As the leading economic engine for Southern California and the nation, the Port of Los Angeles is known for record-setting cargo operations. Across 7,500 acres of land & water, along 43 miles of waterfront, the Port facilitated $284 billion in trade during 2017. Port operations & commerce create more than 147,000 jobs (about one in 13) in the City of Los Angeles and 526,000 jobs (or one in 17) in the five-county Southern California region. Together with neighboring Port of Long Beach, the entire San Pedro Bay Port Complex supports nearly 2.8 million jobs nationwide.
North America’s leading seaport by container volume and cargo value features both passenger and cargo terminals, including automobile, breakbulk, container, dry and liquid bulk, and warehouse facilities that handle billions of dollars’ worth of cargo each year. In 2017, the Port of Los Angeles moved more cargo than in any time in its 110-year history.
Against the backdrop of international trade and shipping, the Port boasts diverse recreational and educational facilities along the emerging LA Waterfront, including the World Cruise Center, signature Fanfare Fountains, historic Angels Gate Lighthouse, world-class urban marine research center AltaSea, SpaceX, and open green space at 22nd Street and Wilmington Waterfront parks. The Port is also home to two historic U.S. warships open to the public: Battleship IOWA and SS Lane Victory Merchant Marine Museum.
School Boat Tour Program
The Port of Los Angeles has a fantastic program for students to expand their knowledge of the world around them, and learn about the history and activities at Los Angeles Harbor. They offer FREE one-hour educational tours aboard Harbor Breeze Cruises boats to school groups fourth grade through college.
The tours demonstrate the dynamics of world trade at the busiest container port in the nation. The Port can also provide teachers with resource materials and information to prepare the students prior to the tour, whether the focus is local history, international trade or environmental awareness.
Last year, more than 10,000 students participated in the free boat tour program.
Port of Los Angeles HISTORY, courtesy Port of Los Angeles website:
The first official documentation of the harbor was by Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. On October 8, 1542, Cabrillo came across a marshland and natural harbor at the northwest end of San Pedro Bay and named the area Bahia de Los Fumas or “Bay of Smokes” after the smoke that rose from the nearby hillside of Native American hunters. This fairly desolate area remained largely intact until 1769, when Spanish officials and missionaries set their sights on colonizing the U.S. West Coast. This led to the first commercial ventures in San Pedro in the mid-1800s. The rest, as they say, is history.
The harbor in San Pedro was used as a trading post by Spanish missionary monks from Mission San Gabriel Arcángel. The monks met ships at the water’s edge with provisions from Spain. The first American trading ship to call at San Pedro was the Lelia Bryd, in 1805. At that time, it was illegal to conduct business with any other country but Spain. Because of the distance and loose regulations, however, trade with other countries thrived. In 1822 an independent Mexican government lifted the Spanish restrictions on trade. That led to a surge of settlement and commercial ventures in San Pedro. By the time California joined in the Union, in 1848, business in San Pedro harbor was flourishing.
A host of politicians, businessmen and community visionaries are responsible for San Pedro Bay fulfilling its ultimate destiny of becoming the largest cargo gateway into North America. One such visionary was Phineas Banning, who founded Wilmington and was nicknamed the Father of Los Angeles Harbor. His entrepreneurialism and influence positioned the Port for future success as the maritime and trade center for a rapidly growing west coast city.
Another person to play an important role in the development of San Pedro Bay was Stephen M. White, also called the Savior of the Bay. White, a senator from California, stood up to big business and political forces, pushing through regulation that led Congress to declare San Pedro Bay as the official port for Los Angeles in 1897.
A Harbor is Born
The City of Los Angeles and the Harbor Area experienced unparalleled population growth in the early 20th century. City leaders recognized the Port’s growth opportunities and created the Board of Harbor Commissioners on December 9, 1907, thus marking the official founding of the Port of Los Angeles. The cities of San Pedro and Wilmington were annexed to the City of Los Angeles on August 28, 1909, making the Port of Los Angeles an official department of the City of Los Angeles.
Various industries began popping up in and around the Port in the early 1900s. Fishing, canneries, oil drilling and shipbuilding were major industries that generated jobs and commerce to Los Angeles and its growing population. Because of increased business activities at the Port, it was extremely important for city officials to focus on port infrastructure and future development.
By 1912, dredging and widening the main channel, and completing major sections of the federal breakwater, enabled the Port to accommodate larger vessels. These expansions proved effective once the Panama Canal opened in 1914, giving the Port of Los Angeles a unique strategic position for international trade and a clear advantage over northern West Coast ports as a destination point for east-to-west seaborne trade because of its proximity to the Panama Canal.
The Port’s growth came to a standstill with the onset of World War II. The United States military commissioned the Port to conduct only war-time efforts, and the Port did so with diligence and success. Shipbuilding became the prime economic industry at the Port. Every boat repair and shipbuilding company assisted in the construction, conversion and repair of vessels for the war effort. San Pedro Bay shipyards collectively employed more than 90,000 workers and produced thousands of war-time vessels at record pace.
