Hilltop homes near the L.A. harbor -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Hilltop homes near the L.A. harbor

The Vincent Thomas Bridge spans the Los Angeles Harbor. View Site Plans (.pdf file)

San Pedro

Average temperature in October
High: 75 Low: 57
Population: 72, 146
Cost of a house: About $500,000

San Pedro will be home to 16 new Habitat families after the Jimmy Carter Work Project this year. Eight duplexes are well under way on a hill overlooking the port of Los Angeles in this city of about 70,000 in the southern sprawl of metro Los Angeles. The duplexes are called Harborside Terrace.

It’s a storied city with muscles and a working-class swagger. The World Cruise Center, where most of the cruise lines dock, has brought a strip of retail stores, an upscale hotel, red trolley cars and tourist glitz to one of the busiest passenger ports in the United States. Joe Hill, the icon of labor organizing and writer of folk songs, worked the docks and started his unionizing career here. Upton Sinclair, muckraking writer and activist, was arrested in the 1920s for reading the Bill of Rights on a place called Liberty Hill in the city. (Longshoremen were on strike and had been banned from meeting.)

If the city looks familiar even though you’ve never visited, that might be because it’s been a favorite film location for movies since the 1930s. The classic “Chinatown,” directed by Roman Polanski, was filmed here and won native son Robert Towne an Oscar for best writing.

How to say it: Even Spanish speakers in L.A. call the city San Peed-ro instead of the usual San Ped-ro.

The site: Room with a view

The once empty lot at the top of a hill on the corner of North Pales Verdes and O’Farrell has a view of the harbor and small sliver of ocean. You can see cruise ships loading and unloading. The arching stretch of the Vincent Thomas Bridge to Long Beach is bright with blue lights at night. Huge cranes in gray and yellow, orange and green unload ship by picking up piggyback containers like toothpicks. The piggyback stacks grow and disappear every day.

Retaining walls reinforce the hill where eight duplexes are underway. The high cost of land in Los Angeles has prompted higher-density building for the Greater Los Angeles affiliate.

The neighborhood is a mix of carefully tended and neglected houses, with an ethnic mix of residents.

Across North Pales Verdes, a small blue-and-white house with Victorian trim peeks out behind roses. A stucco house with a Nativity scene on an upper wall has a riot of green, with plants ranging from peace roses to fennel. The entryway walk is carefully crafted, with stars of river rock and wood within the concrete. All the lots are fenced. One small box of a house has a concrete wall fence that has been artfully scalloped with brick trim. American flags hang here and there.

Around the block an American Baptist Primeria Iglesia Bautista serves the neighborhood. Badly tended apartments and houses infill next to carefully cherished homes. The sound of an ice cream truck and children yelling and laughing adds to noise of traffic and seagulls.

A Volunteers of America Children Services building sits down the hill and a Northrop Grumman office building is a few blocks away.