Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wilmington: Missions Down "B" Street

We used to drive by  Figueroa and Harry Bridges (B street) to Wilmington on a weekly basis. That was the usual route my dad used on the  way to church . Most of what I remember is seeing the same scene like a movie set as we passed by. The ironic thing is that scene did become a movie set for many films. The three buildings I remember vividly were Shipwreck Joey's, an old Mexican restaurant (or bar not sure) and a liquor store. Thanks to " Life in Wilmington" on Face Book I was told that the liquor stores name was called North star liquor. I still have not heard a response about the restaurant that might remain a  mystery.From what I recall I do not remember ever stopping at the liquor store with my parents, I just remember how dark and seedy it looked to me at night. The only time I passed by on foot was when I walked from San Pedro to Wilmington in my teens. 
Shipwreck Joey's basically was a cabaret style  topless bar that was not well liked by some. The main reason is because of the sign and the building was very noticeable from all angles. When you would drive on the freeway entering or leaving the Harbor Area  the first thing you would see was a bright yellow sign that said "Topless" in huge letters! The place had been painted so many times however, the signature architecture remained unforgettable. When I finally was able to drive myself all this was gone, so  I am trying to see if I can re-create some of those  memories of that street. 


 For a long time I tired to  find some kind of  information on these buildings. I did run into four good images of the different facades of  Shipwreck Joey's. I think this building was  the most memorable. Although many people hated it and wanted to see it gone it was well loved by the movie industry. 


In 2000 almost  none of these buildings or houses that were nearby existed anymore. Everything was basically bought out by the port of Los Angeles for re-development. Businesses that once lined this gritty industrial corridor north of Harry Bridges Boulevard -- Keep On Trucking, Shipwreck Joey's Cabaret, World of Birds and many others -- have been erased, leveled to make way for a harbor terminal expansion and road-widening project. (Zahniser B1) 


This amazing photograph  is was taken between 1979-1980. The photographer is John Humble and it is currently part of the collections at Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. Check out the rest of John Humbles collection, I really like his style because he loves the raw and gritty parts of the city. It is even more intense because he got to capture many images no longer in existence mostly from the 1970s and 80s. 




Shipwreck Joey's in the movie " To Live and Die in LA"  (1985) Photo from Seeing Stars. I think at one point after this is was painted a bright red with bold yellow letters. 






Shipwreck Joey's used in " Fight Club"( 1999) it was transformed into "Lou's Tavern" Photo from Seeing Stars




This is the only photograph that I was able to find of what was North star Liquor. I was hoping to find more original photos but no luck. This scene is also from "Fight Club" (1999) and it features Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in front of it. Photo from " This Pedro Thing" 


Helen's obsession with Shipwreck Joey's 


Helen (Rest in Peace) was an odd women. I first met her as a kid back in the mid 1980s. She used to come to our house because her and my parents used to go to the same church. Helen looked liked maybe she was mixed with Mexican and Samoan or even Filipino.She was over weight and usually wore long skirts or moo-moos. She was deeply into the Catholic religion and had a very strong personality. She was always  real blunt and not shy at all. The reason I say she was odd is because; she basically was a wanderer who roamed from house to house of church friends sleeping on couches, or even front porches. She seemed somewhat mentally ill at times. All the people like my parents forgave her because her state of mind. We never knew much about her background her age,or anything personal she mostly ignored you when you asked her anything. One funny memory of her was when we used to go onto the 110 freeway North and just as we were passing "Shipwreck Joey's" topless bar she would start yelling and screaming to " God" that she wanted that place shut down. It would not fail she did it every single time. The day Shipwreck Joey's went out of business she swore god made it happen because of her. She died about ten years ago of an illness. 


The place mostly got a bad reputation because it became an eyesore but some shady business did happen there much like in the movies.
The former prosecutor could have been sentenced to a maximum 10 years in prison and fined $5,000, but the lighter sentence was given in exchange for his testimony at the September trial of co-defendant Stephen Gotter Bach, 41, of Inglewood. Bach worked as a bartender at Shipwreck Joey's Topless Cabaret in Wilmington -- where the securities theft scheme reportedly was devised -- and at Frontview Cabaret in Harbor City.( Simons A3)




Here is a Los Angeles Times story about the rise and fall of Shipwreck Joey's 
Topless Bar Loses Its Shirt to a Truck Stop; [South Bay Edition]
GREG KRIKORIAN. Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext). Los Angeles, Calif.: Sep 6, 1990. pg. 3
Abstract (Summary)
[Rocco Grieco]'s plans for the 55,000-square-foot property that straddles the east end of the Harbor Freeway follow the closure in early July of its only tenant, Shipwreck Joey's, which opened in the 1970s. On Aug. 1, Grieco signed a 10-year lease for the property.In addition to the diner, Grieco said, the property will include a snack bar, six truck-wash stalls, trucking scales and several showers. "In the Harbor area, there's no place for these guys to go in and just shower unless they rent a hotel room," Grieco said. "These guys need these kinds of services."
Then again, [Robert Castagnola] said, it was Grieco's decision. And Grieco, owner or co-owner of several apartment buildings in San Pedro and Wilmington, has shown over the years that he knows something about business. "Rocco does have a nose for money," Castagnola said.The dirty dancing already is gone from the corner of B and Figueroa streets in Wilmington. And a year from now, the way Rocco (Rocky) Grieco figures it, he'll really be cleaning up at that corner.In more ways than one.By then, Grieco said, Shipwreck Joey's, a once-popular topless bar that closed in July, will be just a memory. In its place will be a diner.On the dusty lot next door, there will still be trucks, Grieco said. But instead of using the lot for parking, truckers will be using Grieco's new six-stall truck wash and scales.And if all goes as planned, the 37-year-old San Pedro real estate agent will have several indoor showers on the site, another feature of a deluxe truck stop for drivers who once cooled their heels between hauls with beers at the bar.Grieco's plans for the 55,000-square-foot property that straddles the east end of the Harbor Freeway follow the closure in early July of its only tenant, Shipwreck Joey's, which opened in the 1970s.

