Photo above courtesy of Peps M. on Yelp. All others by Sander Roscoe Wolff.
It was lunchtime at Berth 55, and hardly any of the customers ordering food knew about the Port of Long Beach’s plans for change.
One by one, the clientele arrived at the restaurant to sit at the picnic tables overlooking the working port and eat fresh seafood.
On a recent afternoon, longshoremen, the workers from the oil refineries and several families lined up at the counter. Two security guards pulled at their beers and talked about preseason football. A woman stuck her hand in a tank. She pulled out two crabs by their legs, squirming for their lives and brought them to the counter to have the crustaceans deep-fried.
Adjacent to the 710 Freeway, Berth 55 operates in harmony with the sounds of industry—Mack trucks bumbling over roads; trains clacking over tracks; and the boom of cranes loading cargo boats. While the sounds from the machinery of work seem to have a permanent fixture in Long Beach, Berth 55 is in serious danger of losing its place in our city’s symphony.
For over 20 years, this family-owned restaurant on Pico Avenue has served fresh seafood to the blue-collar workers on their lunch breaks and operated as a background for business conversations and family memories.
But since 2008, Beth 55 has been forced to operate on a month-to-month lease. And in May of this year, the Port informed Berth 55 they would have to vacate the property in 180 days to make room for a new firehouse and fireboat.
The Port would not be renewing Berth 55’s lease.
The current firehouse is located under the Gerald Desmond Bridge, which will be demolished, and the Port’s mechanical engineers have determined Berth 55’s current location to be the best spot for the replacement firehouse and boat.
“We would like to stay down here. We think it’s an important part of the community, says Lawrence Maehara, owner of Berth 55. This is the last public access to this port.”
The closing of Berth 55 is just the latest in a steady decline of the fishing community in Long Beach over the last decade. With the weak economy drastically impacting the one-flourishing local fishing industry, stores like Fisherman’s Hardware—formerly at Anaheim Street and Temple Avenue—have been forced to shut their doors due to financial hardship.
But Berth 55 has survived all this, despite years of economic changes.
“We’re 100% willing to work with the Port,” Maehara said. “We want to get along with the port. We’re for the fire station—absolutely.”
But Maehara believes that there are better spots for a firehouse and a fireboat. “I feel there is another agenda,” Maehara said. “The Port has obviously changed since 9/11…They really want to secure this port. There’s billions of dollars coming out of this port. I understand why they may not want the public down here.”
A group of workers from the oil refinery were sitting down to lunch, claiming what a devastation it would be to close Berth 55. They saw the restaurant as a Long Beach landmark.
Greg Ruiz was one of those workers. Recently, he lost his house to foreclosure, and he felt that losing Beth 55 was just another continuation of losing his home.
“It’s the same [kind of loss],” Ruiz said. “This is more than a building. It’s a home away from home.”
In regards to the community who love Berth 55, Lee Peterson, media relations at the Port of Long Beach, said, “We appreciate what the community is saying, but public safety is the highest priority.”
And as for the claims being made about eliminating public access to the port, Peterson said, “The port doesn’t have an overall plan to eliminate public access to the port. Quite the contrary, we try to facilitate access where possible, while enhancing the safety and security operations at the port. For example, the new replacement to the Gerald Desmond Bride is going to include a 12 ft. wide pedestrian and bikeway where people will be able to ride and walk all the way to the top of the bridge.”
On August 30th, a group of community associations will be holding a town-hall style forum and port tour to talk directly with the people to explain the Port’s plans for the future. The hope is that if there is a large enough show of support for Berth 55 and Long Beach Sports Fishing, then the Port will change its plan to tear the structures down.
While leaving Berth 55, one of the workers from the oil refinery—who wished to stay anonymous—was buying a Berth 55 T-shirt. He said that, soon, it just might end up being a souvenir.
Berth 55 is located at 555 Pico Ave. (562) 432-8993. The “Help Save Berth 55” Community Forum and Harbor Cruise will take place at Berth 55 on August 30. Harbor cruise starts at 4:30PM. The forum begins at 6PM. For a flyer of the event, click here.
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