P.O. Box 5202, San Pedro, California 90733 – Telephone (310) 519-0756
For Immediate Release
Contact: Stephanie Mardesich (310) 519-0756 or firstname.lastname@example.org
100 Years Ago Joseph M. Mardesich Pioneer Of Tuna Canning Industry Arrives San Pedro & Fish Harbor At Terminal Island
Victory Arch At San Pedro High School Celebrates 80 Years Innovator & Industrialist Commissioned Unique Monument To Inspire Students Extols “Wisdom, Integrity, Self-Respect”
San Pedro, CA., May 2018 – This year marks a double anniversary of historic significance for the harbor town: It is 100 years since Joseph M. Mardesich, a pioneer of the California tuna canning industry, co-founder of French Sardine Company (incorporated in November 1917 in San Francisco) and partners established the fish cannery in February 1918 at the wharf in Fish Harbor, Terminal Island across the Main Channel of Los Angeles harbor in San Pedro (SP); and the dedication of the Victory Arch (VA)monument at San Pedro High School (SPHS) in 1938.
In 1923 Mardesich sold his interest to the partners (in 1953 French Sardine was renamed Starkist), and purchased an adjacent canning plant to establish his own banner Franco Italian Packing Company, a premier mostly “private label” packer serving, specializing in tuna and sardines, clients such as S&W Fine Foods, A&P and Safeway markets and marketing its own signature brand “Sea Boy” among others. Just over two decades later he purchased the granite archways with huge sculpted eagles of a Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles destined for demolition with a grand vision in mind to have a monument erected at the recently built SPHS campus designated the “Victory Arch” (VA). June 12 marks the 80th anniversary of the VA that stands majestically on the north end of the of the athletic field that was moved from its original location near the gymnasiums when the field was reconfigured about 20 years ago.
Mardesich and his cannery are featured significantly in the Los Angeles Maritime Museum (LAMM) permanent exhibit “Caught, Canned and Eaten: The History of San Pedro’s Tuna & Canning Industry including his effigy bronze bust commissioned in 1959 and dedicated at LAMM in 2009. The exhibit preserves and commemorates the venerated industry that in its heyday when Terminal Island was thriving with as many as 23 canneries provided upwards from 5,000 jobs locally and fed the nation and the world with tuna being a primary food source.
Born in 1889 he emigrated to America in 1903, from Komiza, a town on the island of Vis in the Adriatic Sea off the Dalmatian coast of Croatia (former Yugoslavia), to live with relatives in agrarian Cupertino, California. He was 14 years old with an eighth grade education. Working by day in various jobs he attended night school classes in San Francisco (SF) to complete his high school education. His intention was to go on to higher education and attend the University of California at Berkeley when the business opportunity to become involved in the fishing industry emerged and he left the Bay area for Los Angeles harbor.
It was n the San Francisco (aka “the City”) that he met and courted Milda Klein, daughter of German immigrants. They married 1920. He and his wife established residence in SP, although her family (firmly) requested that she return to “the City” to give birth to their first child Joseph M. Mardesich, Jr. in September 1921. They had other children, a daughter (late) Marie Emerson, and son (late) Mitchell, a fourth child Frederick passed away in infancy. In the early years as the company burgeoned Mrs. Mardesich worked in the corporate office along side her husband and out in the region doing “tuna tastings” at Ralphs and other grocery stores. The cannery prospered and expanded from 30 to hundreds of workers. The couple were prominent members of the SP community: He was one of the founders in 1926 of the Dalmatian American Club (originally known as the Yugoslav American Club); member of the Free Order of Masons and Al Malikah Shrine, charter member SP Kiwanis Club, among other affiliations.
Mrs. Mardesich focused on their home and community and was recipient of esteemed lifetime award for her work with the PTA, and also active in many philanthropic organizations. Unlike most of Croatian heritage the family were members of First Presbyterian Church, then located at 10th & Centre Streets, now in Weymouth Corners, where the small chapel within the sanctuary was funded by Mardesich in his wife’s memory. Education was foremost for the Mardesich family and the children matriculated in public and private schools.
The San Pedro Bay Historical Society historic window exhibits at the Croatian Cultural Center (7th Street at Pacific Ave. SP) features Mardesich in one of three displays of significant Croatian immigrants including photos with cannery workers and the arches of the VA. On the occasion of his 100th birthday June 10, 1889 there was a front page story about him in the SP News Pilot.
Mardesich was a proud and patriotic American citizen. In WW II he was major donor and active supporter raising funds for the War Bond effort and Franco Italian provided tuna for the troops at home and abroad. He was also quite athletic. As son Joe, Jr. stated in an article he penned about the origins of the VA, “My father was a very strong sports enthusiast and especially a very strong supporter of ‘Pirate’ athletics. A real ‘Pirate booster’ long before we had a Boosters organization. He encouraged all the school teams enthusiastically, not just the teams his sons were on. You would see him on a Friday afternoon driving up in his big 1936 LaSalle touring sedan, the kind you see in the ‘Untouchables’ during the Al Capone era. It carried nine passengers with those collapsible mid-seats, and was always available to haul any students without a ride to various athletic events at nearby schools. Something would have to be mighty wrong at the cannery or in the tuna industry to keep him away from that Friday afternoon game or track meet. He didn’t miss many…. always giving little pep talks trying to inspire and motivate players to winning a victory. He meant achieving victory not just in athletics, but in a student’s academic and personal life as well.”
