As bathhouses go, the one at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro never was very popular.
But don't blame the bathhouse. Built in 1929--the last one to go up in Southern California--it was just a victim of changing times.
"They began to manufacture cars," recalled John Olguin, who later established a museum in the bathhouse, "and people no longer went to the beach and put down a dime for a bathing suit and towel. . . .
"In the olden days . . . the beaches were occupied by the people from inland and they all dressed up in their Sunday best and when they got to the seashore, there was always a bathhouse. . . . (At day's end) they'd put their clothes back on and have a fish dinner and take the Red Car back to Los Angeles."
When the bathhouse flopped, Olguin and the other lifeguards gradually converted it into the Cabrillo Marine Museum. But the museum moved out in 1981. And the historic bathhouse was left vacant--save for the shower rooms, the office of the local Polar Bear club and a concession that has since closed--and again without purpose.
Now, city officials hope to bring it back to life.
Gauge Community Opinion
The Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, which manages the building, has scheduled a public hearing Dec. 17 to gauge community opinion about what to do with the bathhouse.
Although there is no community consensus about what to put on the inside, one thing is clear: People in San Pedro would like to preserve the outside of the bathhouse, whose Mediterranean-style pale stucco walls and red tile roof have been a blueprint for much newer buildings at the nearby Cabrillo Marina.
"Mainly we're concerned with preservation of the principal style and outlines of the building as much as possible," said Flora Baker, vice president of the San Pedro Bay Historical Society.
"I think it's an architecturally neat building," said James Hawkins, president of a San Pedro advisory committee to Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores. "It reminds me of the good old days in San Pedro."
Parks officials hope to find someone to renovate the building and convert it to a new use. They say the city does not have enough money to do the necessary work, which they estimate will cost at least $1 million. Their only stipulation is that the Polar Bear swimming club be permitted to keep its office there.
Pizza Conversion Nixed
The officials, however, are cautious about pushing ahead with just any proposal. San Pedro residents, they say, have not forgotten a failed attempt in 1983 by a group of businessmen (Hawkins was among them) to convert the bathhouse into a Chuck E. Cheese children's pizza parlor. Although parks officials favored the idea because it would have brought $250,000 a year into the city treasury, the plan was dropped after it met with community opposition.
"The people were traumatized by this," said Keith Fitzgerald, administrative assistant at the Recreation and Parks Department. "They remember it every place we go."
In an attempt to bring community leaders into the decision-making, parks officials decided to hold the public hearing and have sought the opinion of three San Pedro groups--the historical society, the Flores advisory committee and the San Pedro and Peninsula Homeowners Coalition. None, Fitzgerald said, has taken a stand on what to do with the bathhouse.
Fitzgerald said the department will issue a public request for proposals in February, roughly two months after the hearing. Two informal proposals have already been submitted, but city officials cannot consider them until the formal process begins.
One plan, submitted in May, 1986, by the Southern California Water Research Project Authority, calls for converting the bathhouse into a marine science laboratory. The authority is a nonprofit public agency, based in Long Beach, that studies the coastal environment.
Authority Director Jack Anderson says its current quarters in a warehouse on Pacific Coast Highway are too cramped and far away from the ocean. He likes the location of the bathhouse because the authority could easily draw seawater for its tests. Now, he said, the authority trucks in water from Redondo Beach.
The other proposal, put forth by the San Pedro Bay Co., which renovated the historic Arcade in downtown San Pedro, is to convert the bathhouse into a restaurant with fast-food and sit-down service, as well as some retail space with shops for wind surfers, divers and cyclists.
Gary Larson, one of two partners proposing the restaurant, said he thinks it would enable San Pedro residents once again to enjoy the bathhouse, which in the 1950s was also used as a recreation hall, with dances and horseshoes and "slim and trim" classes.
Leaning Toward Restaurant
Of the two, Fitzgerald and his supervisor, Julie Boxx, seem more inclined toward the restaurant plan because it would keep the building open to the community, and because its sponsors would have an easier time getting financing.