Downtown San Pedro had become a dead zone. Jobs were scarce. Shops were shuttered. Tourists dropped their dollars elsewhere.

In response, redevelopment officials drew up a plan to revitalize the area and rapidly succeeded in getting a recently constructed downtown building occupied. Hopes rose that a turnaround was near.

This could easily describe the situation in San Pedro today. But the sequence of events actually took place in the late 1960s under the first renewal plan from the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency.

"The CRA came in and did what they had always done: They tore down old buildings and built new buildings that they thought would revitalize business," said Camilla Townsend, chief executive of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce. "But it was a cookie-cutter approach that destroyed the old Beacon Street and all of its character, with all of its diners and bars."

Decay, followed by optimistic but ultimately futile redevelopment, has a long history in San Pedro, which saw its heyday as a fishing village and center of shipbuilding and canning start to wane as Southern California's long postwar boom took off.

The effort of the 1960s was far from the only renewal attempt by Los Angeles officials, who have long grappled with how to rebuild the economy of the town, which took another big hit during the defense downturn of the early 1990s.

But the 1960s plan marked the first time redevelopment officials tried the kind of clear-and-build urban renewal approach though on a smaller scale that also gave birth to downtown Los Angeles' Bunker Hill high-rise neighborhood.

During the '60s, not only were shipbuilding and cannery jobs disappearing, but the ranks of dockworkers were thinning as containerized cargo operations began to take hold at the port.

Meanwhile, department stores, car dealers and other big retailers were leaving for new shopping malls in the South Bay. As if that weren't enough, the opening of the Vincent Thomas Bridge made shopping and entertaining in Long Beach more accessible.

Enter the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, which in 1969 formed the Beacon Street Redevelopment Project Area, covering 60 acres of San Pedro's downtown core. The goal: tear down decaying storefront buildings and replace them with gleaming commercial towers.

For a short while, the gamble appeared to work. An 11-story office tower, dubbed the Pacific Trade Center, had just gone up a few years earlier and had landed a key tenant: aerospace and defense contractor Logicon Inc.

Prev

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.