Port’s spritz of Vegas

Times Staff Writer

This much is clear about the Port of Los Angeles’ new, $14-million, black granite fountain with Las Vegas-style synchronized lights, water jets and music near the San Pedro waterfront: People either love it or wish it were someplace else.

Even before its coming-out party Friday, critics were taking potshots at the massive, sail-shaped welcoming monument built by the same company that created the fountain at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

Spanning nearly an acre, the fountain pumps 400,000 gallons of recycled water into illuminated, 100-foot-high streams that dance to recordings of international hits, including Luciano Pavarotti’s rendition of “O Sole Mio” and Jose Alfredo Jimenez’s classic “El Rey.”


“It’s a real traffic stopper,” enthused Arley Baker, a port spokesman.

And that, critics say, is part of the problem.

The fountain was built near the bustling confluence of Harbor Boulevard’s bus and big-rig lanes, the Harbor Freeway’s on- and offramps, and the main entrance to the cruise ship terminals under the Vincent Thomas Bridge.

Recent test-firings of the fountain have caused automobile and truck drivers to illegally slow down, even pull over and stop for a better look at the splashy performer that is designed to enhance a promenade that links the cruise ship terminals, downtown San Pedro and the ailing 20-acre Ports O’ Call Village tourist attraction about a quarter of a mile south.

“It’s a traffic hazard,” said San Pedro resident Peter Warren. “It was just dumb to build an attraction like it in a place where 18-wheelers and buses roar past.”

June Smith, president of the San Pedro Neighborhood Council, agreed and suggested that the fountain, officially called the Gateway Plaza Water Features, was strategically situated to enhance the cruise ship industry in a place where each call generates almost $1 million in revenues for the Southern California economy.

“This fountain is only heralding the port’s push for bigger cruise ship business,” Smith said. “It has very little to do with San Pedro. If it was what the community wanted, it would have been built near Harbor Boulevard and 5th Street as a welcome to San Pedro’s struggling Old Town.”


Not everyone feels that way.

Andrew Silber, owner of San Pedro’s The Whale and Ale Restaurant, said the fountain “enhances the aesthetics of the waterfront right where it is.”

“This thing has been getting a bad rap from naysayers who see whatever the port does as a negative,” Silber said. “One of these days, the port is just going to throw up its hands and ask, ‘Why bother?’ ”

In the meantime, port authorities offered mixed reviews about the fountain’s effect on nearby traffic.

“We’ve been out there with police to keep people from pulling over onto the shoulder -- and we’ll probably have to do some additional stuff,” Baker said. “We are considering putting up electronic traffic signs on the boulevard that say, ‘No Stopping or Slowing.’ ”

Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the port, acknowledged “slowing down myself the first time I saw it from the road,” but dismissed Baker’s concerns as “an overreaction.”

“When we go into a working schedule, we won’t be performing at peak rush hours,” Knatz said. “I’m not worried about people slowing down to watch it. The novelty will wear off in time.”

Separately, the fountain’s thigh-high “infinity edges” and 18-inch-deep reflecting pools have proved tempting for youths eager for a dip. A week ago, the port stationed a security guard at the fountain’s edge and posted a “no swimming” sign.

“I’ve seen kids get off to a running start and then throw their whole bodies down and slide along the edge,” security guard Don Huynh said.

Worried about a potential safety hazard during the hot summer months, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose district includes San Pedro, suggested erecting “some kind of barrier between the fountain and the public -- something decorative.”

“This fountain is a spectacular addition to our waterfront,” she said. “But it wasn’t well thought out in terms of traffic and safety issues.”

On Tuesday, port wharf supervisors Linda Vigil and Lajuan Kennedy spent their lunch hour in the shade of a palm tree admiring the animated fountain’s multi-nozzle high-pressure air and water fixtures launching decorative sprays and streams in time to the overture from “The Sound of Music.”

“I’m so impressed,” Vigil said. “Regardless what anyone thinks about this fountain, you can’t deny its beauty.”