The Princess Louise--a San Pedro fixture that for the last two decades has played host to thousands at weddings, bar mitzvahs and high school proms aboard its decks--has filed for protection from its creditors under U.S. bankruptcy laws.
Owner Marion Perkov, who bought the Princess Louise in September, 1984, said he intends to continue operating the cruise ship-turned-restaurant while he works out a plan to pay off debts.
Perkov said "a combination of things"--including the cost of extensive repairs to the 67-year-old ship and a decline in business that he believes has begun to turn around--prompted him to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code. (Under Chapter 11, a business continues operating while it tries to reorganize under court protection.)
He said most of the repair work has been completed and annual sales have increased to $3 million from $2 million since he took over.
"I'm not here to close," declared Perkov, whose family has owned Ante's restaurant in San Pedro for 45 years. "We are inches away from the break-even point. It would be a shame to have to lose her now."
A former Canadian ocean liner, the Princess Louise was once known as "Queen of the Northern Seas." Built in 1921, the ship cruised the Alaskan straits from Vancouver, Canada, to Skagway, Alaska, for more than 40 years.
In 1966, the ship was converted into a restaurant and brought to Terminal Island. It operated there until 1979, when it was moved to its current site at Berth 94 in the Port of Los Angeles, near the port's World Cruise Center and under the Vincent Thomas Bridge.
"The redeeming feature of that operation is that they did not alter the exterior of the vessel," said Bill Olesen, a long-time San Pedro resident and associate curator of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum. "She has her old-time charm intact."
Turnover in Owners
The Princess Louise has changed hands several times over the years; Before Perkov bought it, the ship was owned for two years by Steven Podesta and Bill Moller, two San Pedro developers, who do business as Podesta Moller Co.
According to Mark Richter, assistant director of property management for the Los Angeles Harbor Department, Podesta Moller still holds the lease for space where the Princess Louise docks.
At the time Perkov took over, Harbor Department officials considered assigning the lease to him, but Richter said officials feared that the Princess Louise would not be profitable enough to cover the rent.
"We were reluctant to let (Podesta Moller) off the hook for the lease. . . . The business did not seem to be that strong and in looking at their gross receipts I did not see any upturn in the activity," he said.
Richter said Podesta Moller owes the Harbor Department $40,000 for four months' back rent, and has been served notice that if the rent is not paid by May 6, the department may cancel the lease, which otherwise would expire in 2004.
Should that happen, the Princess Louise would have to be towed from its berth.
Neither Perkov nor his lawyer, Ronald Michelman, would comment on the lease arrangement or the threat of cancellation, and Podesta Moller could not be reached. However, documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on April 11 list the Harbor Department as one of Perkov's creditors. The documents say he owes the department $40,000. Richter disputes this, saying the department is not a creditor and "has no contractual relationship with Marion Perkov."
In Debt $1.6 Million
The documents also show that Perkov owes $1.6 million to his 20 largest creditors. By far the largest is Perkov himself, who stated that the Princess Louise owes him $1.4 million, not including $100,000 owed to a company he is affiliated with and $5,000 owed to Ante's.
Two creditors said they intend to continue supplying Perkov with food on a cash-on-delivery basis. Mike Silver, owner of M & M Foods in Lomita, said Perkov owed him $28,000 several months ago but has since paid nearly $7,000 of that debt. "He's been making an effort," Silver said.
Local residents and business people, meanwhile, were surprised by the bankruptcy filing and say they hope the Princess Louise will remain in San Pedro, a community that prides itself on its maritime heritage.
"It is very important to the social life," local historian Flora Baker said. "People in San Pedro love having that ship here."