View of two seagulls and terminal island


Terminal Island


Two of the last remaining buildings associated with Terminal Island’s Japanese American Fishing Village are at risk of demolition.


Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy


Terminal Island tells an important story about Los Angeles and the nation’s maritime, commercial, and Japanese American history. In recent years the Port of L.A. has established an ongoing pattern and practice of needlessly demolishing historic buildings at Terminal Island without considering feasible alternatives. The last two remaining buildings from the Japanese American Fishing Village on Terminal Island are currently at risk of demolition.




About This Place

About This Place

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, Terminal Island reflects a surprisingly rich and varied history in several key areas:

  • 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.
  • 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 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 incarcerated during World War II.

From Beach Resort to American Households

Terminal Island was known mainly in the late 19th century for its luxurious resort town, Brighton Beach, and as a rural beach haven for artists and writers. Fishing was not a large part of the island’s activities until 1893, when the first cannery opened.

Relocated from San Francisco after a slump in sardine fishing and renamed from its former Golden Gate Packing Company, California Fish Co. was located on the main channel of the island across from First Street in San Pedro. It specialized in sardines until the catch started to decline around the turn of the twentieth century, and they needed to find a new product.

In 1903, the company developed a new process to can cooked tuna, which was plentiful in local waters. Tuna had been available only on the fresh fish market. In a bid to introduce the fish into American households, CalFish capitalized on its relatively un-fishy flavor by steaming it white, packing it in salad oil, and marketing it as an affordable substitute for chicken.

Canned tuna was slow to catch on, but thanks to some clever promotion—including persuading grocers to give it away with the purchase of coffee—it took off and slowly but surely became one of the fastest growing industries in the Harbor.

The introduction of canned tuna coincided with the arrival of a small group of Japanese abalone fishermen from nearby White Point. Bringing expertise from their home region of Wakayama Prefecture, they soon proved to be extremely talented at commercial tuna fishing. Fishermen of Italian, Yugoslavian, Austrian, and Japanese descent made up most of the fishing fleet, and the Japanese were particularly noted for their skill. Learn more about how tuna went mainstream, here.

Wartime Shipbuilding at Terminal Island

When the United States entered World War I, it had an urgent need for a powerful merchant marine fleet. Under the purview of the federal government’s Emergency Fleet Corporation/Shipping Board, the Western Pipe and Steel Company broke ground on the Southwestern Shipbuilding yard on in March 1918. Only two months later, the company held government contracts for the delivery of 20 ships, with total expenditures of $30 million and a projected 5,000 employees.

What is now known as the Southwest Marine complex at Terminal Island played a key role in both World Wars, setting world records for quick production of ships for the war effort. It helped establish Los Angeles as a world port and was the site of progressive labor policies for the burgeoning African American population of Southern California. The site is now the last vestige of San Pedro’s once-mighty maritime history. For more information about wartime shipbuilding at Terminal Island, click here.

Japanese American History at Terminal Island

In the early 1940s, Terminal Island housed a vibrant community of nearly 3,000 Japanese and Japanese American residents. It had grown out of a small Japanese fishing village whose settlers helped launch a booming industry for canned tuna.

The island later starred in one of the darkest chapters of U.S. history, when its residents became the first Japanese Americans to be forcibly removed from their homes and detained at incarceration camps during World War II. Learn more about the rich Japanese American history at Terminal Island here.

Our Position

According to a recent report in The Rafu Shimpo on May 18, 2024, the Port of Los Angeles’ Department of Real Estate has recommended demolition of the last two remaining buildings from Terminal Island’s historic Japanese American Fishing Village.

We believe the buildings located at 700-702 and 712-716 Tuna Street are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places for their association with the Japanese American community on Terminal Island and should be preserved. They housed Nanka Shoten, a dry goods store, and A. Nakamura Co., a grocery store, in 1918 and 1923, respectively.

While this project may be in the early development stage, we ask the Harbor Commission and Port leadership to intervene and work on an alternative vision in collaboration with community stakeholders that encourages rehabilitation of these last remaining historic buildings as well as interpretation to amplify the history of the Japanese American Fishing Village while enhancing Terminal Island.

The Conservancy has advocated for the preservation and reuse of historic resources on Terminal Island since 2006. The Port Master Plan Update was considered a great step and a “win-win” for preservation. It was adopted on August 8, 2013 and came a long way from its initial version, which limited opportunities to revitalize Terminal Island’s historic resources through adaptive reuse and, in some cases, called for their demolition.

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.

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 was the first of its kind in the nation.

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 option


Related Links

News and other sources of information about Terminal Island’s rich history


Port of Los Angeles

Japanese American Community