Sunday, January 1, 2012

San Pedro Stories: The Notorious Port of Los Angeles

San Pedro Stories: The Notorious Port of Los Angeles

With the rebranding of San Pedro as a tourist destination, POLA takes an entertaining break from environmental and industrial development issues in the 4th episode of its 30-minute PORTfolio TV series (produced quarterly and broadcast on Channel 35 at 10 am on Thursdays) to focus on the colorful history of the harbor. [Skip to the bottom to watch the episode.]

This episode “Profiles infamous events in the history of Los Angeles' Port, including the many marriages of Lucy Banning, and the history of Beacon Street, which was once considered the toughest street in the world. The program also profiles famous Terminal Island prisoners and the religious conversion of Al Capone, along with the little known history of the relocation of the Terminal Island Japanese, and more.”

The episode is divided into 4 segments—each of them could easily be expanded to an hour and they’d still only scratch the surface of Pedro’s colorful history.

The first segment focuses on the scandals of Lucy Banning (Mrs. Bradbury, Greenleaf, Ross, and Ota)—proving there is nothing new in the antics of Paris Hilton or in media obsessions with spoiled rich girls from dysfunctional families.

The next segment is a fun visit to Beacon Street, “the toughest four blocks in the world,” with its 2nd floor “bargirls” (it’s still listed as one of the world’s famous redlight districts) and basement “casinos”—not to mention the infamous Shanghai Red’s “cafĂ©” with its tattooed female bouncers (like Cairo Mary). On Beacon Street money flowed as freely as blood from the open wounds of rolled sailors. Today, the infamous 4 blocks has been erased from the maps—bulldozed and transformed into parking lots. It’s hard to imagine the mythical status the area once held in the hearts and minds of seamen across the globe—but 3 decades after its heyday had passed the street still inspired awe in Bangkok, Thailand when I told people I was from San Pedro and loved going down to Beacon Street as a youth.

The next 2 segments focus on Terminal Island and are introduced with a brief reference to its transition from Rattlesnake Island, to railway terminus and beach resort, to fishing capital. This transition alone could fill several episodes—with tales of great floods, migrating rivers and lost species—and an international cast of tourists, squatters, workers, railroad speculators, corrupt politicians, and industrial entrepreneurs.

The third segment covers the “lost village” of Terminal Islanders—the 3,000 Japanese fishermen, cannery workers and their families evicted and imprisoned by the FBI and U.S. military authorities in “internment camps” after Pearl Harbor—a tale of idyllic childhoods in a close-knit community and grueling work at sea and factory destroyed by racial prejudice and paranoia.

The final episode looks at famous prisoners and scandal at the Terminal Island federal prison.  The episode jumps between the religious conversion of mob boss Al Capone’s in 1939 to the Flying Finn Twins’ 1954 hunger strike, skipping over the 60s gurus of drugs (Timothy Leary) and murder (Charles Manson) to the political conspirators of the 70s (from the Watergate break-end  leader G. Gordon Liddy to would be presidential assassins "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Jane Moore) and the corruption scandal of the 80s

You can watch the full episode posted by its writer/producer/director, Marie Hegwood (IMDb page), on Vimeo. It’s also available in 2 parts on POLA’s PORTfolio page and on The Port of Los Angeles Channel on YouTube (Part 1; Part 2—ignore the mislabeling)


  1. Todd-
    I am with a group of San Pedro folks planning a 125th anniversary celebration. Your blog is great and I think some of your colorful stories would add a lot to the celebration. If you would be interested in participating please call me at 310-519-9500.
    Alan Johnson

  2. In 1969 I was patrol cop with LAPD, and as a result of a very high profile shooting while working with my brother(!) I got transferred to old Harbor Division in San Pedro, at the time I felt like they might as well have sent me to Siberia. Oh what an eye opener when I checked in! MY first night there (working the graveyard shift) I paired up with an old partner from 77th Street station, and right out of roll call he took me to Beacon Street, and as I recall the name of the bar we walked into was the White Swan. All I can say (or will say) is that the place looked like a movie set with character actors sitting inside, then my partner ordered us a Salty Dog each. So there we were, in full uniform with hats on and a drink in our hand, going through introductions and schmoozing the bar flies. A few hours later I got introduced to Terminal Island as a result of a radio call re a bar fight between several dock workers … biggest SOBs I ever saw and they felt no pain! And the rest of the story is history suitable only for close friends and male family members. So glad I had a chance to see San Pedro while it still had a some of the flavor of the past.

  3. I think this will be something to read during the holidays. Since I don't go anywhere and just read, I think this will keep me occupied until the holidays end.

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