The Bench on the San Pedro Waterfront: Eloi Amar’s Last Laugh

August 28, 2020

By Geraldine Knatz Ph.D.

If you have driven along the San Pedro waterfront or walked along the waterfront promenade you have passed this bench.  I passed it myself hundreds of time before I discovered the story of the family that left their name on our waterfront.   Edouard Amar, one of the pioneer builders of San Pedro, immigrated to San Pedro in 1871.  He was a sheepherder and at one time grazed 50,000 sheep on the hills of Palos Verdes and developed the north side of Sixth and Centre Streets in San Pedro.   His son, Elio, followed in his hoof steps, running a cattle operation on Catalina Island.  Father and son were also in the real estate business and developed the north side of Sixth and Centre Streets in San Pedro as well as built many of the town’s bungalows.

Eloi Amar and the Pinto, 1915, Courtesy of the Catalina Island Museum

Eloi Amar and the Pinto, 1915, Courtesy of the Catalina Island Museum

In 1933, Los Angeles Mayor Shaw appointed Elio to the Los Angeles Harbor Commission.  Many historians consider Shaw the most corrupt mayor in Los Angeles history although a number of accusations against him were never substantiated.  Shaw made enemies of liberals and leftists who opposed Los Angeles Police Department actions to support business and suppress labor actions.  Shaw would be ousted by a disparate alliance of reformers including some business members, religious leaders like Reverend Robert Shuler, conservatives and liberals who had one common goal: reform the Los Angeles Police Department.   Reformers were quick to point out members of the Shaw administration they believed had links to the underworld.  But no one within Shaw’s administration had been convicted of a crime.

It was District Attorney Burton E. Fitts who gave the reformers the ammunition they needed.    Fitt’s “racket squad” raided a building owned by Eloi Amar at 1027 Pacific Avenue, precisely at the time Amar was in the building placing a bet.  The squad arrested the 4 operators of the gambling hall and one patron- Amar.  What a lucky break for the racket squad, landing one of Shaw’s appointees in the raid!  

Amar was puzzled by his arrest.  No other patrons were arrested.  “I am entirely innocent,” he stated.  “I positively will not resign.  I have absolutely nothing to hide.” 

Shaw supported Amar but accepted his resignation as President of the Harbor Commission after Shaw was found guilty based on evidence of his awareness that gambling was occurring in a building he owned and rented to bookmaker Nick Capelle. 

Elio Amar at the time of his trial in 1938

Elio Amar at the time of his trial in 1938

Amar’s sentence was suspended and he was put on probation.  But he was not down for long.  A little more than a year after he was convicted, Amar was back on top again as the General Manager of the Long Beach Harbor Department.  He had the respect of the maritime community, which obviously attributed politics to his removal from the Port of Los Angeles.   At that time oil money was flowing into the coffers of the Port of Long Beach at a rate of $300, 000 per month giving Amar the opportunity to build what he called “the best goddamned harbor in the country.”  His treatment by Los Angeles undoubtedly influenced his actions running the Port of Long Beach.  Amar set about shifting business from Los Angeles to Long Beach Harbor.  Part of his strategy was to take prospective customers around Los Angeles Harbor in his motor boat, pointing out piers that he believed “might fall into the sea at any moment.”   Amar served in the top post at the Port of Long Beach for 18 years until his retirement in 1958. 

Eloi Amar, left, as General Manager of the Port of Long Beach confers with his harbor commission. Commissioner W. R. “Frosty” Martin is seated at the desk. Photo courtesy of Port of Long Beach.

Eloi Amar, left, as General Manager of the Port of Long Beach confers with his harbor commission. Commissioner W. R. “Frosty” Martin is seated at the desk. Photo courtesy of Port of Long Beach.

When the City of Los Angeles tore down the old harbor waterfront, the Public Works department fabricated the cornerstone of the Amar building into a bench.  Elio would have relished knowing that his family name forever graces the shore of the Port of Los Angeles Main Channel.

Shaw holds the distinction of being the only mayor in Los Angeles ever to be recalled.

For more stories about the history of the Port of Los Angeles, see Geraldine Knatz’s new book, Port of Los Angeles, Conflict, Commerce and the Fight for Control.

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