Friday, December 18, 2020

The Weird History of Ports O' Call Village

Today, I'm bringing you back. Back to a time when, in a relaxed milieu of quaint shingle structures embracing a body of water, sophisticated adult shoppers could mingle through boutiques like a tobacconist, fashionable resort wear, and candle shop, or perhaps take a relaxed cruise across a bay.

There was fresh seafood, a permanently moored fanciful ship, and the logo was a cartoon bird flying in a circle. The Walt Disney World Village.......... was a complete knockoff of Ports O' Call Village in San Pedro, California, one of the earliest and most influential retail developments in history.

What? Hold on here.... let's back this boat up and start from the beginning. What the heck is the Ports O' Call Village?

There are two players in this drama we must get to know: David C Tallichet Jr, and the Los Angeles Harbor Commission. The harbor commission had a strip of government land inside the harbor that they wanted to make some greenbacks on, and Tallichet had a shiny new restaurant in Long Beach called The Reef.

Tallichet in flush times

David Tallichet was a former WWII pilot who had worked as a manager of a Hilton hotel in Long Beach, back in those heady days when Hilton was regarded as the gold standard of hospitality and was just then starting to expand overseas.

Tallichet rounded up some investment partners, including George Millay - eventual creator of Sea World - and embarked on a series of restaurant ventures starting in Long Beach with The Reef in 1958. Tallichet's main idea was to build each restaurant to match and emphasize a scenic location and cross that with Disneyland-style theming - he built Polynesian restaurants overhanging the Pacific, aviation restaurants alongside airport runways, and sophisticated retreats in the hills ringing Los Angeles.

At the same time, the Los Angeles Harbor Commission was seeking new tenants to revitalize a strip of land alongside the harbor in the city of San Pedro, then home to several old fishing piers and little else. The terms were good and the location, alongside the water with real ships passing in and out, had potential unlike any other restaurant in the area. Tallichet's Ports O' Call Restaurant, housed in a Polynesian longhouse and surrounded by a forest of tropical foliage in pure Adventureland tradition, opened in Feburary 1961 and proved an immediate success. A lagoon at the entrance, ringed with jungle-thick, had a Chinese junk partially sunken in it. Rooms inside were themed to Hawaii (Waikiki), Tahiti, the Hong Kong Yacht Club and a Japanese "Tea Room" - a concept lifted wholesale from Steve Crane's Kon-Tiki Ports chain in Hiltons across the country.

It was such a success that Tallichet went back to the Harbor Commission and secured another parcel of land a little south of Ports O' Call where he built another concept - the Yankee Whaler Inn. Housed in a Colonial New England style white clapboard structure, servers were dressed as 18th century nautical sailors and the kitchen issued forth chowders, scampis, and the largest lobsters that could be obtained. Both restaurants, as well as Tallichet's other ventures The Reef in Long Beach, Castaway in Burbank, and the Pieces of Eight in Marina del Ray, were designed by Vernon Leckman.

The combination of San Pedro, then just starting to attempt to revitalize itself from decades of a rough waterfront reputation, and Tallichet's trendy themed restaurants, seemed impossible to beat. We're not sure if their next step was suggested by Tallichet or the commission, but it's when the project got truly creative. The first modern themed mall in America was announced. Tallichet pulled out all of the stops, including hiring Victor Gruen Associates for the master planning of the development.

"1.5 Million "Village" Approved", crows the headline of an item in the San Pedro Pilot of May 1962. The piece goes on...

"One of California's most important recreational developments since Disneyland is scheduled for construction this year in the Port of Los Angeles. David C. Tallichet, president of the Ports O' Call Restaurant Corporation announced today that the Harbor Commission has given its approval for the 1 1/2 million Ports O' Call Village immediately adjacent to the Ports o' Call Restaurant in San Pedro.

[...]

According to Tallichet's project manager, Edwin G. Gilfoy, the development will be remiscient of a 19th century fishing village, with cobblestone streets, gas lights and the aura of the sea.

