Village poised for a revival
The shabby seaside Ports O’ Call Village tourist spot would be demolished and replaced by upscale development as part of a long-awaited San Pedro revitalization project.
That radical revision of the 42-year-old collection of stores and restaurants is outlined in a long-awaited report that is expected to be unveiled at a Port of Los Angeles hearing today.
In addition to razing Ports O’ Call, the San Pedro Waterfront Project calls for a promenade, parks and fountains, a conference center, three pocket harbors and a cruise ship terminal along 400 acres of waterfront stretching eight miles through the hard-working communities of San Pedro and Wilmington.
The goal is to set the stage for an economic renaissance that would transform the historic area into a vibrant dining and shopping outpost at the edge of an industrial empire of cranes, cargo ships, chemical depots and diesel-powered big rigs about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.
Port officials said the project would be constructed in phases and completed within about five to seven years. The environmental impact report scheduled to be presented today stretches 4,000 pages. It addresses five proposals, along with a sixth option of doing nothing.
Demolition work could begin early next year at the southern end of Ports O’ Call, where rundown Old English, New England and Spanish style buildings are connected by an uneven red brick walkway, officials said.
Standing amid wood-framed storefronts blemished by chipped paint, termite infestation and splintered shingles, Michael Christensen, deputy director of development for the nation’s busiest container port, compared the area to “a big blank canvas. Let’s let a real expert developer get their hands on it.”
“If that developer says, ‘Change the name and they will come,’ ” he said, “hey, we’ll change it. L.A. Waterfront has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”
Ports O’ Call opened in 1962 on the west bank of the main channel at Los Angeles Harbor. It had been a mooring area for tugboats and fishing boats, and a lumber storage yard.
The area’s decline began in the 1980s. It took a further hit with the closing of the Marineland amusement park in 1987 in nearby Rancho Palos Verdes. Then came competition from Universal Studios, major expansions at Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland, and shopping areas such as Old Town Pasadena and Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.
In a part of the city used to development battles, few community improvement proposals have dredged up more controversy than the San Pedro revitalization project, which was forged during eight years of often contentious discussions by city officials, business owners and residents.
Copies of the hefty environmental report are already circulating, and as of Friday many community leaders were expressing mixed reviews.
“I like it and am very grateful for it,” said local restaurant owner John Papadakis, a longtime champion of the proposed promenade. “It will lift us out of the industrial lockdown we’ve been in so long.”
Critics include Jaymie Wilson, vice president of the local Chamber of Commerce and owner of Ports O’ Call Restaurant, a popular tourist destination that would be among the first buildings to be torn down.
“My restaurant was taken off their project map, along with two other old businesses,” said Wilson, who had worked closely with port authorities in previous attempts to revamp the village. “They have offered to give us the first chance to relocate to prime locations. But combined, we employ about 300 people. What happens to them in the interim?”
In response to Wilson’s concerns, Christensen said, “We love Jaymie dearly. If you’re the big duck in the pond, you’ll have Jaymie’s perspective on things. But if you’re looking at becoming a world-class location, you’ll see things differently.”
Generally, community leaders dismissed the port’s grand vision as lackluster and missing elements they for years had argued were essential: a parking structure, pedestrian bridges and a public transportation system linking San Pedro’s historic business district to the water’s edge.
Port officials said such projects were outside their jurisdiction -- but not off the table, provided they are shepherded by other city agencies.
But Janet Schaaf-Gunter of the executive board of the San Pedro and Peninsula Homeowners Coalition said the omissions were predictable.
“The port is expert at putting a snazzy public relations spin on things to make people hopeful,” she said. “Then they plow ahead with plans that serve their own interests.”
Marketing consultant Noramae Munster, a San Pedro resident of 16 years, agreed.
“In the 1970s, San Pedro had her first hysterectomy with the demolition of Beacon Street -- that was back when there were still sailors and prostitutes hanging out there,” she said.
“Today, there are still vacant lots and empty buildings there,” she said. “The same thing is going to happen at Ports O’ Call. You have to wonder why they want to tear it down during the worst economic climate in years.”
A few blocks away, Andrew Silva, proprietor of the Whale & Ale pub and a civic activist, shook his head and said, “I’m disappointed because after hundreds of hours of community time and endless studies and flow charts, they still don’t get it.”
“Of course,” he added, “it would undo tradition to give the people what they want.”
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose district includes the port, found reason for hope.
“Is this plan perfect? No,” she said. “But at least, after all these years, we’re finally moving forward.”
A public meeting on the project’s environmental impact report will be held today at 6 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 601 S. Palos Verdes St., San Pedro. The report is available online at www.portoflosangeles.org.