LA Harbor Commission Votes to Demolish Obsolete Star-Kist Cannery

A view of the San Pedro area of Los Angeles, then known as Fish Harbor, with boats docked in front of a cannery. Photo via the University of California’s California Historical Society Collection.

A former Star-Kist tuna cannery that operated at the Port of Los Angeles from the 1950s through the 1970s should be demolished, the port’s Board of Harbor Commissioners has decided.

On a 3-1 vote during its Feb. 9 meeting, the board decided to approve the demolition despite opposition from parties that wanted to preserve the building, which has served as a link to LA’s past as a significant tuna fishery.

The former Star-Kist cannery facilities sit on a 14-acre site on the Terminal Island container terminal within the port. There are plans to develop the site as a chassis repair and maintenance depot. The demolition area would be covered with recycled concrete and asphalt until the area is ready for development, port officials have said.

“The port has attempted to reuse these facilities through the Request for Proposal process several times, and no viable options have been found,” port officials stated in an analysis provided to the port commission.

“Demolition has been deemed necessary to create a parcel of land that is more marketable for future development, to reuse and capitalize the site more efficiently, and to remove safety hazards posed from leaving the cannery buildings erect and vacant,” the analysis explained.

Demolition of the cannery was originally brought before the harbor board last October, but no vote was taken. Since then, port staff is said to have been in communication with stakeholders “to coordinate on actions to commemorate Star-Kist’s association with the historic canning industry,” port officials have said.

Payment of the costs associated with the Final IS/MND as well as the costs associated with the proposed Project and potential commemorative actions are the responsibility of the Harbor Department.

StarKist was founded in 1917 in the San Pedro area of Los Angeles, which was at the time known as “Fish Harbor.” The site was used as a cannery facility for Star-Kist tuna operations from 1952 to 1984, with the buildings constructed between 1947 and 1979.

The cannery, which opened in 1952, closed in 1984. Four of the seven main buildings from the cannery operation have already been demolished, according to the port.

The port has said that none of the remaining buildings are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, or the California Register of Historical Resources, or as a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument.

The 14-acre site includes two main buildings: Plant No. 4 and the northern portion of the East Plant. The two buildings are linked by a bridge in the northern portion of the proposed redevelopment project site. The acreage also includes an approximately 2,221-square-foot wooden waterside dock.

A small tuna can manufacturing facility was still in operation in the northern portion of the East Plant until December, 2018. Other than that facility, the site has been largely vacant for the last 10 years.

During the Feb. 9 meeting, Port Commissioner Diane Middleton said the plant was once the largest canning facility in the world, and that the port “want(s) to preserve that history and we want to honor the cannery workers.”

She then said that she and fellow commissioner Middleton said she’s been working on a plan to serve that purpose, possibly through creation of a harbor labor museum in downtown San Pedro, something that two local groups—the Harry Bridges Institute and the Southern California Pensioners for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union—are in discussions with Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who previously represented the area as a member of the LA City Council and the U.S. House of Representatives.

The port has said it would also consider several other options, including renaming the portion of Ways Street in front of the main Star-Kist plant to “Star Kist Foods Way,” or coordinating with the Los Angeles Maritime Museum to showcase the cannery’s equipment as part of an exhibit.

Another option the port is said to be considering is installing a new cannery monument or adding to the existing Fishing Industry Memorial on Harbor Boulevard.

Anthony Misetich, a descendent of the family that founded Star-Kist, had been among the leading voices in efforts to preserve the cannery building. Misetich, who still lives in the greater San Pedro area, had argued that the best use for the acreage would be as another canning site. However, the port said no viable canning businesses responded to requests for proposals that were issued in 2016, 2018 or 2022.

Port Commissioner Anthony Pirozzi, whose grandfather worked at the StarKist plant upon coming to San Pedro from Italy, cast the lone ‘no’ vote against the demolition. One board member was absent.

“I have a hard time with this,” Pirozzi said before the vote. “My family worked there.”

Demolition activities are expected to last about 60 days and include the removal of a 2,254-square-foot dock, including about 20 wooden piles, according to port officials.