While watching the Mets beat the Dodgers’ brains in, I checked out a few of the blogs on my blogroll that I hadn’t read in awhile. On the San Pedro-based group blog “Life on the Edge,” the most recent entry is a terribly sad tale that suggests the latest efforts to revive the beautiful but unsettled village overlooking LA Harbor are falling short.
The author is an artist named Marshall Astor, whose nom du blog is “Calamari.” Astor announces that he won’t be posting much on the site for awhile, in part because “I don’t really feel like writing about Pedro at the moment.” The post explains why. To sum it up, Astor ran the Walled City Gallery in downtown San Pedro until closing it in August. (He also has a position at Angels Gate Cultural Center.) Astor had a good rent on the space, so he decided to retool it as studio space for himself and two other artists.
At about the same time we began to transition the space from a gallery to a working studio, I got some new neighbors in my building. The illegal live work, sublet that was a bit of an irritation became at first a hassle and then later, a crisis. I had been speaking with my landlord for half a year about the issue with the sublet next door, and for half a year, he claimed that he was going to evict the tenants. No eviction took place, and in August, more people started living next door, most notably a couple that engaged in on and off, 24 hour a day domestic violence. It was soon obvious that everybody next door was using methamphetamine, and by the beginning of September it had become obvious from the amount of in and out traffic at both the front door and the alley entrance that the place had become a major drug den.
By the beginning of September, it had become impossible to use the backyard, as there was either constantly a semi/non-operational vehicle parked in my half of the yard, or just piles of new and mysterious junk had been dumped on my side. The lock on the back gate was changed. Lumber and paint started disappearing when I would leave it outside. So many people were now living/crashing/hanging out/getting loaded/buying drugs at the space that I didn’t even know who to blame or talk to. When I did manage to bring it up to anyone, it was a non-productive conversation with a doped up, out of it, loser.
The landlord promised to evict the tenants, but never started the process. In the meantime, the building was sold. The new landlord told Astor he would evict the tenants and wanted him to stay — at a significant rent increase. Astor stresses that the rent hike was fair and in keeping with the market, but he wasn’t interested in paying that much. He decided to stay until December 15, and began slowly to move his belongings out. However, he didn’t move quickly enough:
Edith (one of his studio-mates) had arrived at the studio, found the back door wide open. I immediately directed her to the dusty silhouette where my laptop had been before some tweaked out, low life had made off with it. Every box, container or package in the building had been opened and searched, for what, I do not know. My talles was strewn across my desk, defiled and manhandled, and during the high holy days, no less. The remanents of my father’s coin collection was gone, one of my backpacks was gone, presumably to carry off my belongings in. Edith’s stuff was searched, but nothing taken. Someone had spent a lot of time in my place, making a mess, rifling through my personal business, and otherwise subjecting me and my mates to a disturbing and frustrating violation.
They posted a guard until they could return to the studio to move everything out, and turned in their key.
So I’m out of downtown, and due to the level of gentrification, combined with the general decline in the quality of life downtown (I’ve spoken with a lot of police in the past week, they all have heard or experienced that San Pedro has become a mecca for drug activity and more of a “dumping ground” than usual), I’m not likely to have either a studio, or a gallery there in the future. The yuppies and the junkies can have it.
I’ve lived in LA, and mostly in the South Bay/Harbor area, since the late 60s. All that time, San Pedro has been a town on the verge. Not everyone agrees with me, but I think it’s one of the most beautiful spots in the Los Angeles. Some blame the Port of LA, but I should think having such a vital economic force as a neighbor could only help. Besides, container cranes are kind of interesting to look at. They don’t blight the landscape — they’re just more colors and shapes for the morning and evening sun to illuminate.
Why can’t all the powers-that-be line up to keep this gem safe from becoming a “mecca for drug activity?” What a waste if they let San Pedro’s downtown slide into the kind of chaos from which decent, community-spirited people like Astor have to flee.
(photo credits: “Warner Grand, San Pedro,” by My Life as a Haint, “Downtown San Pedro” by Lyan Zurke)