After the victory of World War II, Port of Los Angeles officials again began focusing their attention to the continued expansion and development of the Port.
Up until the mid-20th century, the Port received cargo in crates, pallets, and small lots of varying sizes and shapes. Because of the lack of uniformity and security, unloading cargo was painstakingly slow and the frequency of damage, pilferage and loss of cargo was high. Providing a better solution, the containerized cargo revolution came to the Port in the late 1950s.
Containers can easily be loaded, sealed and shipped on vessels, railroad cars, and trucks. Almost every manufactured product or its components are shipped in a container. Containerization is an important element of the innovations in logistics and security that propelled the Port of Los Angeles to critical national importance.
The Port Today
The Port of Los Angeles is the number one port by container volume and cargo value in the United States, handling a record-breaking 8.4 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) in calendar year 2007.
The Port prides itself on ultra-modern terminal efficiency, robust intermodal assets, and its world-class security operations which include Homeland Security operations and the nation’s largest dedicated port police force.
The Port also is an environmental leader in the industry. It has invested in world-class waterfront development aimed at the San Pedro and Wilmington communities and donates thousands of dollars each year to local community programs.
Today, the Port generates 919,000 regional jobs and $39.1 billion in annual wages and tax revenues. A proprietary department of the City of Los Angeles, the Port is self-supporting and does not receive taxpayer dollars. At the Port of Los Angeles, high priority is placed on responsible and sustainable growth initiatives, combined with high security, environmental stewardship and community outreach.
2000: Completion of Pier 400 Dredging and Landfill Program, the largest such project in America, a significant milestone in positioning the Port to accommodate the tremendous growth in international trade well into the 21st century. Port of Los Angeles officially becomes the busiest port in North America, ranked by container volume.
2004: The Port of Los Angeles becomes the first port in the world to offer Alternative Maritime Power™ (AMP™) to vessels. China Shipping’s Xin Yang Zhou becomes the first ship in the world to plug-in to AMP™ at Berth 100. The use of AMP™ will save more than one ton of smog-forming NOx and 87 lbs. of particulate matter from being released into the air for every 24 hours that the ship is utilizing this electrical plug-in technology.
2006: Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach jointly release the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan. This historical plan aims to reduce emissions by 50 percent over the next five years. The Port of Los Angeles set itself as an environmental steward and model for ports around the globe.
2007: The Port of Los Angeles celebrated its centennial on December 9, 2007, marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners.
2008: Mayor Villaraigosa launches landmark Clean Truck Program to clean Los Angeles’ air. Once fully implemented the Clean Truck Program will remove over 16,000 dirty-diesel trucks off the road, and will slash harmful truck emissions by 80 percent.
2010: Port of Los Angeles Becomes First Port Worldwide to Offer Tariff Reduction for Zero-Emission Vehicle Shipments. The “Zero Emission Vehicle Tariff Measure” is the first of its kind in the maritime industry and is available to any automobile manufacturer who imports through the Port of Los Angeles.
2011: Wilmington Waterfront Park officially opens to the public. Formerly known as the Harry Bridges Boulevard Buffer Project, Wilmington Waterfront Park, was designed to provide public open space between Port operations and adjacent residences in Wilmington, by widening of Harry Bridges Boulevard and constructing a new 30-acre buffer area between “C” Street and Harry Bridges Boulevard. The park was constructed on adjacent, vacant Port-owned property and offers never-seen-before views of the Wilmington waterfront.
2014: On June 20th, the Port of Los Angeles unveiled the new centerpiece of the LA Waterfront: Downtown Harbor and Town Square, located on Harbor Boulevard between 5th & 6th Streets in San Pedro. Situated between the World Cruise Center and Ports O’ Call Village, at the foot of Historic Downtown San Pedro, Downtown Harbor is a vibrant, new public harbor and plaza that connects the San Pedro Arts District to the LA Waterfront.
Downtown Harbor opens up 1.2 acres of existing waterfront between Fire Station 112 and the Los Angeles Maritime Museum. Previously a parking lot, the space has been transformed with a new harbor inlet for recreational vessels to dock free of charge for up to four hours. Surrounding the inlet is a public plaza and pedestrian promenade that features trees and landscaping, decorative lighting, a picnic area, and an overlook pier. A walkway connects this new plaza to the Fanfare Fountains at Gateway Plaza, about a half-mile North.
2016: In May, the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners approved a 50-year lease for the new San Pedro Public Market on the site of Ports O’ Call Village. The lease approval represents a key step toward the first comprehensive redevelopment of the 30-acre site since its original development in the 1960s.
2018: Ports O’ Call Village has been demolished for construction to begin on San Pedro Public Market.
PRESENT DAY: In the past decade, hundreds of movies, TV series, and commercials have been filmed at the Port of Los Angeles in cooperation with FilmL.A. This compilation from Port of LA highlights a few of them… can you name them all?
Click Here for Port of Los Angeles Facts & Figures.
Check out our San Pedro Calendar for upcoming community events at the Port of Los Angeles.