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Promoters Plan to Revive Street Fair on Smaller Scale

January 29, 1987|LARRY GORDON | Times Staff Writer

Plans are afoot to revive the Sunset Junction Street Fair, the annual Silver Lake festival that was founded in 1980 to promote understanding between gays and Latinos but canceled last year because of insurance problems.

Organizers said this week they plan to shift the fair from its traditional August dates to Memorial Day weekend in May and that they want to scale it back to its original size.

"It got too big and out of hand," said Joyce Azelton, one of two coordinators attempting to get the 1987 fair under way.

200,000 at Last Fair

The last Sunset Junction fair, in August, 1985, attracted more than 200,000 people but was marred by several brawls that organizers said were partly caused by extremely hot weather that led to heavy beer drinking. The cooler weather in May should lead to less drinking, officials said.

Azelton said she is confident that the estimated $25,000 needed for liability insurance premiums can be raised--something last year's organizers, shocked by a fivefold increase in premiums, were unable to do.

Owners of discos and bars along Sunset Boulevard have pledged to give about $11,000 for insurance costs, Azelton said. "We are really encouraged by that," she said.

Many neighborhood residents have asked that the festival be revived, according to John Brown, co-chairman of the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance, the predominantly gay organization that sponsors the fair.

"Maybe people had started taking it for granted, and having it not happen one year made everyone appreciate it more," Brown said.

Alliance officials expect to meet next week with Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, who represents Silver Lake, to ask his help on, among other things, getting the city to help pay for the insurance.

Budget Restraints

However, Larry Kaplan, Woo's chief deputy, said Tuesday that budget restraints make it highly unlikely that the city will help with insurance. Kaplan said his office supports the fair's revival but wants to make sure that steps are taken to limit drinking and violence.

"We are taking some of the lessons of the Street Scene," Kaplan said, referring to the annual city-sponsored fair at the Civic Center in September. About 1 million people attended last year's Street Scene, where nighttime violence left one person dead and four badly injured.

Sunset Junction officials said it would be unfair to compare their event to the Street Scene, but they nevertheless said they would take steps to bolster and better organize security at the Silver Lake fair.

As in the past, the Sunset Junction fair will be held along Sunset, mainly south of Santa Monica Boulevard. In its last few years, the fair had grown and pushed north of the Sunset-Santa Monica intersection. But this year, it will shrink by more than a block and return to its original boundaries, organizers said, adding that such a move should help restore the fair's identity as a neighborhood celebration rather than a citywide attraction.

They said there will be other cuts from the 1985 fair: the number of booths from 150 to 100, the number of entertainment stages from three to two and the number of beer gardens from five to three.

Although the fair may be shrinking in size it will be growing in time, from its traditional two days to three--May 23-25--to take advantage of Memorial Day that Monday.

Besides the cooler weather, another reason for moving the fair from August to May was that some of its planners, such as Azelton and co-coordinator Michael McKinley, were active in the West Hollywood Fair in September and may be again this year. Having two fairs within a month would be too competitive, co-chairman Brown said.

The trouble at the 1985 Sunset Junction Street Fair caused some primarily Latino youth organizations to consider dropping out as co-sponsors of what was to be the 1986 fair.

Such concerns struck at the original goal of the fair: to lessen tensions between homosexuals and Latinos in the wake of anti-gay violence and fears by some Latinos of displacement by affluent homosexuals moving to the Silver Lake area. But the issue became moot when the fair was canceled because of the insurance problem.

Sandra Figueroa, executive director of El Centro del Pueblo, a local youth-counseling organization, said the youngsters were disappointed that the fair was dropped last year and they did not get to work as street monitors at the festival.

An El Centro volunteer was hurt in a tussle with police and arrested at the 1985 fair. Figueroa said the young man was an innocent bystander and police overreacted to what began as a small fight. Nevertheless, she said, her group wants to be a co-sponsor again if security and insurance problems are solved.

However, not everyone is welcoming the return of the fair, said Larry Lloyd, president of the Silver Lake Merchants Assn. He said the fair helps some businesses along Sunset Boulevard but hurts others elsewhere in the district.

"It is somewhat controversial," Lloyd said. He said he personally thinks the idea of the fair is "terrific" but that "it needs to be brought back to the original idea instead of turning it into a circus."

Meanwhile, organizers said, they are getting ready to apply for permits for street closings and are talking to owners of carnival rides.

"The fair is definitely on, as definitely as we ever had been in the past," McKinley said.

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