Collapsible Christmas trees, Barbie dolls and iPads -- a tidal wave of goods mass-produced overseas hits the Port of Los Angeles every day. Moving this bounty from ship to shore is the lifeblood of San Pedro.
It may seem odd, then, that the latest attraction at the port is a humongous marketplace of objects handcrafted in Southern California. Strange but true. Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles, an $8 million partnership between the port and Crafted co-founders Wayne Blank, Howard Robinson and Alison Marik Zeno, opened Friday in a converted World War II warehouse.
How big is Crafted? When the second warehouse conversion is completed in the next 18 to 24 months, it will be the largest indoor crafts market in the country, with 135,000 square feet of display space, enough for 500 micro-businesses.
In addition to the massive scale and ambition of the undertaking, what excites supporters is that the project is the brainchild of Blank, who was instrumental in turning a former train station in Santa Monica into Bergamot Station, the world-renowned collection of high-end art galleries.
"Adaptive reuse" has been the watchword of the last few decades. As cars and trucks outpaced trains and globalization flung industry worldwide, factories, train stations, warehouses and powerhouses turned to hulking fossils of another age.
In 1986 a former Paris train station became the Musée d'Orsay, launching a new Industrial Revolution of spinning industrial sites into art spaces. Other successful transformations include the former London power station that became the Tate Modern Gallery, Berlin's Hamburger Banhof -- a contemporary art gallery, also a train station conversion -- and, of course, L.A.'s own Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, the former warehouse and police garage that actually opened as an art venue a few years before the Musée d'Orsay.
Can Crafted join this illustrious constellation? The patriotic San Pedrans who showed up for the opening Friday and the 100 jewelers, woodworkers, leather workers and artisanal food creators with six-month leases and stars in their eyes certainly hope so.
Jewelry maker Rain Hannah had never been to San Pedro before becoming involved with Crafted. Now she's thinking of moving there.
"It's charming. I love it. I might leave Pasadena for it. So, sorry, Pasadena," she told L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino in a promotional video.
The word that echoed through the warehouse (despite the lofty, open-beamed ceiling) was "community." The artisans are glad to have a place to call home after years of loading up vans to chase after weekend crafts fairs. And they're glad to get to know their fellow artists, who might even cover for them on weekends when they can't be at Crafted.
Although the warehouse is segmented into 10-foot-square cubicles, Crafted hardly resembles a honeycomb of worker bees in Mega-Widget International. These are artists, after all. In the few weeks between gaining access to a space and opening day, they have carpeted, painted and otherwise transformed sterile cubes into unique micro-shops.
Up next: Meet some of the artists
It took woodworker Lindsay Zuelich only two weeks to give her cubicle the look of a 1970s fern bar. The rough-hewn board walls include display niches for her wooden jewelry and partner Meredith Harbuck's leather handbags. Don't let the "antique" cash register fool you. Zuelich carved the wooden replica. The drawers work, but calculations are done on an iPad and a Square Card Reader accepts payments.
The star of the day was another woodworker, C.J. Thomason. With his chiseled features, it's easy to see why the former homebuilder from Texas might come to L.A. to try his luck as an actor. He's had some success, but needing something to fill in between gigs, he partnered with an optician to form Sire's Crown Eyewear. His square jaw makes him a perfect model for the sleek wooden eyeglass frames they produce. Yes, wooden, or least a wood veneer over a flexible composite. In wood grain or individually painted designs, they're totally cool.
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Will Crafted draw the 500,000 visitors a year backers estimate? That remains to be seen. So far, the wow factor is mostly missing. You see the baubles, bangles and bath oils found at most crafts fairs, not the museum-quality objects seen at Santa Monica's annual Contemporary Crafts Market or the wacky but finely crafted objects found at Bergamot's Gallery of Functional Art.
That said, the works at Crafted are affordable. With jewelry going for $10 to $250, for example, you can pick up some attractive one-of-a-kind gifts for your friends, or yourself, as part of a fun day at the port exploring the battleship museum on the newly arrived USS Iowa, riding a restored Red Car trolley, dining overlooking the harbor and watching the dancing fountains in the evening.
Crafted is open Fridays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays & Sundays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; 110 & 112 E. 22nd St., San Pedro. craftedportla.com