Terminal Island | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy

Terminal Island

In August 2013, the Port of Los Angeles’ Board of Harbor Commissioners approved a Master Plan Update after amending it to include a path for preservation.

The amendment allows for flexibility in reusing historic buildings in Fish Harbor on Terminal Island, which includes several significant industrial cannery buildings and a former Japanese American commercial village. This important change is one of several improvements the Port has made to its Master Plan Update, which will guide growth and development at the Port through 2030.

The Conservancy has worked hard to advocate for preservation at the Port while being pragmatic and prioritizing specific issues. The Master Plan Update is a great step and a "win-win" for preservation.

We thank the Port leadership, staff, and Board of Harbor Commissioners for taking our concerns seriously and collaborating with us to find a mutually beneficial solution. We want to acknowledge the office of Councilmember Joe Buscaino and their assistance with this effort.

We also thank the National Trust for Historic Preservation for being a partner with us in this effort and for listing Terminal Island on its 2012 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. This listing was instrumental in raising awareness of Terminal Island’s significance and engaging the Port in serious discussion about preservation options.

The historic buildings at Terminal Island tell the real stories of real people, including Conservancy member Joe Mendez. We can now help ensure that these buildings and these stories continue to fuel a thriving Port, and that all Angelenos know why the Port is so important to the City of Los Angeles’ past, present, and future.

Creating a Framework for Preservation

While the adopted Master Plan Update does not address all of our concerns, it is a great improvement that offers a framework for preservation going forward. The Conservancy has worked to preserve historic places at the Port since 2006. We will continue to work with the Port to address any future issues that jeopardize specific historic places that help tell the story of Greater L.A.’s rich maritime history.

The presence of preservation in the Port Master Plan Update has changed considerably since it was first released (in 2011 through the Terminal Island Land Use Plan and subsequently in the draft Port Master Plan in early 2013). The initial plan included:

  • A set of goals that did not provide an equal priority for the preservation and reuse of historic structures
  • Land uses that hindered the reuse of historic structures, including contradictory land uses within single buildings
  • Planned road realignments that went directly through historic buildings

By contrast, and after much hard work and collaboration, the plan approved on August 8 includes:

  • Equal standing for preservation among its goals
  • The identification of Fish Harbor’s Japanese-American Commercial Village as a historic resource
  • The removal of road realignments originally intended to bisect historic buildings
  • Mixed-use land use designations that provide greater flexibility in adaptively reusing historic buildings

In addition to adopting the Master Plan Update, the Port adopted a cultural resources policy (PDF) in May 2013. This policy was undertaken through the Port’s own initiative and is the first of its kind in the nation.

This is a great step and a "win-win" for buildings that might not seem important. They may not be pretty, but they have all been deemed eligible for historic designation. They help tell the story of Los Angeles’ rich maritime history and why the Port is so important to the City of Los Angeles.

On August 29, 2013 the National Trust for Historic Preservation issued a press release, with Brian Turner from the San Francisco Field Office stating, "the re-use of historic buildings at the Port will help keep alive the area’s historic significance as a once-vibrant Japanese-American fishing village, a major World War I and II shipbuilding center and the birthplace of the worldwide tuna canning industry."

For most Angelenos, Terminal Island at the Port of Los Angeles is little known, today an altered landscape of acres of cargo containers and towering cranes. Even fewer have experienced this place during its heyday, prior to World War II. We must protect Terminal Island's few historic resources that remain from an important era in southern California history. 

Threatened historic resources make up only three percent of Terminal Island’s total acreage, yet the island reflects a surprisingly rich and varied history in several key areas:

  • It housed a vibrant Japanese-American community of nearly 3,000 residents, who were the first in the nation to be forcibly removed from their homes and interned during World War II.
  • It played a crucial role in both World Wars as a major shipbuilding center, setting world records for speedy delivery to support the war effort.
  • It launched a worldwide tuna canning industry that made tuna-fish a staple of American households and fostered L.A.’s growth as a major industrial hub—a tuna even appears on the official seal of Los Angeles County.

Port Architectural and Cultural Resources Policy

On May 2, 2013 the Port's Board of Harbor Commission adopted the policy (Built Environment Historic, Architectural and Cultural Resource Policy) as a proactive framework for the ongoing identification and evaluation of historic resources. The Conservancy commends the Port for recognizing the historic nature of the Port. This was an important first step in the process toward adopting a Port Master Plan Update.

Port Master Plan Update

In February 2013, the Port issued a Draft Program Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) as part of the approval process for the Port Master Plan Update. This follows several community meetings held in July and October 2012 and March 2013.

In April 2013, the Conservancy testified before the Board of Harbor Commissioners to voice our concerns about the DEIR.