"We have already purchased a 230 foot ferry and brought it down from Northern California for refurbishing", Gilfoy said. The old ferry will be moored in front of the Village and will house an Oriental and European import shop, a fantasy toy land, and a milk luncheon shop in the fashion of an old showboat."

Later in construction in 1963, Leckman provided details to the Los Angeles Times:

"Wood frame construction is being used through the development, with most exterior walls of heavy redwood and batten. Some finished redwood, shingle, plaster, tile, brick, and stone walls are also being utilized. Roofs are shingles and shakes, while streets and roads of the village will be of cobblestone to recapture the typical atmosphere of an 18th Century waterfront village.

"Nothing is being spared to recapture the authentic old world atmosphere," Leckman said, "Finishes are designed to weather quickly so as to enhance the weather-beaten appearance. Even the nails are ungalvanized so as to encourage rusting."

Oh, and about that ferry boat, the SS Sierra Nevada, which was built in 1912 and long serviced as a form of mass transit across San Fransisco Bay. Tallichet actually bought it all the way back in 1961, as we discover in the Oakland Tribune, where we find that he paid $19,750 for it during an eight-day auction, and furthermore that "The 49 year old ferryboat will be moored next to one of Tallichet's waterfront restaurants and rented to Sausalito merchant Luther W. Conover as a variety import store. Conover converted the old ferryboat Berkeley into the Trade Fair store two years ago in Sausalito."

Tallichet, on the Right, buying the Sierra Nevada.

Tallichet, whatever his other faults, began over-promising almost immediately. With his Shopping Village venture not even yet open and less than a year after the initial approval from the Harbor Commission, he announced yet more expansions.

Gangway aboard the "Sierra Nevada" along "Flint Lock Lane"
at Ports O' Call Shopping Village


"2.7 Million 'Port Village' Seen - Approval sought for 14-acre development", the front page of the News Pilot blares. The details spun below are dizzying and need to be recounted to make sense of the rest of our story:

"The commission, under Chairman Dr. George Wall, gave a village development organization representing Dave Tallichet and Norm Hagen a go-ahead to develop a long-pending Southland redevelopment project. The group approved the program in principle which would allow Hagen, who operates the existing sports fishing landing, and the Tallichet Group, to combine forces under a 50-year lease to develop the entire 27 acres, including the parking lot, as a unit under one operating body."


I've already indicated that Tallichet built the Yankee Whaler just south of the Ports O' Call Restaurant. The Ports O' Call Shopping Village opened just north of the Ports O' Call Restaurant. Immediately north of that was Norm's Sportfishing Pier. Demonstrating that Tallichet and Hagen had every intention, as of 1963, of working together to knit all of these businesses together into one huge shopping and recreation center, Tallichet built a third restaurant - Bay of Naples - just north of Norm's Pier. 

Just read these plans:

"The multi-million dollar project will include four international villages, one with a Chinese flavor patterned after the port of Hong Kong, and three others drawing upon world famous ports. [...] Further plans call for the redevelopment of Norm's Sportfishing Landing into a Fisherman's Village area, including the expansion of the present sportfishing facilities; a high caliber amusement zone; an international village; a number of a new restaurants; a motor-hotel with 75 units and 60 boat slips and a three-story office building totalling some 55,000 sq. feet."

The completed Village in 1963. The 1961 Ports O' Call Restaurant, surrounded
by foliage with drive-up roundabout, is on the far right.

It must be pointed out that the early 60s were boom years for this sort of insane development speculation. The optimistic 50s had still not quite subsided, land prices were falling, suburbs were rising, and there seemed no ceiling on what fanciful projects the public would embrace. C.V. Wood, the man erased from Disney history, had gone on to poach design talent from imploding Hollywood studios like MGM and succeeded in building an unlikely chain of Disneyland-style amusement enterprises, most famously Freedomland in New York City. Roy Hofheinz in Houston had rode an unlikely rocket to success through politics and television, eventually building the Astrodome and his own Texas Disneyland, Astroworld, tied together in a recreation empire he called the "Astrodomain". And, of course, there's real estate developer Angus G. Wynne, who did what C.V. Wood and David Tallichet could not by opening Six Flags Over Texas, Georgia, and Mid-America -- places that still exist today.

