No Longer the City It Once Was, San Pedro to Mark 100th Birthday

Times Staff Writer

San Pedro is celebrating 100 years of cityhood.

Trouble is, San Pedro is not a city anymore.

But that will not stand in the way of the residents of this community, which was annexed by Los Angeles in 1909 because the city fathers wanted control of its port. They intend to kick off a yearlong centennial celebration on Tuesday, March 1--100 years to the day that San Pedro was incorporated.

Thus, Joe Marino, chairman of the San Pedro Centennial Committee, says he likes to look at the centennial festivities this way: “We’re celebrating 100 years of people from various cultures living together.”


Re-enactment Planned

Although the celebration formally begins Tuesday with a sold-out dinner for 420 aboard the Princess Louise at the Port of Los Angeles, the first activity marking the centennial is scheduled for Saturday in Peppertree Plaza, at 6th Street and Harbor Boulevard in downtown San Pedro.

At 11 a.m., the 30-Year Club (a group whose members have lived in San Pedro for at least three decades) will re-enact the signing of San Pedro’s incorporation papers in a replica of the Peppertree Saloon, which once stood at that site.

The saloon was owned by Gustav Falk, a Swedish sea captain who settled in San Pedro in the late 1800s. Falk’s descendants remained in San Pedro; his grandson, Ray, built the replica and will take part in the re-enactment, portraying his grandfather.


The centennial celebration, which has a $240,000 operating budget, is being run by volunteers with donated funds. Marino is coordinating the show from a desk in the office of the local newspaper, the News-Pilot. Although the job requires the retired school principal to work every morning, he says it is “a wonderful opportunity for me to give back something” to the community.

Throughout the year, the committee will stage events honoring San Pedro and its history. Among them: an afternoon walking tour of Old San Pedro on March 19, conducted by the Los Angeles Conservancy; a May 7 concert by opera singer Maralin Niska, with the proceeds to go to the centennial committee; a special downtown Christmas Parade and, on March 1, 1989, the burial of a time capsule in Peppertree Plaza.

Marino said the committee also hopes to erect a monument in honor of the centennial, although plans for that are not firm.

Of course, no celebration would be complete without buttons, T-shirts, bumper stickers and the like, and the committee will be selling such paraphernalia at a booth in Ports O’ Call Village.


Los Angeles harbor commissioners voted Wednesday to permit the committee to sublease a vacant storefront in Ports O’ Call for six months. The commissioners waived the rent, as well as the usual compensation fee--2% of gross receipts--that businesses pay to the Harbor Department. Sales will benefit the centennial.

Although the centennial honors San Pedro’s last 100 years, the community’s history goes back further than 1888.

Along with the rest of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the land that is now San Pedro was claimed in the late 1700s by Juan Jose Dominguez, who started Rancho San Pedro, one of the first major ranchos of Spanish California.

By the mid-1800s, trade had begun to flourish in San Pedro’s harbor and several shipping businesses set up shop there, although San Pedro itself remained largely uninhabited.


It was not until 1882, when the Southern Pacific railroad extended its track to San Pedro, that the population began to grow. By 1883, San Pedro had a school and a newspaper, the Shipping Gazette. The first church in San Pedro, Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, was built in 1884.

Four years later--the year San Pedro was incorporated--the channel in San Pedro’s harbor was deepened; in that year, 500,000 tons of cargo moved through the port.

According to “San Pedro, a Pictorial History,” published by the San Pedro Bay Historical Society, the biggest celebration to that time in San Pedro’s history took place on April 26, 1899, when a barge brought the first load of rock for a new breakwater to be built in the harbor.

The book says an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people gathered “to witness the event, partake of a barbecue lunch and serve as willing targets of the horde of real estate men who had arranged the whole celebration.”


As San Pedro and its port grew, Los Angeles officials became increasingly interested. In 1909, the citizens of San Pedro did something that would forever change their community: They voted, 726 to 227, to give up their independence and join the City of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles officials had promised municipal services and other improvements in exchange for control over the port.

During the campaign for votes, the city distributed pamphlets saying that development of the port would be expensive, and therefore it was vital that Los Angeles, with its financial resources, have control. Immediately following the consolidation, Los Angeles floated a $10-million bond issue for harbor improvements.

As a result of the vote, San Pedro has just one voice on the 15-member City Council. For nearly half the time since San Pedro gave up its independent status--36 years--it has been represented by two people: former Councilman John S. Gibson and current Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who worked in Gibson’s office for 25 years, ultimately as chief deputy, before winning Gibson’s seat after he retired in 1981.


Despite the consolidation, San Pedro residents are anxious to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their independence--even if that independence no longer exists.

“It’s an incongruity,” said Bill Olesen, who has lived in San Pedro for 76 of his 84 years. “I guess you might call it that, but it shows the tenacity . . . of the old-timers to retain the name and flavor of the feisty City of San Pedro.”

“We have a beautiful history,” said Flores, a San Pedro resident, in her recent State of the City address, “It deserves to be recognized, it deserves to be remembered and it deserves to be celebrated.”