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Cinderella--by--the--Sea : If an imaginative planner has his way, Wilmington in the 21st Century would no longer be a grimy poor relation to San Pedro, but a glamorous waterfront community.

December 13, 1987|SHERYL STOLBERG | Times Staff Writer

Let your imagination run: Wilmington in the 21st Century.

Avalon Boulevard is no longer a deteriorating hodgepodge of oil wells, houses and storefronts. It is now a bustling commercial corridor, with an upscale shopping center and office buildings with rooftop restaurants, affording diners a splendid view of the nearby Port of Los Angeles.

The foot of the harbor's Slip No. 5 is no longer home to oil storage tanks and grimy industrial tenants of the port. There is a marketplace there now, dotted with colorful fruit and flower stands and trendy harbor-side cafes. On Sundays, people stroll along the waterfront promenade, or visit the new maritime museum that celebrates Wilmington's history as the "heart of the harbor."

Ships of the World Exhibit

As for the oil fields that once sat between the channels that feed into the harbor's East Basin, most are long gone. Tourists now travel there to visit the new Sea Technology Applications Center (they call it "Sea Tech" for short), and the Ships of the World exhibit, just like the one they had in the Vancouver World Exposition back in 1986.

And remember those trucks that used to rumble through the residential neighborhoods, spewing dust and creating traffic jams? They now circle the harbor on a belt of new freeways, highways and access roads.

This is consultant Calvin Hamilton's vision of Wilmington, as outlined in his recently released study.

It is a study intended to convert Wilmington from a dusty, industrial workhorse of the harbor to an economic and recreational showpiece. Its main purpose is to give residents access to the waterfront and to reduce--in Hamilton's words--"the psychological distance" between the community and the port. Its recommendations are grounded in the simple belief that people like to be near the water.

But can it work?

"I think it's absolutely feasible," declared Hamilton, whose view is by far the most optimistic of the residents and community leaders interviewed. "There's no question it would involve cost, but I think you have to look long range at this kind of thing and consider how the whole of Wilmington can be regenerated."

"I think some of his recommendations are achievable and I think some are not," said Ann D'Amato, chief harbor area deputy to Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores.

"It sounds good and dandy," said Bill Schwab, a Wilmington resident and activist. "I just don't think it's possible."

"There's no reason why Wilmington couldn't be a resort area," countered Simie Seaman, president of the Banning Park Neighborhood Assn. "I think this man has a vision and that's what Wilmington has needed for a long time."

Hamilton's study was initiated by Flores, who was instrumental in obtaining a $35,000 grant from the California Coastal Commission to pay for the report.

Flores was also instrumental in choosing Hamilton, the retired director of the Los Angeles Planning Department. "He's been called the pie-in-the-sky type of planner," D'Amato said, "and I don't think that's bad." Flores herself deemed the study "imaginative, which is kind of what we expected."

Residents thought so as well. "Has anyone ever accused you of being on drugs?" Wilmington businessman Ernesto Nevarez asked Hamilton after he presented the study to the Wilmington Coordinating Council last week. "You have quite an imagination."

Cost $1 Billion

If all the recommendations in the study were adopted, Hamilton estimates that implementing them would take 20 years and cost $1 billion.

But aside from the staggering price tag--70% to 80% of which Hamilton said could be picked up by the private sector--there are other constraints and stumbling blocks, which Hamilton acknowledges in his report.

The recommendations would require concessions from public and private entities. The study calls for rerouting railroads, rebuilding local roads and extending freeways. It also calls for the Harbor Department, the city Department of Water and Power, and the Union Pacific Resources Corp., among others, to make changes in their plans and to give up some of their land for public use.

For instance, Hamilton considers the recommendation for the waterfront marketplace at Slip No. 5 among the most important in the study. That spot, according to the study, was pinpointed by residents as their best--and perhaps only--opportunity for access to the waterfront. Hamilton's recommendations for Slip No. 5, which include building a maritime museum (even though the Los Angeles Maritime Museum is in nearby San Pedro) would achieve the study's primary goal of giving Wilmington residents access to the harbor.

Conflict With Industrial Uses

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