Still, Tallichet's plans are absurdly ambitious, and eventually would come back to haunt Ports O' Call Village down the line. But for the moment, June 28, 1963, was all upside for Tallichet as the project finally opened. 1963 newspaper advertisements promote Hudson's Bay Company (a home wares store), Ole Legende Cove (imported foods), The Californian Men's Casual Wear, Casa d'Italia, Anthony Kane Jewelers, Wing's Chinese Art, The Mermaid's Dowry (sea shell gifts), Hickory Farms (yes, they once had stores), Murata Pearls from Japan, Thorsen's Scandanavia Shop on the Sierra Nevada, The Wheelhouse cafe, the Petal Pusher Flower Shop, Wynne's Boutique, Village Smoke Shop, a pet shop, and the Candy Cove. Rounding everything off, Tallichet had been operating an excursion boat for harbor cruises and cocktail parties, variously known either as the MV Princess or the SS Princess, of which I could find very little useful information.

The News Pilot may have slipped Dave a Mickey, however, when they casually revealed that the entire project cost $10 Million, not the $1.5 Million announced (unless, of course, that was a typo).

Regardless, the Ports O' Call Village was, for 1963, entirely unique. Malls had not yet flourished across the country - most of the major malls in Los Angeles would not appear until the 1970s - and the Village instantly made the Port of Los Angeles into a destination on any tourist itinerary. A September 1963 advertisement boasts:

"No getting around it, the new Ports of Call Village is really a very astonishing place. We beat our drum and shout it from the mountain tops, yet everyone who visits the Village for the first time says the same thing: "Why, I didn't know it was anything like this..!" We hide behind light posts all day just to listen to them. We know its an astonishing place... it was meant to be that way. But, people don't believe it until they see it."

In August 1963, announcing the arrival at the village of a "folk music hootenanny" (can't make this stuff up...), the Village estimated that around 85,000 people visited during the past weekend.

It took the Port Commission and Tallichet some time to make their next move. Writing almost fifteen years later in 1977, News Pilot author Mike Daugherty speaks of plans to build a maritime museum at the port, born of technological advances in the shipping industry which was wiping out the old fashioned traditions of the old port city. San Pedro's Beacon Street district, once a notorious strip of dives and whore houses catering to sailors on shore leave, was shortly to fall victim to urban renewal. Harbor Commissioners, led by Dr. George Wall, hired Ray Wallace to design an appropriate museum stylized after the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. 

"His plans included replicas of an old San Pedro church, the Exchange Hotel, a railroad museum, and the port's first pilot and marine exchange station. He says the village area would have included some retail shops, but the [historic] sailing ship would have been the main attraction."

To this end Tallichet apparently invested $8000 and agreed to allow the Museum group build in open land south of his Yankee Whaler Inn, pending that an appropriate sailing ship could be procured. Al Atchinson, who was on the Maritime Museum Association, accuses Tallichet of retracting his support for the project and moving ahead with an expansion of the shopping village on his own; Tallichet cites "political problems" at the port at the time. Daugherty notes, "One harbor commissioner was found dead in the harbor waters and four others later were indicted on bribery charges connected with construction of the Pacific Trade Center."

....Excuse me??

It's True! In 1964, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty appointed Pietro Di Carlo, prominent area businessman to the Harbor Commission. Under Yorty and Di Carlo, Los Angeles was aggressively moving forward with a World Trade Center project, intended to be split between Los Angeles Airport and Terminal Island and viewed as key to the continued economic success of the port. The project was announced, ground was broken, but no trade center appeared. Ominously, rumbles of conflicts of interest arose in the pages of the Los Angeles Times.

