A horse with green hoofs, Irish Nationalist sympathizers clutching symbolic crucifixes, and high school majorettes bravely trying not to shiver in their spangled leotards got together in Hollywood on Saturday to help kick off the city's first official St. Patrick's Day parade.
An hour later, a nine-foot rabbit, a pack of balloon-bearing Irish Setters and a flatbed truck carrying boxers gathered downtown to help kick off the official St. Patrick's Day parade.
Which one was official? Nobody could agree.
Rivalry, you see, has become as much a part of Los Angeles' St. Patrick's Day celebration as shamrocks and green beer.
The Hollywood parade was sponsored by more than 20 Irish-American groups in Southern California that hope to make it an annual event. But the Hollywood parade riled downtown merchants and City Councilman Gilbert Lindsay. They have been staging a St. Patrick's Day parade downtown for three years.
The Hollywood group says the City Council recognized its rightful claim as the city's official parade when the council gave it $10,000. But the downtown group insists that money does not buy legitimacy. By the time the downtown contingent belatedly requested city money last week, the council's generosity had evaporated.
"We had the first official marathon and the first official parade all in one week," boasted Kelly O'Brien, a Woodland Hills attorney and chief organizer of the Hollywood parade. "\o7 Official\f7 is the word."
Nonsense, said Lindsay, after he crawled out of a black Corvette gussied up with green balloons at the end of the downtown parade. "This is the official one. I don't care what they say. . . . I'm making it the official one."
Perhaps, only the weather treated both parades fairly. Rain did not fall on either parade.
But attendance seemed sparse at both parades, which featured a smattering of politicians and celebrities, high school bands, horses and riders, antique cars and fire trucks. In places, gaps along the sidewalks were as wide as school buses are long, and cotton candy and balloon hawkers seemed to end the day with most of their wares.
Police, however, estimated that 3,000 people attended the downtown parade and 10,000 watched the Hollywood event. A police spokesman said it appeared that a lot of the Hollywood spectators had merely stumbled across the parade.
The eventual goal of the Greater Los Angeles Irish-American St. Patrick's Day Committee, which sponsored the Hollywood parade, is to use the annual event as a fund-raiser. The group wants to build an Irish-American cultural center to preserve Irish heritage and to recognize the large Irish-American population in Southern California.
In fact, organizers said, the impetus for the parade was the city's huge, yet disjointed, Irish-American community.
"There are more Irish in Los Angeles than any other city in the United States," O'Brien contended. What is more, organizers said, St. Patrick is the patron saint of Los Angeles.
But a researcher with the U.S. Census Bureau in Los Angeles quashed the numbers claim. Census figures show that there are 60,311 people of Irish ancestry living in Los Angeles. But there are 317,601 Irishmen in New York City, 105,430 in Chicago and 92,107 in Boston.
The patron saint claim also is not accurate, according to Monsignor Francis J. Weber, the Los Angeles Archdiocese's archivist.
Los Angeles' patron saint is its namesake--Our Lady Queen of the Angels, Weber said. But he added, "Parades are good for the soul. You don't need much excuse."
Despite this year's bickering, supporters of both parades promised on Saturday to explore ways to work together next year.
"It's important to have one hugely successful parade rather than splinters," said Tom Kennedy, who emceed the downtown parade from the steps of City Hall. "We need to get it all together."
The infighting, said Shevaun O'Sullivan, chief organizer of the downtown parade, "is a bad reflection on the Irish."
Yet another St. Patrick's Day parade will be held today in Beverly Hills. The parade, which features a long list of Hollywood celebrities, begins at noon. Parade watchers must purchase tickets ranging from $15 to $17.50.