A twenty-year career in recreational boating afforded me some insights into that industry and the places where people enjoy their recreational boats. I often called on that expertise during my two terms on the Redondo Beach Harbor Commission.
The boat business taught me many things, not least of which was to look for other examples of any endeavor I was about to undertake. So as I examine the inevitable conversations that have arisen around the Redondo Beach waterfront development plans, I find myself looking at other harbors for answers.
Recreational boating didn’t exist when most of the major U. S. harbors began taking shape. People, goods and commodities crossed oceans and moved along coastlines by ship. Harbors and bays were places where ships could load and unload their cargo and passengers. Warships used coastal harbors during and between wars.
Up and down the east coast, fortunes of places like Portland, Maine, Boston and New York ebbed and flowed with changing trends in transportation, war and society. Wooden shipbuilding, once the lifeblood of many northeast port cities, disappeared in the early 20th century. Steel hulls required a different set of natural resources, tools and skills. It was no longer necessary to set up shop near forests and logging operations to ensure the supply of lumber.
Railroads spread out like a spider’s web connecting cities and towns. Farmers discovered it was cheaper to send their crops and livestock to larger ports by rail instead of using smaller, local ports.
Industries such as whaling boomed for a while then nearly disappeared. Harbors that were once home to whaling fleets, vibrant wooden shipbuilding industries and transshipment of agricultural products adapted and evolved to accommodate changing times.
History of west coast ports doesn’t stretch back as far as that of their east coast cousins but we see the same patterns. The Navy had a substantial base in Long Beach for nearly a century. It included a shipyard and shore side facilities including housing and a hospital.
Most of the Navy’s activities in Long Beach were curtailed by 2000. The shipyard, docking and land facilities have been converted to accommodate commercial shipping. Every harbor I know that has been used as a harbor for any substantial amount of time has undergone change due to the changing needs of the community that uses it.
Redondo Beach had a robust commercial harbor around the time the Navy began expanding in Long Beach. Mariners discovered the deep water trench leading up to what’s now King Harbor enabled them to bring in deep-draft ships laden with lumber and other materials needed to support a growing population.
A shift in commercial shipping to the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach forced Redondo Beach to repurpose itself. The 225-room Hotel Redondo helped the city transition into a popular tourist destination. Reliable rail and steamer service made it easy to get here. (For a much more rich and detailed account of Redondo’s history visit the historical society, www.redondohistorical.org)
The industry that had serviced commercial shipping moved south and a new industry devoted to tourism took its place. The embedded community grew along with the hordes of visitors.
The next repurposing of Redondo’s harbor came in the early 1960s when the current breakwater was built to accommodate recreational boating. It became King Harbor. The transition may not have been as drastic as the change from commercial harbor to tourist destination but it allowed the city to diversify.
Leisure time had become an important part of American Life. King Harbor gave people access to fishing, recreational boating and other water-related activities. Numbers of people who came to enjoy the shore-side attractions grew even bigger than those who used King Harbor for boating.
We’re lucky. We don’t have to figure out how to change from a commercial harbor to something completely different or even how to accommodate a new population of recreational boaters. The transition facing us will not alter the purpose of King Harbor. Our little man-made water feature will still provide access to Santa Monica Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Our harbor will still have a collection of shops, restaurants and other recreational attractions adjacent to the water.
Proposed development plans will consist of some fairly basic reconfiguring, some rehabilitation and rebuilding but that’s about it. The bulkheads that make up the shore-side contour of the harbor will remain the same. The moles that were created by dumping thousands of tons of fill behind concrete bulkheads will remain unchanged. The breakwater made from huge quarried boulders and arranged to define the outer contour of the harbor won’t change. When you look at harbors that transition from commercial to recreational or others that change due to quantum shifts in an economy or a society, the proposed changes to King Harbor seem more like redecorating than repurposing.
Those of us who support the Centercal plan believe it’s time to move from the harbor that served our community’s needs when it was built in the 60s, to something that’s more relevant to the world we live in today. Clearly, times have changed since the 60s. Someone cryogenically frozen in that period of history and thawed out today (Austin Powers?) wouldn’t recognize our travel, recreation, information and entertainment options. Yet, the South Bay’s premier waterfront complex hasn’t changed in any substantial way in the last half century.
You can visit harbors such as Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and see all the elements of a working harbor from a bygone era, the 1800s. They build wooden ships with hand tools that were forged by a blacksmith. It’s fascinating. I go there whenever I get a chance.
The people of Mystic Connecticut chose to use a portion of their community’s seaside resources as a museum. They entertain thousands of people every year and treat them to an education they couldn’t get otherwise.
Have the people of Redondo Beach chosen to use part of our seaside resources as a working museum that exhibits a southern California coastal waterfront from the 1960s? That’s what we have here and I can tell anyone who hasn’t been to Mystic Seaport, our 60s museum lacks all the charm and educational aspects of that wonderful place in Connecticut. Ours is just old and run down.
Even though the people of Redondo Beach have not chosen to make their waterfront a 1960s museum, the possibility exists it will remain exactly that. If the small minority of Redondo citizens who oppose the Centercal project were somehow able to derail waterfront development by making good on their threats of ballot initiatives and lawsuits, we could all bear witness to the continued decline or our city’s most valuable and unique resource, its harbor.
If you think that’s an unwarranted accusation against our progress-phobic neighbors, consider the defeat of Measure B. I won’t bother predicting what happens to the property that contains the AES power plant. I will predict that whatever ends up on that land will be a lot less desirable than the community that Measure B would have enabled. I will also predict Redondo Beach will host the current monstrosity for at least another generation.
I watched the Centercal video http://thewaterfrontredondo.com/ and came away saying what I was supposed to say. “I want to go to this place. I want to go there now!”
Watch the video then take a walk through the Redondo Beach Marina property and up the International Boardwalk. We will all be asked to choose between those two options multiple times before any construction begins.
Amateur community planners will try to convince us they know a better way, a more desirable opportunity. What they’re actually offering is what they were offering when they opposed Measure B., status quo…an opportunity to leave things exactly the way they are now. In my humble opinion, that lack of vision offers no opportunity whatsoever.