And then, on November 7, 1967, Di Carlo was found floating face down in a slip at the old San Pedro Ferry building. Mayor Yorty screamed foul. A few weeks later, a Grand Jury was convened to investigate charges of embezzlement, and handed down their indictments on December 29, while Mayor Yorty was on vacation in Acapulco. Essentially, board member George Walton had voted to approve the plans presented by board member Kevin Smith who owned the construction company which had been awarded the contract the build the Trade Center - all actors appointed by Yorty, of course. The trouble is that Smith had recently taken out quite a large number of shares in Cabrillo Savings and Loan, owned by... Pietro Di Carlo, as well as possible monetary kickbacks and trading of office furniture.... the Trade Center never got off the ground. Ironically, the building where the body was found is today the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

But Tallichet had been granted approval for his ambitious plans for the entire strip of land, with its hotel and amusement park, so he went ahead and started building while the Harbor Commission was dragging their feet on plans for museums and trade centers. The Shopping Village was already directly connected to the Ports O' Call Restaurant, and his next venture would connect the Ports O' Call to the Yankee Whaler Inn, allowing free access to the entire strip of Tallichet holdings, and also Norm's Pier.

A bridge was built across the lagoon in front of the Ports O' Call, leading visitors into the most thematically ambitious section of the Shopping Village, the Whaler's Wharf. The Valley Views from Van Nuys was suitably impressed:

"To say the new buildings are authentic reproductions is certainly true and they are as cute and quaint as one could imagine. They've even gone so far as to build some of them off plumb, with caving roof lines, crooked doors, and walls that appear to careen off into the water. Streets are narrow and winding, paved with brick and including the center drain for runoff water..."


Looking at photos and postcards of the Whaler's Wharf, it's hard not to be impressed. It may be a mall, but in intimacy and execution its darn close to the real deal, and far more atmospheric than Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom. Decades later, in his essential Los Angeles: The City Observed, architect Charles Moore waxed poetic about Ports O Call and the Wharf in particular:

"The first phase, in the middle, is a particularly relaxed mixture of California Ranch board-and-batten and shakes, a somewhat Spanish stucco, and a little Beverley Hills ornamented French, just like everything else in Los Angeles - especially in the early 60s.

[..]

...An old Nantucket whaling port theme was kept in mind and carried out with considerable verve. The shops are mostly two stories, but they seem small and cute, arranged informally along winding brick streets or wooden wharves or intimate plazas. The buildings come in a number of persuasions, covered in clapboard or shingles or sometimes brick, but they all seem to belong here, united by certain details, like small-paned windows in white frames and by the luxuriant foliage and the care that went into them. Three full-size, square-rigged sailing ships, which go out on harbor and dinner cruises, are berthed at one of the wharves; their intricately rigged masts float above the little buildings at least as realistically as the Matterhorn at Disneyland does above Main Street."

At least one of those ships was named the Buccaneer Queen and was built - at first as a hobby - by Gary Nevarez, a retired police officer from Venice. The News Pilot of September 1971 informs us that its sails were used in the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty, presumably the ill-fated 1962 version with Marlon Brando. It was operating at the Ports O' Call possibly as early as 1965, and today seems to sail from Cabo San Lucas in Baja, Mexico.

1967's Whaler Wharf represented not just a high point for themed shopping, but it's the high point for the entire Ports O Call project. Perhaps Di Carlo turning up dead in a slip just north of Ports O' Call really was a sign of things to come, but very soon the bloom would be off the rose and times, as always, were changing fast.

--

In May 1970, the Harbor Commission approved plans for a 328-foot sky tower attraction to be built in the parking lot across from the main entrance to the Shopping Village at a cost of $425,000. Modeled on the Sky Towers at Sea World and Marineland, admission was to be set at 60 cents per adult and 30 cents per child and said to be ready for January 1971.

January came and went, as the Sky Tower went up in pieces, until March 1971, when high winds in the area caused the tower, around two-thirds complete, to crack. Two sections at the top of the tower were removed and then work stopped as engineers and management studied the issue. Two years passed, until Janurary 1973, when work resumed. Ports O' Call promised the structure would be ready by April. That didn't happen either.