In early 1937 Mardesich learned that a a Federal building (former post office) was being razed in downtown Los Angeles and with was his sense of patriotism and passion propelling him, after much negotiation with the government, he purchased the building archways and eagles with ambition to erect a unique monument at the SPHS campus., to be called the VA. It took great effort to gain approval from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and repurpose the symbols of America, and all that represents, with the foremost intent to motivate to enthuse students with the ideals that excellence should be sought in all areas of life including athletics, academics, citizenship and aspects of personal character. He hired an architect and also contributed to the design of the iconic edifice. It was imperative that the school motto “Wisdom, Integrity, Self-respect” be chiseled in stone to inspire students academically, spiritually and athletically.
In May 2011 Los Angeles City Councilwoman Hahn District 15 presented a Motion to designate the VA historic cultural monument that passed unanimously. After the vote it was revealed by a representative of the Office of Historic Preservation that the LAUSD had autonomy over the City and the designation could not be confirmed. The effort therefore was temporarily on hold.
Recognizing the significance of the VA, and in an effort to ameliorate and support the historic classification, in 2012 thanks to Board Member Dr. Richard A. Vladovic the LAUSD passed a Motion endorsing the historical designation, launching and “Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Victory Arch” at a special ceremony April 23 held at the VA with Dr. Vladovic presenting the elegantly framed document to granddaughter Stephanie Milda Mardesich, alumna of SPHS, founder of the LA Harbor International Film Festival, and co-producer with Jack Baric of the upcoming oral history projecting Stories Of Los Angeles Harbor: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow representing the family. Dr. John Deasy, then Superintendent of Schools was among other dignitaries in attendance including representative of (then) Congresswoman Janice Hahn, currently Los Angeles County Supervisor for District 4. Jeanette Stevens, SPHS principal, presided over the event that included participation by the school band, drill team, cheerleaders, and JROTC cadets.
As Dr. Vladovic stated, “The Victory Arch is an important resource not only for SPHS and LAUSD, but also the whole San Pedro community. We recognize and gratefully acknowledge the significance of the Victory Arch as a key symbol at SPHS inspiring students academically and athletically reminding them to uphold their school motto and aspire to great accomplishments.”
Mardesich, Sr. passed away in 1951. One of fourteen children – only four survived – he helped his siblings (two sisters and a brother) emigrate to the U.S.A. once he had established himself in business. Besides Miss Mardesich he is survived by other grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
Mardesich passed away in June 1951. The Franco Italian Packing Company continued to thrive under the leadership and administration of Mardesich, Jr. and responding to “supply and demand” Franco Italian was the
first cannery to import tuna from Japan on a major level beginning in 1957, which helped to build and accelerate trade relations between the U.S.A. and post war resurgence of the “Land of the Rising Sun.” Among his endeavors to augment the impact and prestige of the industry he served as President of the California Fish Canners Association; on the Marine Research Committee appointed by fellow Stanford alumni Governor Goodwin A. Knight; testified before Congressional interstate commerce commission in Washington D. C. in connection with importing of fish and tariffs; and spear-headed research in utilization of residual by-products of production process, and chemists researching commodities such as fish meal flour. The company was sold c. 1963, and subsequently other canneries sadly met their demise.
“My grandfather’s motto was ‘No challenge too great’ that inspires me to this day. It took immense diligence and fortitude to create this extraordinary monument that is a very European tradition, like the Arc de Triomphe,” stated Miss Mardesich in accepting the LAUSD Motion. Reflecting recently she adds: “Grandfather wanted to instill striving for excellence and respect for all that America signifies and the longevity of the VA conveys deep sentiment with its powerful presence. Though at the time it was disappointing when the Motion in City Council was not able to be fulfilled, given such great enthusiasm, the effort continues and taking the application to a higher level seeking National Registry status actually will offer more prestige and ethos to SPHS and our town.”
There is no other entity like the VA on any school campus in the Los Angeles region or the entire state determined from research conducted. The massive granite structure weighs over two tons and stands over 30 feet high. It has been featured in numerous news articles and chronicles. The VA is the same age as the famed Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco. It has withstood the test of time and elements of nature to survive for eight decades. That effort continues to achieve recognition for the symbolic monument continues. On June 12 Miss Mardesich will present a floral wreath at the VA commemorating the 80th anniversary.
“The Victory Arch is a unique work of public art which has become ingrained in not only San Pedro High School’s history, but San Pedro’s history,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “I’m proud to support the effort to have this treasure recognized as a national historic monument,” states Supervisor Hahn.
The VA has withstood the test of time and along with the Mardesich family, spans a century of San Pedro life and culture. For decades, students have been motivated by the landmark; athletes to compete on the playing field, graduates passing through the arches to receive their diplomas, sweethearts lingering, photographs taken to preserve special moments, and local artists intrigued by its design. It will continue to inspire and the canneries and noble fishing industry remembered thanks to the LAMM exhibit and efforts of those citizens who care about and preserve history for posterity.
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Archival references contact: Stephanie M. Mardesich (310) 549-0756 email@example.com
LAUSD: Dr. Richard Vladovic (213) 241-6359 website: www.lausd.net
SPHS: Jeanette Stevens, Principal (310) 241-5801 website: www.sanpedrohs.org
LAMM: Marifrances Trivelli, Director (310) 548-7618 website: wwwlamaritimemuseum.org