On Aug. 1, Grieco signed a 10-year lease for the property.Shipwreck Joey's, for years a landmark of sorts in the Harbor area, was hard to miss. With a bright orange exterior, opaque windows and the form of a bare-breasted blonde beckoning clientele, the bar was an eyesore to many, eye-catching to all.It also was the latest in a list of tenants that occupied the 4,000-square-foot Art Deco-style building constructed in the 1930s. And like the others, from the original Bayview diner to a later nightclub to a country and Western bar, Shipwreck Joey's did great business for years.But as shipyards closed in the port and other topless bars drew away customers, business at Shipwreck Joey's began sinking in the late 1980s. And when the owners of the huge lot that housed the bar put the land up for sale in 1988, leaving its future in doubt, it seemed just a matter of time before Shipwreck Joey's would close.Grieco thought about leasing the site and opening his own topless bar But that idea did not sit well with his wife, Joanne, he said."I went to a couple of topless places to see what their business was like. And I found they made big money," Grieco said. "But when I told my wife I was thinking about opening a topless place myself, she said, `You're crazy.'"She was against it from Day One."After considering other possibilities, including a small shopping center, Grieco said he came up with the idea of converting the property into a sort of super truck stop after watching the number of trucks along Figueroa Street and the Harbor Freeway."I counted 1,000 trucks going to and from the port in one hour. I know that sounds unbelievable, but it's true," Grieco said. And that number, he said, gave him a new idea."A full-service truck stop" is how Grieco describes it.The plans, Grieco said, call for converting the old bar into a 1950s-style diner that is convenient for truckers but that caters to a broader clientele."I'm not going to make it too nice so truckers won't come in, or too rough so yuppies won't come in," Grieco said. "I just want a place where I could bring my kids for breakfast."In addition to the diner, Grieco said, the property will include a snack bar, six truck-wash stalls, trucking scales and several showers. "In the Harbor area, there's no place for these guys to go in and just shower unless they rent a hotel room," Grieco said. "These guys need these kinds of services."Maybe so, but even some of Grieco's friends wonder how he would have made out if he had opened a new topless bar after the close of Shipwreck Joey's."I've got mixed emotions," said one friend, Robert Castagnola, 31, a Teamster who once frequented Shipwreck Joey's. "I think he'll do well, but I tried to persuade him to go with a topless place because he could have made a fortune with the right management."Then again, Castagnola said, it was Grieco's decision. And Grieco, owner or co-owner of several apartment buildings in San Pedro and Wilmington, has shown over the years that he knows something about business. "Rocco does have a nose for money," Castagnola said.So will Castagnola be as likely to visit his friend's diner as a strip bar?"Yeah, I'll go there," he said. "You know Italians, we stick together."


If you happen to drive by passing Figueroa and  Harry Bridges (was B Street before) today, it is all still under construction for a new waterfront  redevelopment project. It is amazing how much different this area will look after so many years of griminess. In an odd way I will definitely miss the old history but as you all know that is just me I like anything rusted up. If you are interested in seeing the future plans check out the Draft EIR.








Alrato,




DJ








PS has anybody actually ever been inside Shipwreck Joey's? don't be ashamed if so lol we love insight. Also please let me know if anybody finds out the name of that bar or restaurant next to North Star Liquor.







Sources: 

GREG KRIKORIAN.  "Topless Bar Loses Its Shirt to a Truck Stop :[South Bay Edition]. " Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext)  6  Sep. 1990,Los Angeles Times, ProQuest. Web.  2 Nov. 2010.

Zahniser, David. "PORT OF IMPASSE - Harbor department, last business still locked in talks." Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA) 5 Sep. 2000, LOCAL: B1. NewsBank. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.

Simons, Teresa. "Ex-deputy D.A. sentenced for role in securities theft." Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA) 30 Oct. 1984, NEWS: A3. NewsBank. Web. 2 Nov. 2010.


4 comments:

Wise Latina said...

great blog post! very interesting

Doña Licha (Alex Ramos) said...

Old school! You dig up the goods! Fascinating post :-)

Doña Junta said...

Thanks ladies! if anybody runs into any old memories or photos of this area please comment. I would also like to have a movie night with the old movies that these places are featured in that be fun! maybe when school ends.

Carey from Humboldt CA said...

Great post. My sister use to hang out near their her street name was Candy.
I have good memories of Domino's Pizza on Carson and Avalon, I think.
To my surprise it is still their, same people, great food, and atmosphere. It looks a little rough outside.
Our favorite thrift store is on the corner. I think it is called the Bargan Center.
My Mom and I visit San Pedro and the surrounding area once a year for about 10 days.
My Mom and her 3 sisters (The Hennessy girls) grew up on 34th and Gaffey. Her family owned the gas station closest to Cabrillo Beach.