With his shirt off and a couple of paperback mystery novels tucked under his arm, 77-year-old Ivor McGuire lounged on a park bench at the rim of Echo Park Lake on Wednesday and gazed out over the crowded park.
"Just think, a week ago I was freezing to death, now I'm melting," the retired hairdresser said, wiping beads of sweat from his brow.
All around him, noontime lunchers from nearby office buildings--their ties loosened and their shirt-sleeves rolled up--soaked up the sunshine at the mid-city park.
The scene was repeated Wednesday in parks and on beaches around Los Angeles, as the city baked under the hottest temperature for the date since record-keeping began in 1877.
Hottest Spot in Nation
The mercury peaked at 90 degrees at the Civic Center downtown at 2 p.m. Wednesday, breaking the old record of 89 set in 1924. That also made Los Angeles the hottest spot in the nation for the second day in a row. On Tuesday, the Civic Center reading of 85 was the highest in the country.
Wednesday's distinction was shared with Thermal in Riverside County, which also reached 90.
Starved for warmth and sunshine after weeks of cold, rainy, winter weather, thousands of area residents donned shorts and swimsuits and headed for local beaches, parks and amusement areas to bask in the weather.
"There's a lot of white legs out here, people wearing shorts for the first time," Disneyland spokesman Bob Roth said.
Attendance was not up appreciably at Disneyland or other similar attractions, but the beaches and parks reported sizable mid-week crowds.
"It's not like a weekend crowd--not body-to-body people--but it's a good crowd for a February in the middle of the week," Santa Monica Lifeguard Lt. Russ Walker said. The temperature was in the low 80s at the shore, Walker said, and most people chose to sunbathe rather than venture into the still-chilly water.
At local parks, it was "like a summer day" said Bruce Cowen, supervisor of parks in Central, South and East Los Angeles for the city Department of Parks and Recreation.
"The parks are full of people picnicking on the lawn," Cowen said. "It's people who've come out to lunch when they would've ordinarily eaten in their offices. Instead of staying in, they bring their brown bags out here."
Lunch on the Grass
Among the noontime lunchers was Dennis LaBon, a computer programmer who had driven over to Echo Park from his Highland Park home to dine in the sunshine. LaBon, 33, sat on the grass with his shoes off, munching on a fast-food lunch.
He had spent the morning shopping at a Glendale mall and was surprised to find it crowded with shoppers. "I guess the weather has drawn out a lot of people who might be at home watching their game shows and soap operas on TV," he mused.
Near him, two boys on a school break tried their hand at catfishing. Although both were nursing colds, the lure of the warm weather had proved too strong.
"Staying outside in the nice weather is better than having a cold indoors," Patrick Rodriguez, 13, said as he cast for fish with his brother Franklin, 10.
Even those who had to work took advantage of the weather at lunchtime, filling the outdoor cafes downtown.
"We've not only thought twice about not going back to work, we've thought 30 times about not going back to work," joked Fred Glasser, an attorney who was dining at a cafe near the Music Center.
Debora and Alan Schorr, accompanied by their son Zeb, were shocked by the warm weather, especially when compared to the temperatures in their hometown of Juneau, Alaska. Wearing shorts and T-shirts, they strolled down Melrose Avenue eating Italian gelati.
"The weather is a terrific surprise," said Schorr, who is a visiting professor at California State University, Fullerton. "When we left Juneau three days ago it was zero degrees. Today we went to the beach and had to buy Zeb a new pair of shorts."
Meanwhile, the air conditioning at a Melrose boutique had broken down and sales clerks stood fanning themselves in the heat.
"I'm from Manitoba, Canada," Karyn Kristy, 21, said. "Back there you don't say you're a certain age, they say you survived to a certain age. Californians just don't realize how lucky they are. After all, this is February!"
Santa Ana Winds
This week's sudden warming trend was caused by Santa Ana winds that blew in from the deserts of Nevada and southeastern California, keeping away the cooling coastal breezes.
National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Tolleson said Santa Ana conditions are not unusual for this time of year, though the heat has been exacerbated by the absence of sea breezes.
People complaining about the heat will likely have a break by the weekend, when it is expected to cool down.
Tolleson predicted the winds will die down by Friday, with the weekend growing gradually cooler, especially along the coast. Temperatures will probably drop into the 70s, but no rain is expected, he said.