The mood was festive with grandparents doting on grandchildren, young parents with babies in their arms, and older people enjoying the food and mariachi music. Stacey, whose boat is docked within eye- and earshot of the market, said that the music plays until the wee hours on Friday and Saturday evenings.
There are also traditional restaurants in the area. We ate on the patio of the Acapulco Mexican Restaurant and Cantina, where were could see the Vincent Thomas Bridge, which connects San Pedro to Terminal Island and directs your eye to the massive container and cruise ship facilities in the area. I took quite a few photographs of Stacey’s ship and the other sites. Here’s an online gallery, which shows the breadth of the San Pedro maritime industry.
The Port of Los Angeles World Cruise Center in San Pedro hosts numerous major cruise lines, including Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Cunard, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, Oceana, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, and Catalina Express. Carnival Cruise Lines depart from the neighboring Long Beach.
Just for fun, I looked at the cruise calendar. There are forty-one cruises to Mexico in December, ranging from three to twelve nights. The least expensive is an inside room on a three-day Carnival cruise for $149. The twelve-night Royal Caribbean “Christmas” cruise costs $4,049 per person.
In a sense, the cruise ships, shipping facilities, and traffic that streamed across the Vincent Thomas Bridge seemed like a mirage that clashed with the rest of San Pedro. The town remains picturesque with walkways lined with bottlebrush (left), adobe and brick buildings, tidy bungalows nestled in a bowl around the harbors, ethnic population, and the return of the historical Waterfront Red Car Line. If you squint your eyes, you can see the Los Angeles of yesteryear.