San Pedro, one of the 88 municipalities/towns that make up Los Angeles, is an international port which has around 90,000 people living in it, with a significant number of Croatians among them. At the beginning of the century, people would arrive in California in one of two ways. The first way to sail all the around South America, as the Panama Canal hadn’t been opened yet. The other was by land from the eastern coast, where the journey would start from after sailing into New York. A ticket for a trip from Split to New York was 180 crowns in 1907. This was enough to purchase 3.7 hectoliters of wine, and one could only raise this amount of money by going into debt. California initially drew in gold miners, but later turned out to be well suited to growing fruit and fishing, which was familiar territory for Dalmatians. This is why, in 1883, Stjepan Mitrović brought seedling figs from Dalmatia over to California, and was the first to start growing them on the western American coast.
Many people who helped advance the fishing industry came to California from the Dalmatian coast, and the founder of the Star Kist fishing enterprise in San Pedro was Martin Bogdanović. His cannery employed many Dalmatians. Bogdanović was born in Komiža, in 1882, and came to San Pedro in 1908. He started out as a fisherman, and went on to purchase his own ship, and was among the first to acquire a freezer for it. His next step was to open a fish market, after which he became a partner of The French Sardine Company in 1917, and was elected president of its board of directors. During the time of the recession, all four of his partners left the company, so he carried on by himself. Even through these hard times, Martin Bogdanović held strong to his principles: an honest relationship towards his suppliers, workers, and buyers. After some time, his son Joseph joined the business, and its name was changed to Star-Kist, which became synonymous with canned fish all over America. Joseph Bogdanović took over Star-Kist and continued its operations after his father’s early death in 1944. This was no mean feat, as Martin Bogdanović was considered to have something truly special on his side; the love and respect of his coworkers and friends.
Martin Bogdanović (1882 – 1944)
A center for the development of youth sports was built in the highest part of San Pedro, which Bogdanović sponsored with $135,000. Playgrounds were made for the smallest children, while soccer, volleyball, and baseball fields, as well as a basketball court, were made for older kids. In honor of both father and son, the center was named the Bogdanovich Recreation Center, and a bust of Martin Bogdanović was placed in front of the basketball court building.
Mateo Carresi, Brajević on his mother’s side, has been going to his older brothers’, Ante and Dominic, games since he was little.
Martin Bogdanović’s bust.
The fishing town of San Pedro deserves to have a monument to its fishermen. It was for this reason that, in 1999, a bronze monument and memorial wall with the entire history of fishing in San Pedro, from 1883 until 1999, known as the Fisherman’s Memorial, was erected in front of the entrance of the harbor. It took seven years for the monument to make the transition from concept to object. Despite the fact that Dalmatians were hardly the only ones to fish across the Pacific, Croatian family names outnumber those of any other European nation.
One section of the memorial wall is dedicated to Martin Bogdanović and his contributions to the development of industry in the city.
No one was overlooked in this historical tale, not even the factory workers.
The copper plates list the names of everyone who was involved in the process, from the chairman of the board, to the floor workers, as well as all of the ships and fisherman, among whom those from Komiža were the most numerous.
The entire fishing fleet of San Pedro, a total of 36 ships, is also listed. The sad list of six ships that never returned from their fishing routes, which included three Croatian vessels, is also present. The names of its sponsors and donators are listed at the end.
Among those who had most contributed to the monument are a pair of Croatians and American actor Donald Loker, who married Catherine, Joseph Bogdanović’s sister.
It used to be that the only way to get to Terminal Island from nearby San Pedro was by sea. This is in the industrial section of the Los Angeles port, and over time, the need arose for better and faster communication. In the late thirties of the 20th century, there were numerous suggestions for the construction of a tunnel. Councilmember Vincent Thomas was part of the planning process. It was ultimately decided that a bridge was the most suitable solution, and Thomas put his signature to this in 1958.
The ferry that connected San Pedro and Terminal Island prior to the construction of the bridge.
Despite the fact that the local authorities had accepted the project, and that the Port Authority of Los Angeles gave up its claim on the land worth around 2.5 million dollars, things did not go smoothly. A study had to be made on the development of industry, the town, and traffic in between San Pedro and Long Beach, which the bridge was supposed to connect through Terminal Island. The Senate gave the go-ahead, and work began symbolically in 1960, when Governor Edmund Brown and Councilman Vincent Thomas put the first shovels to the ground. Afterward, the best project was selected, and, thanks to a colossal effort by Thomas, construction began the following year.
