Original San Pedro: Justin Karmelich
Asked to describe San Pedro in 3 words, "Oh my God," comes out of Justin Karmelich's mouth. How do you describe the only place you've called home for almost 80 years? After some consideration, "Friends, home, Pedro," he says most describe the only place he's ever lived.
Justin's parents immigrated from Brac, Croatia not only because it reminded them of home but because of the opportunities provided by the exploding fishing industry. He and his brother and sister were born at San Pedro hospital in the original brick building. A mark of those who have lived here forever. He grew up in the flats (15th and Mesa area) and remembers running the streets with his friends who were mostly first generation from Italy, Croatia (then Yugoslavia) and Mexico. "Every block had as many vacant lots," he remembers. "No one locked their doors and there was hardly any traffic." "Everyone got along, everyone was involved in the fishing industry somehow, it was a good life." Justin's father was a master carpenter by trade and worked on some of the most magnificent homes built in San Pedro but he also worked as a supervisor at Star Kist cannery. That cannery job led to a tip from one of the owners about a house in Vista del Oro that was going up for a probate sale. Justo ended up making the winning bid and the family moved up the hill Justin still lives in that house today. When asked about his favorite thing about Vista del Oro, his reply was, "What it says, view of gold." Indeed, from his back porch he has a clear view of the ocean and the ships coming and and leaving the harbor.
Hobbies include feeding the birds from his back porch; peanuts for the Blue Jays and late night 'hoo hoo' calls to the owls who sleep in the giant pine tree just out the back door. Friday nights he can be found at the meeting at the "Slav club" and mornings are for meeting the guys for coffee. He starts each day meeting friends at a local restaurant before it opens to the public, each one walking in being met by their nicknames they were branded with as kids. Friendships that started 70 years ago leave plenty to discuss. Guys called Birdie, Tall Dog and Crab reminisce about the old days and how things have changed in San Pedro. They all keep up on who is getting a divorce or moving out of town or who won big with a horse at Del Mar. They don't email or even text, all of their intel is gathered the old fashion way, running into friends at the grocery store or out to dinner and whispering, "Have you heard?"
In a place where he's seen so much change, he also still does some of the same things he did while enrolled at SPHS. He'll grab a sandwich and go down to Royal Palms to watch the waves and have lunch. There really is no place like home.