The Skytower finally opened on Saturday, May 25, 1974, three and a half years behind schedule. On its second day of operation, 25 people were trapped in the passenger capsule and had to be evacuated via fire ladder. Two days later, the same incident repeated itself, although the tower was able to resume operation after an hour and the rescue team was not called.

In September 1977, the Sierra Nevada ferry sprang a leak. The four shops and two restaurants aboard were closed, and the manager of the shopping complex told the News Pilot that the repairs would cost more than the boat was worth and it would be scrapped. Yet in September 1978, the Sierra Nevada still floated... in Long Beach Harbor, apparently derelict after being blown onto Terminal Island during a storm. This happened because the owner of the vessel, a salvage operator named Al Kidman, was currently in federal prison on Terminal Island (!) after damaging the Cabrillo Beach Fishing Pier with a half-sunken boat. And so, from San Fransisco to Los Angeles and finally Long Beach, the Sierra Nevada passes out of history.

Incidentally, the Sierra Nevada's sister establishment docked in Sausalito also sprung a leak in 1970, although the fate of the 1898 Berkeley was a happier one - she was purchased by the Maritime Museum of San Diego where she exists today. There were brief rumblings of the SS Catalina coming to Ports O' Call Village to replace the ferry, but this never happened. At some point following the removal of the ferry, the walkway to the former location of the ferry and the buildings bordering the gangplank were pulled down. Since the Shopping Village was literally built around the ferry, this meant that the carefully planned effect of meandering through cobblestone streets was permanently compromised, much as if the buildings housing Cafe Orleans and French Market at Disneyland were pulled down but the rest of the area left intact. Ports O' Call was now more of a C-shaped grid of buildings facing open harbor space.

It appears as if the Skytower ceased regular operations in 1979, meaning it got five paltry years of operation. By 1980, Ports O' Call was offering free rides in the Sky Tower with a $5 purchase in any shop, presumably only running the attraction on days when the offer was valid. The Sky Tower attraction closed quietly in either 1983 or 1984 - as a representative told the Los Angeles Times, it simply never paid.

Things were generally not rosy at Ports O' Call by the 1980s. In 1984, merchants in the village banded together to plead against a rent increase. The News Pilot reported that "promised work on walkways, landscaping, lighting, roofs, signs and building exteriors and an inoperable skytower are all months overdue. In the case of the walkways, the situation is so bad that that some village visitors have suffered injuries and filed lawsuits. Yet rather than replace those walkways, the old ones have been patched and re-patched, work that as repair can be billed to tenants. [..] Tallichet would have to pay if new walks were installed."

The Harbor Commission agreed, opining that Tallichet had never fully fulfilled the terms of their 50 year agreement - no Mexican or Danish Villages, no motor hotel - and was negligent in maintaining his properties. This bad publicity did cause a minor spending spree at Ports O Call. Repairs began, and The Ports O' Call restaurant closed in September for what was reported to be a $1 million renovation, although employees complained they were not informed of the closure until a week before. The new look added a second level with banquet facilities, although the Polynesian theme was done away with almost entirely. Described as "Nautical Victorian", photos of the place which survive online resemble more an 80s retirement home recreation room with bits of tropical decor here and there - a sad end for a restaurant which once had a sunken ship out front.

In 1986, the Los Angeles Times reported that discontent amongst the Merchants had not abated. Tallichet's firm had vacillated over what to do with the unprofitable Sky Tower for years, and as of 1986 was considering selling it to Bob-Lo Island in Michigan. "The Sky Tower is a landmark and we would prefer that it stay", one was quoted as saying, "The majority of the merchants want the the Sky Tower left up and operational." The Los Angeles Time article enumerates massive complaints, including delayed lease negotiations, rotting wooden walkways, termites, and painting of surfaces that was only done at eye level.

The Sky Tower was demolished and not relocated. By 1986, there were newer, better malls in places like Santa Monica, Glendale, Thousand Oaks, and Culver City. Moreover, the Ports O Call concept had been copied in a more modern, whimsical style at Shoreline Village in Long Beach. Why drive all the way out to the port? The decline had begun.