The bridge was opened at midnight on the 15th of December, 1963. The ceremony began with the reception of the Yugoslav-American Club in San Pedro, which is the Dalmatian-American Club today. The last ferry for Terminal Island departed that same evening. Shortly before midnight, everyone left for the bridge, and the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, Ken Jordan, handed Vincent Thomas a large pair of wooden scissors to symbolically cut the ribbon. Everyone in attendance was taken across the bridge in a bus, with hundreds of citizens behind them in their cars.
Vincent Thomas, first on the right, opening the bridge to traffic.
In order for the bridge to cover its costs as soon as possible, the initial fare was 25 cents both ways, which was then raised to 50 cents for one way. Once the cost of the bridge had been covered, the fare was canceled. The significance of the bridge is clear from the fact that, in 1968, an average of 11,500 vehicles would cross it every day. This was why the Governor of California at the time, Ronald Regan, signed off on a highway that would connect the bridge and the Harbor Freeway. The people of San Pedro believed that the Harbor Freeway should have been called San Pedro Freeway, as San Pedro was the home of Councilman Vincent Thomas, who was the driving force behind the bridge’s construction.
Ronald Reagan, the governor of California, signing the papers for the construction of the final stretch of the bridge, with Vincent Thomas on his left.
The bridge was the most important part of the modernization of the L A’s harbor, and it needed a name. It was named the Vincent Thomas Bridge, after the councilman that fought the hardest for it.
Vincent Thomas was the son of Croatian immigrants. His father, Vicko Tomaš, was born in Seget near Trogir, in 1873, and his mother Vinka, born in 1881, was from Brač. They immigrated to America, specifically to Biloxi, Mississippi, where they had their son Vincent in 1908, as the third of their eight children. The family then moved to California, where Vicko worked on a railroad, but passed away at a young age from the flu. His wife Vinka lived on for another seven years. Their children stayed in the care of relatives, and even in his high school days, Vincent worked hard to earn a few dollars. He was awarded a sports scholarship at Santa Clara University, where he got a degree in philosophy. After that, he started law school in Loyola, and got a job working for Bogdanović at The French Sardine Company. He joined the city council, since he believed that Los Angeles wasn't treating its port municipality of San Pedro fairly. He ultimately managed to get what they needed most. He passed away in 1980.
Vicko and Vinka Tomaš with their children. From left to right, they are John, Vincent, who is standing in front of his father, and their sisters Zorka and Jane. The picture on the right is of Vincent as an adult.
There are several streets in San Pedro with Croatian names. One of them is Ante Perkov Way. It is located near City Hall, at the crossing with 5th Street, where Perkov owned a restaurant for many years. His menu included sarmas, stuffed paprika, sauerkraut, and other Dalmatian specialties, with people waiting in line in order to get a table.
Ante Perkov came to America from Tribunj, and he first arrived in New York, where he ran away from a ship. He set out for California on foot, but he was stopped by police officers and imprisoned on Terminal Island. He married while in prison, in order to obtain the papers he needed to legally stay in America. After working as a chef aboard a ship, he opened his own restaurant. He was known for his habit of wearing a carnation as a reminder of his nana (grandmother), who would always place a fresh red carnation behind his ear when he was a child. Ante Perkov earned a lot of money with his business, and frequently donated to the poor. He was a member of the Lions Club and a great supporter of the Boys Club. His children inherited the restaurant after his death, and eventually ended up selling it. Janice Hahn, a member of the city council, opened Ante Perkov Way, in order to posthumously honor the city’s great benefactor. Ante Perkov even received his own star on the Walk of Fame.
The picture on the left was taken near the restaurant, and the picture on the right is of a plate in front of the Dalmatian society, which reads: To the immigrant from Croatia, and humanitarian, from the community of San Pedro.
The residential section of town is home to Dalmatian Drive.
A section of 9th street, between Grand Avenue and Gaffey Street in San Pedro, is called Croatian Place. At 631 9th Street is the Croatian Hall, currently under the direction of President Vedran Barbić.
San Pedro is home to the Sports Walk of Fame. It holds the names of famous athletes from San Pedro and the surrounding area. In his hometown of San Pedro, Gary Gabelich was awarded a star on the Walk.
The same sidewalk was adorned with a star for Bob Petrich, born in Long Beach, in 1941, whose parents were from Komiža. Petrich was a professional American football player, and he played for the San Diego Chargers and the Buffalo Bills.
7th Street in San Pedro is home to a beautiful building from 1928 which used to be a bank. The building was abandoned, and belonged to the Municipal Agency in charge of repurposing. The city council of Los Angeles bought the building for $450,000 in 1997, and repurposed it to hold musical, dance, film events, as well art exhibits and language courses. The building was then renovated and given over to the Croatian Cultural Center. On the 27th of May, 2001, the Croatian Cultural Center of Greater Los Angeles was officially opened, and the ceremonial ribbon was cut by city councilman Rudy Svorinich Junior.
