Harbor View House
Every time we drive down to San Pedro, my mom always takes us on a detour wherever we are going - much to my annoyance if I happen to be driving past the Harbor View House - so she can check out all of the residents hanging out in front on the steps and wandering around in a daze on the street facing the harbor.
Dedicated in 1926 as a recreation center offering 300 dorm rooms, a gym, banquet room, pool, wrestling rooms, and a coffee shop, Harbor View provided quarters for over four million men during World War II, and was visited by celebrities, including Bob Hope, and Lucille Ball. In 1967, it became an unlocked facility for the mentally ill.
The first time I ever walked through the doors of Harbor View was when I was somewhere around the age of nine or ten years old. My Aunt Elaine was doing her internship to become an R.N., and had to put in a certain amount of time working with the mentally ill.
I should mention, before I forget, that Elaine used to live in an old house in Torrance across the street from my grandparents. In the back yard stood another small house we called the “glass house” made of gold, maroon, and green-stained glass. Us kids spent many hours playing in that house, climbing up and down the cellar stairs, looking for buried treasure as the sun slowly moved across the sky cascaded through the dusty glass tinting the shadows inside the room. My mom did some research on the glass, and it turned out that the glass house was constructed from the windows of the old Red Cars that used to stream across the Southland before the automobile became the main source of transportation.
The house is gone now; an ugly mini mansion stands in it's place.
But back to where I was going with this story. My brother, sister, mom, and two cousins attended the Halloween party at the Harbor View one year, escorted by my aunt.
I don't recall too much, but the haunted house maze is forever seared into my memory. It was set up with sheets guiding you on your way as random residents of Harbor View would pop their heads out and yell"Boo!", their strongly medicated faces painted in ghastly Halloween horror make-up.
Toward the end of the maze, we were blindfolded and our hands were plunged into different boxes of what felt like spaghetti, Jello, and who knows what else… I was so young, but already wise enough that I didn't want to think about what could be in there. After one of the residents started to get too aggressive, and tried forcing my hand into another box, I decided I'd had enough and bolted the rest of the short distance out of the Haunted House to the safety of my mom and aunt.
We hung around a little longer, ate some sugar cookies, and finally headed home. That was the first time that having to leave because school was the next day was a good thing.
Before we drove home, we all headed a few miles down the road to the oil refineries in Harbor City to see the "Great Pumpkin." The Great Pumpkin is still there. Every year there is an oil storage tank that is painted orange with a big pumpkin face painted across it. The basic routine is that you drive up, passed the guard at the gate, who then motions you up to a parking lot in front of the tank, and you sit there and gaze in awe at the giant pumpkin. Even as kids we knew it wasn't a real pumpkin, but it was so cool sitting in the middle of this huge industrial park gazing up at this 10-ton tank all done up to look like a jack-o-lantern.
The best part was on the way out when another attendant would hand each of us a caramel popcorn ball, and we'd eat it all the way home. By the time our heads would hit the pillow, the sugar rush would have worn off and we'd drift off into a deep sleep.
And now, a little prologue... A few years ago, my mom found a flyer for a production of “Shortnin'”, a condensed version of "Grease" that was happening at the Harbor View House. All of my friends turned down the offer to go, but finally got my old roommate's boyfriend and his new girlfriend to go with me.
Talk about surreal; as the residents of Harbor View were breaking into "Hopelessly Devoted to You," one person in the audience started screaming and had to be escorted out and restrained... just like I wish they would at the local movie theater when all of the asshats are talking and texting.
After the big show there was a sock hop in the old gymnasium, and once again, I found myself eating sugar cookies at Harbor View.