--


American Woman RV on YouTube
By the time I saw Ports O' Call in 2012, the decades of neglect had not been kind. The few operating shops seemed to specialize in cheap tat like $5 t shirts and wind chimes. The Yankee Whaler Inn and most of the Whaler's Wharf had been pulled down years ago, leaving a few inexplicable and closed up New England style shops sitting out all alone by the water. As hilariously and accurately described by author Eric Brightwell, its specialty seemed to be "family fare with palpable menace".

But the story of the Ports O' Call is also the story of all failed shopping malls, even those without historic verisimilitude, pirate ships built by retired policemen, leaky ferries and broken sky rides. What once was viewed as a source of civic pride and a community center slowly gave way to decay and endless cycles of deferred re-investment until it was too late.

Ironically, the one part of the complex spared this fate was Norm's Landing. As Tallichet and the Harbor Commission dragged their feet on the endless Sky Tower debacle, Norm's was saved from imminent removal long enough to weather the storm. In the 70s, Norm's had begun operating a seafood restaurant, and in 1978 the Harbor Commission approved the construction of a second seafood restaurant nearby. This was the legendary San Pedro Fish Market, and by 1982 it had expanded and swallowed whole the adjoining restaurants, as well as Norm's Landing itself.

Today, the San Pedro Fish Market still operates, having outlasted every single business around it. It's a cheap, boisterous, loud place. You join the endless hordes filing past the gigantic seafood case, standing on tile that looks exactly like it was installed in 1982. Your pick out your seafood, it is weighed, and you carry it over to the kitchen, where they cook it on huge, flat top griddles, from which emerges ludicrous, heaping piles of seafood on plastic trays. You buy a cheap Mexican beer and carry your seven or eight pounds of seafood outside to an endless seating area alongside the harbor. It's kind of skeevy, and it's awesome.


In other words, even if Norm's Landing itself is a distant memory, the whole Norm's Landing ethos of cheap food and entertainment has far and long outlasted the rest of the Los Angeles Harbor Commission's over-reaching ambitions to bring high class culture circa 1962 to a place which once was home to screamingly drunk sailors staggering their way towards Beacon Street. No money may have been spared to bring tourists and swells down to the waterfront, but in the end it was the cheap thrills of working class pier that outlasted them all, as it has in all places and all times. You could eat your weight in fish then stagger south to a weirdly derelict collection of shops and wonder what any of this was doing here, as I did. That's why this essay exists.

David C. Tallichet died in 2007. Very little of his restaurant empire remains, and it's uncertain how much more of it will end up surviving Covid-19. Tallichet opened more shopping villages, including a failed one in Tampa and a little-loved "Londontowne" venture alongside the Queen Mary in Long Beach. If it ever reopens, Proud Bird at LAX is a place where you can get a pretty decent burger and watch the planes land. The former WWII airman ended up amassing a massive collection of vintage fighter planes and will be remembered perhaps by that specialist community better than for his development career. It was his personal B-17 bomber that appeared in the 1990 film Memphis Belle, and he flew it across the country to the shoot himself.

The last standing part of Whaler's Wharf in 2018 / Michael Nyiri on Flickr

In 2016, Harbor Officials announced that the entire strip of property that once was Tallichet's empire would be re-developed. They evicted all of the of the shop owners, largely operated by minority business owners, causing a furore amongst locals. In 2017, the remaining operating restaurants closed - Acapulco, the Crusty Crab, and a few others. The last one standing was the historic Ports O' Call, no longer part of the Specialty Restaurants Group and gone slightly to seed - the owners simply ignored the eviction notice, kept booking parties, and claimed they were able to stay open. An injunction was filed, a Judge upheld the rights of the Harbor Commission, and the 1961 landmark was torn down. The upcoming $150 Million dollar replacement, The San Pedro Public Market, looks exactly like the generic bullshit you'd expect to be built in 2020.

