San Pedro’s once-thriving Star-Kist cannery building up for demolition vote

Stark-Kist workers in Plant 4 on Terminal Island, San Pedro, take a break for lunch, circa 1953. (Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Maritime Museum)

Cannery workers pose in front of the French Sardine Cannery at Fish Harbor, Terminal Island circa 1939. French Sardine later became StarKist. (Los Angeles Maritime Museum Collection, Gift of Matt Matich).

Star-Kist cannery on Terminal Island in San Pedro. (Photo Courtesy of Anthony Pirozzi)

Inside the former Star-Kist plant on Terminal Island in San Pedro. (Photo Courtesy of Anthony Pirozzi)

Exterior of the Star-Kist plant that once employed thousands in its tuna cannery in San Pedro. (Photo Courtesy of Anthony Pirozzi)

Photo from inside the long-vacant Star-Kist plant on Terminal Island in San Pedro.

Workers stand in front of the main entrance of Star-Kist Plant 4, on Terminal Island, San Pedro, circa 1963. (Photo Courtesy Los Angeles Maritime Museum)

In this June 30, 2008, file photo a Star-Kist brand product is seen on a grocery store shelf in Boston. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole,File)



It could be “Sorry, Charlie” for San Pedro’s once thriving 1952 Star-Kist tuna-packing cannery building.

Despite an effort to preserve the structure that’s been largely vacant for about 20 years, Port of Los Angeles officials will recommend this week that the property be demolished.

No viable cannery-related use for the existing structure on Terminal Island, a staff report to the LA harbor commission says, could be identified. While no specific use is yet determined, officials said, the property would be better served as an area for cargo, or chassis storage, repair and maintenance. The item is set to come up at the regular (and virtual-only) harbor commission meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 19.

“The City of Los Angeles Harbor Department,” the report says,”has attempted to reuse these facilities through the Request for Proposal process several times and no viable options have been found.”

Demolition, the report adds, “has been deemed necessary to create a parcel of land that is more marketable for future development.”

If the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners OKs tearing down the building, there would be a 75-day asbestos abatement period. After that, the port board report says, demolition would take about 60 days, and include removing a 2,254-square-foot dock and 20 wooden piles from the sea floor.

Construction of a proposed new project is estimated to begin in 2023.

But several speakers are expected to object to demolishing the building Thursday, including those who have had long family ties with the industry that once thrived along with the commercial fishing fleet in the harbor.

Anthony Misetich — whose great uncle, Martin J. Bogdanovich, started the business that began in 1914 as the French Sardine Co. of California before becoming Star-Kist — said more effort should be given to finding a way to save the building.

“We need to take a last look at this,” Misetich said in a Tuesday, Oct. 28, phone interview, “and give it a staunch effort to see if something can be done.”

The port, he said, didn’t try hard enough or provide enough time to find an operator that would continue the cannery use.

The plans for demolition received a short reprieve in March when the port issued a temporary hold to seek “expressions of interest” for a lease and development of the property at 1050 Ways St. Bids were due April 7.

The port received one response, the board report says, and that proposal did not include a use that would keep the facility intact.

The site totals about 14 acres and includes two main buildings, Plant No. 4 — the building in question — and the northern portion of the East Plant.

From 1952 to 1984, the site was used as a cannery facility for Star-Kist tuna operations, with the buildings constructed from 1947 to 1979. Four of the original main buildings have already been demolished.

The popular tuna brand was well known for its “Sorry, Charlie” animated television commercials, in which Charlie the Tuna was repeatedly rejected by the company that pledged only the best fish was used in its brand.

But that era ended years ago.

San Pedro’s once-burgeoning fishing fleet and the accompanying canneries that once dominated the harbor are long gone.

“None of the remaining buildings are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places,” the board report says, “or the California Register of Historical Resources or as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.”

But another cannery operation — perhaps for vegetables — would be the best fit while still preserving the site, Misetich said. The area was more recently used for a pet food canning operation but that no longer operates.

San Pedro resident Stephanie Mardesich, the granddaughter of French Sardine founding partner Joseph M. Mardesich Sr., said it appeared as if the port was “only going through the motions” to preserve the building.

“This is shocking to me,” she said, “the lack of consideration for the historic value of this place.”

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