Read the Conservancy's testimony re. the Port Master Plan Update DEIR (PDF)

The Port Master Plan serves as a long-range plan to establish policies and guidelines for future development within the coastal zone boundary of the Port of Los Angeles. The Draft Port Master Plan combines the original 1980 Port Master Plan and its subsequent amendments into an updated document that reflects recent land use planning and projects, replaces outdated language, and provides a specific land use plan.

A final version of the Port Master Plan Update was adopted by the Board of Harbor Commissioners on August 8, 2013.

Terminal Island Land Use Plan

In late 2011, the Port released a proposed Terminal Island Land Use Plan, intended to guide growth and development there through 2030. It is organized around three primary planning areas, with the Fish Harbor area containing the main concentration of the island's historic resources (see map).

The plan followed a series of focus group meetings intended to gather input from affected user groups. The eight overriding goals for the plan did include historic preservation -- but as the lowest priority.

In December 2011, the Conservancy wrote to the Port outlining our concerns with the plan. In January 2012, the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners approved a resolution that will use the Terminal Island plan as the framework for an update to the overall Port Master Plan (last updated in 1980).

Given that the Terminal Island plan served as a framework for overall Port planning, of most concern to the Conservancy was the plan’s recommendation for land uses that severely limit adaptive reuse opportunities for historic buildings.

For example, the Southwest Marine site (see map) was primarily designated for “general cargo” and “support” functions.

It is unlikely any of the sixteen historic buildings and structures that make up Southwest Marine would survive or be capable of meeting this type of use.

Based on the overall size of Terminal Island (2,000 acres) and the relatively small amount of historic resources in question (roughly 3% of total acreage), the Conservancy had hoped the plan would have been more sensitive in identifying compatible uses that promote the adaptive reuse and preservation of historic buildings.

Further, the plan denoted roadway realignments that directly called for the demolition of multiple historic buildings (see map). This included Seaside Avenue and Barracuda Street, both proposed by the Port to shift slightly to the west.

Again, for Southwest Marine this would likely have called for the demolition of several historic buildings, and further bisect the intact historic district. It would also have made it more difficult for the public to access the Terminal Island Japanese Memorial.

The realignment of Barracuda Street would have resulted in the demolition of portions or all of the remaining three historic canneries on Terminal Island, including Chicken of the Sea®, Pan-Pacific Fisheries Cannery, and Star-Kist®.

The environmental review process for the Port Master Plan Update began in June 2012 and draft environmental impact report was released in February 2013. Some of the Terminal Island plan and its recommendations have been incorporated within the larger Master Plan Update, adopted on August 8, 2013.

 

The Los Angeles Conservancy strongly believes that the historic buildings of Terminal Island should be preserved and reused rather than demolished. The Port Master Plan Update adopted on August 8, 2013 came a long way from its initial version, which limited opportunities to revitalize these places through adaptive reuse and, in some cases, calls for their demolition. 

While the Port is a good steward of many historic resources, in recent years it had established an ongoing pattern and practice of needlessly demolishing historic buildings at Terminal Island without considering feasible alternatives. Fortunately, leadership and staff at the Port collaborated with the Conservancy to find a mutually beneficial solution that greatly improved the Port Master Plan Update, providing a path for preservation.

The following points summarized the Conservancy’s advocacy position:

The Port Master Plan Update should provide a path forward for preservation of Terminal Island's historic buildings.

Preservation and reusing historic buildings should be made a priority, on par with other identified goals within the Plan.

Designated land uses and policies should allow for the adaptive reuse of historic buildings, rather than their demise.

Flexibility is needed within the Plan to ensure historic buildings can and will be adaptively reused while also still addressing fundamental goals for the Port. Placing competing land uses over Southwest Marine’s buildings severely limits their ability to be reused and adhere to the Plan.  

Terminal Island’s historic buildings can be successfully adapted for new uses.

Every effort should be taken to look at creative reuse opportunities and public-private partnerships that can complement Port functions while preserving historic buildings.

Historic, cultural and archaeological resources should be clearly identified within the Plan.

The entire Port has yet to be surveyed and not all eligible historic buildings are indicated or even identified within the Plan. 

The remaining historic buildings are the last vestige of Terminal Island’s World War I and World War II shipbuilding, tuna canning industry, and Japanese-American built environment.

As the last physical link to the extraordinary heritage of Terminal Island, the historic buildings should be appropriately maintained and preserved. 

Proposed roadway and rail realignments by the Port should be fully reevaluated, as they will directly call for the demolition of buildings at Southwest Marine.

Realigning Seaside Avenue through Southwest Marine will further bisect the historic district and jeopardize its continued eligibility, as multiple buildings will be demolished.