An invitation to the opening of the Croatian Cultural Center.
Rudy Svorinich Junior, on the right, with Branka Bezić Filipović and Gojko Špralje, who Svorinich succeeded as the president of the Dalmatian-American Club of San Pedro.
The Croatian Cultural Center, or CCC for short, has become a place known for excellent cultural events. Aside from klapa (band) singing, Croatia’s cultural heritage is honored here through Croatian poetry, cinematography, theater plays, and various other creative forms. Under the leadership of acting president Maya Bristow, the Center has been active in connecting Croatians between the north and south of the Pacific, and has held numerous exhibitions for famous artists from South America. However, the president of the Center and her deputy, Frane Jerković, are proud to point out that on Croatian Independence Day in 2014, there was a performance by the String Quartet from the Los Angeles Philharmonic held at the Center, which was the first time that pieces by Croatian composers were performed in front of Croatian diplomats and the consular board.
The picture on the left is of the members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic with CCC president Maya Bristow. From left to right, they are: Camilla Avellano on first violin, Maya Bristow, Vijay Gupta on first violin, Meredith Snow on the viola, and Barry Gold on the cello. The picture on the right is of a number of the attendees at the Croatian Independence Day celebration in 2014. From left to right, they are: Katija Blažević, Ines Kordić, the general consul to the Republic of Croatia in Los Angeles, Josip Buljević, Monseigneur Srećko Diomartić, Frane Jerković, Emily Bristow, Nataša Meskal, Maya Bristow, and Emily Manestar.
Finally, we should point out that San Pedro was made a sister city to Komiža. The first charter was signed during the time of Yugoslavia. In the seventies of the 20th century, Americans from Komiža, led by the Bogdanović family, had a clinic built and furnished in Komiža, which has provided the best care across the islands for decades. The Bogdanovićs alone provided a sum of 200,000 deutschmarks, and Komiža, as a sign of gratitude, commissioned a bust of Martin Bogdanović. At the beginning of the nineties, the bust was destroyed in a haze of misguided patriotism, as Bogdanović, despite passing away in 1944, was considered Yugoslavian. The bust was restored in 1999, with an apology from the mayor of Komiža at the time, Vicko Mardešić. The fraternization of Komiža and San Pedro was renewed with a new charter, which was signed in Komiža, in 2006, by Mayor Tonka Ivčević and Anthony Misetich, the honorary mayor of San Pedro, as well as Janice Hahn, a councilwoman from Los Angeles.
Komiža, from the renewal of the fraternization charter with San Pedro: the Gusarica band, with Tonka Ivčević, the mayor of Komiža, in the middle, with Janice Hahn, councilwoman from Los Angeles, and Branka Bezić Filipović.
Los Angeles alone has 25 sister cities, one of which is Split. Its fraternization charter was signed on the 6th of December, 1994, by Split’s mayor, Nikola Grabić, and the mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan.
The City Hall in Los Angeles is the oldest skyscraper in the city. The picture on the left is from 1928 (from the personal collection of the author), and the picture on the right is of the building today.
At the signing of the charter were Mirko Karoglan, the president of the City Council of Split at the time, and Rudy Svorinich Junior, councilman from the City Council of Los Angeles, as well as Split’s journalists Joško Bonaći (TV Marjan), Vedrana Dedić (HR-Radio Split), Marina Protić (Slobodna Dalmacija), and Boris Gabela (TV Marjan). The people of Split were also given a firefighting truck on the occasion, as a gift from their new sister city.
The picture shows Split’s mayor, Nikola Grabić, and the president of Split’s City Council, Mirko Karoglan, in the middle, along with the honorary mayor of Hollywood, Johnny Grant, and his associates, as well as Split’s journalists Marin Protić, on the left, and Vedrana Dedić, on the right.
On the left is a news article and photo featuring Nikola Grabić, on the left, and Rudy Svorinich Junior, on the right, on a test drive of the gifted firefighting truck. The picture on the right is of the charter for the fraternization of Split and Los Angeles.
 The cannery was called 'kanarija' by our people.
 Bezić Filipović, Branka. 2005. Splićani vanka Splita. (Exhibition catalog). Croatian Heritage Foundation, Split branch. Pg. 15.
 San Pedro Bay Historical Society: The Vincent Thomas Bridge, San Pedro's Golden Gate San Pedro 1988 (all black and white photos related to the bridge and Vincent Thomas are courtesy of the San Pedro Bay Historical Society, and the remainder was taken by the author).