Hollywood makeover reignites some old dreams for downtown San Pedro – Daily News

on Aug10
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It took some Hollywood magic to light a fuse of inspiration in San Pedro this week.

It wasn’t the star power, though. It was what the crews did to the buildings that had everyone abuzz.

With a few simple trappings — striped awnings, vintage signage, eye-catching window displays — a 1932 makeover of Seventh Street for HBO’s upcoming “Perry Mason” series had locals marveling at how cool their downtown could look.

“It cheered everyone up,” said Marlene Bauman of San Pedro. “Do you realize how many people are talking about this? Going down to see it and getting photographs?”

It was hard to miss. Videos, photographs and long comment threads began to hit social media extolling how amazing it all looked.

Window displays and vintage signage, circa 1932, made San Pedro storefronts come alive during HBO’s filming of Perry Mason. (Photo by Chuck Bennett, Contributing Photographer)

“It has so much potential,” said Jan Kain, who operates People’s Place dance studio and two other business at 365 W. Sixth St., in a 1923 building that once housed J.C. Penney. “It’s a diamond in the rough that hasn’t been polished yet.”

And in an example of good timing, the wave of enthusiasm coincides with the launch of a new facade improvement program at the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce.

A $50,000 facade improvement grant from the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation’s Neighborhood LIFT Program will be used to encourage commercial property owners to spruce up the appearances of their storefronts with paint, awnings, signage and the removal of “scissor” security gates, long deplored by those trying to improve downtown’s image.

But in San Pedro’s case, the dreams aren’t new at all. For decades, the town has struggled to revitalize its downtown district. The victories have come, but they’ve been slow and incremental at best.

Now, along comes the magic of Hollywood that, if nothing else, has sparked some new inspiration and vision for how the little seaside town could shine.

The filming of “Perry Mason,” said Elise Swanson, president and CEO of the chamber, helped showcase the potential of the town’s historic buildings.

“It was just very fun, it starts to paint the possibilities of what could be there,” said San Pedro architect Phil Trigas of Studio-111, who has been tapped to work on the facade grant program.

For years, Trigas has walked Sixth Street almost every night with his dog, ever since he and his wife moved into the Centre Street Lofts in downtown, where they’re raising a daughter.

While the Hollywood treatment has provided inspiration, some of the more transformational facade treatments go deeper, he said, such as peeling away years of cover-ups to reveal a building’s historic elements.

Among original signs of the past that still exist in downtown San Pedro is one for the now defunct San Pedro News-Pilot newspaper. The billboard next to it was among props used for the filming of HBO’s Perry Mason. (Photo by Chuck Bennett, Contributing Photographer)

Greg Morena, who purchased the former Papadakis Taverna, 301 W. Sixth St., went through the process as he uncovered original elements in that 1920s building before opening Pappy’s Seafood.

The Wale and Ale, 327 W. Seventh St., and the Jerico Development buildings are other stand-out facade examples, Trigas said.

Initially, the facade program will focus on perhaps just one or two buildings, he said, adding that a search for matching grants could then expand the program.

The council office, meanwhile, has pressed ahead in bringing more residential units into the downtown, believing that will be the key to reviving the historic waterfront shopping district.

“One of the challenges is that people don’t drive through San Pedro to get from place to place,” Trigas said. “So I think as downtown develops, it will be important to focus on neighborhood serving retail and that’s going to thrive with more people living in downtown, making it a more livable community.”

Several new mixed-use developments are set to come online, in addition to recently approved plans for a boutique hotel. The developments promise to bring hundreds of new people living and staying in the immediate area in the years to come, Trigas said.

That, he said, should solve the issue of the vacancies that dot Sixth and Seventh streets, where retail stores once thrived in years past.

For some business owners, revitalizing downtown has been too long talked about without much to show for it.

Kain, who grew up dancing on Broadway, didn’t hesitate when a film crew offered to leave in place new paint and other touches after shooting scenes for Netflix’s “Dead to Me” series inside her studio.

“I don’t know what’s taking so long,” Kain said, noting the town’s charm, history and creative talent. “I’ve owned this property with my retirement money for 10 years and it’s really been a struggle, it’s been hard. I’ve spent plenty of time crying, but I pick myself up and stumble forward.”

A long-planned waterfront development is among the promises that strike many as taking much too long.

In public remarks made earlier this week about plans for a downtown hotel, Ann Carpenter, of the tech company Braid Theory, recalled a line from a 2002 Urban Land Institute survey of San Pedro. The town, she quoted the report as saying, seemed “stuck in a Kafkaesque world of endless planning.”

Kain said she still believes, though, in “the miracle” that plans will come to fruition.

“We have so much history, so much talent, so many great people who are musicians and artists,” Kain said. “I just don’t know what’s taking so long.”

There has been some progress, though, including new businesses relocating in town. A recent push by the Waterfront Arts District for public art, via commissioning large-scale artist murals — something Bauman would like to see more of — has begun to perk up many of the town’s old commercial corridors.

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