Ports O' Call Village comes down / Daily Breeze

----

Except!

When it came time for Walt Disney Productions to plan their downtown of shops and restaurants for their proposed Lake Buena Vista timeshare community, they quite naturally looked to the most prominent local example to pattern their own shopping village on.

Remember that in 1973, the main early Southern California malls such as the Glendale Galleria were still several years away. It’s not that indoor malls were unheard of - the downtown of Walt’s Epcot city was patterned after those - but they mostly had begun being built in the 1950s before the industry briefly shifted to the model typified by the Ports O' Call.

It was a short lived trend, and the gigantic climate controlled box would return to favor as a hangout for youths, destroying the memory of the quaint shopping villages of the 1960s. But in the early 70s, a landscaped network of shops was considered the more modern and adult option, and one of the best examples in the country was just down on the harbor.

Disney took it all - the weathered wood, the waterside location, the flowers and statues, the boat rentals, the quaint carved signs, the seafood restaurant on the water, even the candle shop. When it came time to expand they added a big white boat, although theirs was a paddlewheel, not a ferry, and they built it as an actual structure sitting on a foundation in the water which is why it's still there today. Many early promotional descriptions refer to the Walt Disney World Village as "New England Style", which may be crossed wires - parts of Ports O' Call definitely were New England, but the Buena Vista Village was not.

And it's not like Disney was alone, as the Ports O' Call begat imitators local and national - just in Southern California there was San Diego's Seaport Village, Long Beach's Shoreline Village, and Huntington Beach's Old World Village. And then again of course the Walt Disney World Village would soon expand and be copied all around the world. And although the exact model of Disney shopping complex that would proliferate was based more on the Paris Disney Village from 1992, without Disney's pioneering effort to expand their merchandising power in 1975 I doubt that any of those facilities would exist.


In 2020, Disney was able to resume operations at their amusement facilities in Shanghai, Orlando, Anaheim, and Paris only after rolling out operations of their shopping areas, demonstrating they key monetary and operational role these little areas have come to have for the company.

So in a way, Ports O' Call does live on, through Disney, the entity that inspired the whole project to begin with. Ports O' Call, from whence was launched a thousand shopping malls, still carries on in our culture, unloved and forgotten -- in its own way one of the most influential retail developments in history. A quite astonishing place, now a pile of rubble alongside the port which inspired it.

--

Passport to Dreams Old & New has yet more rigorously researched articles on stuff you've never heard of - begin at our portal for the Disney version of Port O' Calls, Lake Buena Vista, then move on to our Walt Disney World History Hub!

Or check out the author's brand new book Boundless Realm: Deep Explorations Inside Disney's Haunted Mansion.

4 comments:

FoxxFur said...

A few notes for those who want more information;

For purposes of clarity I slightly shuffled the order of the opening of the Yankee Whaler Inn which was announced well before the Shopping Village but which opened a little after it.

The Bay of Naples Restaurant lasted only a few short years before it was converted into The Rum Runner, a Speakeasy / Al Capone themed restaurant which apparently was boisterous enough that it caused problems for the operators. The Rum Runner was closed by 1980.

Some useful links for future researchers:
https://ericbrightwell.com/2018/01/12/california-fools-gold-exploring-san-pedro/
https://www.lamag.com/askchris/a-look-back-at-san-pedro-and-ports-o-call-village-before-its-replaced-by-a-new-public-market/
https://web.archive.org/web/20101025144955/http://airportjournals.com/Display.cfm?varID=0801009

David Flood said...

Great article! Thanks!

Milan L. Brandon II said...

Wonderful piece!

The San Diego imitator, Seaport Village, is sadly destined to suffer the same fate as Ports-O-Call: replacement by a gaudy, generic heap of 2020 bullshit that, apparently, is supposed to become San Diego's cultural center.

https://sandiegodowntownnews.com/seaport-village-revitalization-continues/

Never got to experience Ports-O-Call, but at least the tail end of the millennial generation could say they saw its poorer cousin.

Melissa said...

Fascinating! What a career!