Bergstrom helped Keep Hermosa Hermosa for over 50 years

This photo from the July 10, 1971 Easy Reader front page shows a protest Bergstrom and fellow members of the Swedish Mafia organized to oppose a 22-story hotel proposed for the site of the former Biltmore Hotel at 14th Street and The Strand in Hermosa Beach. The site is now a park. The children in the photo are (left to right) Bergstrom’s daughter Annie, her sons Gus and Guy, her niece Amanda Ebey, Helen Muir Mason and Cindy Loomis. Photo by Kevin Cody

by Kevin Cody

Katherine Bergstrom, one of the last of the “Swedish Mafia,” which waged a 50-year battle to “Keep Hermosa Hermosa,” decades before the slogan was coined during the 2015 oil drilling debate, has died. Bergstrom was 87. She passed away January 5, surrounded by loved ones.

Katherine Chappelear married into Hermosa’s “Swedish Mafia,” as the activist women were known, when she married Bob “The Beach Captain” Bergstrom in 1959. 

She was 22 when she saw him playing a ukulele on the beach under a palm frond shack at 21st Street, and introduced herself to him.

Bob Bergstrom and his friends kept the balsa surfboards they shaped in the beach shack, along with the catamaran they built.

He was inducted into the Hermosa Beach Surfer Walk of Fame in 2014, one year before his passing. Though a noted waterman who managed King Harbor Marine from 1972 to 1975, his most enduring contribution to beach culture resulted from the day he quit surfing and gave his balsa board to a grom on the beach, because surfing had gotten too crowded. John Milius memorialized the scene in his cult classic “Big Wednesday.”

Katherine Bergstrom and fellow members of the Swedish Mafia were committed to preserving the beach culture they and their men created. Other members of the group included her husband’s sister Coralie Ebey, and Annie Anderson, whose husband Beecher was also inducted into the Surfer Walk of Fame in 2014.

In 1957, Ebey and Barbara Guild led the effort to defeat a ballot measure that would have allowed Shell Oil to drill in Hermosa’s tidelands. Though Ebey passed away in 2006, both Guild and Bergstrom would help stop oil drilling in Hermosa’s tidelands a second time, as part of the 2015 Keep Hermosa Hermosa movement.

But the Swedish Mafia’s most impactful work was in restraining what they regarded as over-development. Throughout the ‘70s, Bergstrom and Ebey wrote a column for Easy Reader called “Auntie Density,” in which they outed apartment owners with bootleg apartments, and convinced successive city councils to downzone R3 and R2 neighborhoods to R1. 


Bob “The Beach Captain” and Kathy Bergstrom were married for 56 years. With them is Cele Doerfling. Photo courtesy of the Bergstrom family


As a result, today’s Hermosa population of 19,000 is only 2,000 more than it was in 1970, and 1,000 more than it was in 1980. 

In 1971, the Swedish Mafia led the fight against a proposed twin- tower, 22 story hotel on the former site of the six-story Biltmore Hotel, at 14th Street and The Strand. A succession of Biltmore site hotel votes followed, ending in 1992 with the passage of Measure D, making the site a park. Ironically, the park was named after developer Joe Noble, once a target of Auntie Density, and later the women’s friend.

In 1968, Bergstrom was honored with the Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year Award for her work with Si Hermosa Si, an arts festival from which Fiesta Hermosa evolved.

Throughout the 1980s she campaigned for the 24-acre former Santa Fe Railroad right of way, which runs north-south through the city, to be maintained as open space. The city purchased the property, now known as the Hermosa Greenbelt, for $7.5 million in 1988. 

Bergstrom finally withdrew from local politics following the 2015 oil fight to paint under the name Catriona.

She was active with the Palatteers, the Palos Verdes Art Center, and DestinationArt, where she maintained a studio.

Bergstrom is survived by her sons Gus and Guy, daughter Annie Lucas, grandson Grand, son-in-law Brent Lucas, nephew Brant Spencer and niece Amanda Ebey. A day of celebration in her memory is being planned for the spring. ER


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