Discover the role these berths played in the 20th century maritime passenger and cargo transport.
1927 View of congested Berth 157
During the early 20th century, Pier A, which included Berths 151-157, was one of the most important terminals at the Port of Los Angeles. Between 1919 and 1920, Port officials invested heavily in improving the harbor, and five large sheds were constructed at Pier A. By 1921, Pier A sheds housed the operations of businesses like the United States Grain Corporation, the United States Emergency Fleet Corporation, and the Pacific Steamship Company, as well steamship lines such as Admiral Lines, American Hawaiian Steamship Company, and European-Pacific Lines.
Between 1920 and 1930, the Los Angeles Steamship Company (LASSCO) occupied a transit shed at Berth 155. When LASSCO vacated the building, the Pacific Steamship Company took its place. But by 1933, Port officials had decided that the transit shed was no longer adequate for use along the waterfront. Not only was the shed located on a narrow wharf with no railroad access, it had also been somewhat damaged by an earthquake. Ultimately, Port officials decided to relocate the building rather than tear it down, because it was still in relatively good shape. In 1935, contractors rotated the building 180 degrees across Pier A Street, approximately 100 feet west of its original location, and renamed the shed Berth 155A. In its place along the waterfront, a new, state-of-the-art passenger terminal (the current Berth 155) was constructed.
During the Great Depression, traffic at the Port slowed, reflecting the crippled American economy. Nevertheless, the Harbor Commission continued to make improvements, including the expansion of cargo and passenger terminals. The federal government's Works Progress Administration (WPA) helped the Port finance passenger and freight terminals as well as wharf improvements and other upgrades. As the economy began its slow recovery in the late 1930s, Berths 151-155 received hundreds of ships each year, mostly belonging to the steamship lines that operated out of Pier buildings. (Click here to view an animation of a ship being loaded).
The Navy occupied the Port during World War II, temporarily interrupting normal port operations. By the late 1940s, activities resumed. During the postwar period, Berths 151-155 underwent many changes to keep pace with the ultramodern passenger liners then in service. Modernization of the berth buildings was also linked to the worst explosion in the history of the port. At 2:05 a.m. on June 22, 1947, a series of blasts rocked the harbor as tanker S.S. Markay exploded while loading a cargo of nearly 70,000 barrels of gasoline, stove oil, and diesel oil. The ship was moored at Berth 167, across the channel from Berths 151-155. The force of the blast spread flaming gasoline across 600 feet of open water to Berths 153 and 154. The blazing fuel ignited the pilings and wharves of Berths 167, 168, 153, and 154. After battling it for more than 4 hours, the fire department brought the blaze under control, but the buildings at Berths 153 and 154 were completely lost.