After skipping a year because of liability insurance problems, the Sunset Junction Street Fair will be back on Silver Lake streets this weekend. It will be smaller than the 1985 festival but three days long instead of the traditional two. Organizers predict 300,000 people will attend.
The fair, founded to promote understanding between homosexuals and other area residents, was an annual event from 1980 to 1985. However, last year's edition was canceled when organizers faced a $24,000 insurance premium, about five times what they had paid the year before. The rate jump was attributed to industrywide increases by insurance companies.
Insurance costs this year are about $15,000, organizers say. About $12,000 of that was paid for by three gay bars--The Detour, Basco's and 3626--which are in the fair zone and do land-rush business during the festival. Other local businesses contributed the rest.
More Affordable Insurance
"We lucked out," said Micheal McKinley, co-coordinator of the fair. The event's insurance agent found coverage less expensive than that offered last year, McKinley said, and the fair is being stricter about requiring individual exhibitors and entertainers to have their own insurance.
The fair used to be held on an August weekend along Sunset Boulevard, south of Fountain Avenue to Edgecliffe Drive. The location is the same, but the timing was switched this year to Memorial Day weekend.
The change allows an extension into a third day, the Monday holiday. It also means cooler weather, which officials hope will lead to less beer drinking and less chance of a repeat of the brawls that marred the 1985 fair. About 200,000 people attended the last fair, and the extra day is expected to draw more.
Participants said the fair grew too large in 1984 and 1985. So this weekend there will be three beer gardens, two fewer than at the last fair, and 80 booths selling food and crafts, compared to 120 in 1985.
There apparently will be more attractions for a family crowd, including a petting zoo for children, elephant rides, and a dance pavilion that features ethnic and Big Band music.
"We have always been family-oriented. But we are making an extra effort to make sure the fair is meaningful and a good time for everyone," said John Brown, co-chairman of the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance, the predominately gay group that organizes the fair.
The fair's return is important, Brown said, because of the controversy in recent months over claims by some gay activists that there has been an increase in assaults on homosexuals in the Sunset Junction area. Police said there is no proof that so-called gay-bashing has increased. The debate has been emotional, spurred by the robbery-murder in February of a 26-year-old man just after he left The Detour bar.
Brown said he, too, thinks reports of gay-bashing were exaggerated. However, he noted, the festival's original goal was to alleviate tensions among the diverse groups of Silver Lake residents, gay and straight, Latino and Anglo. "The street fair is to teach people to appreciate each other. So, it may be coming back at an opportune time," he said.
City and fair officials say that security will be better than it was two years ago. "It feels more tightly organized," said Sandra Figueroa, executive director of El Centro del Pueblo, a local youth and gang counseling organization that co-sponsors the fair. 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 the police overreacted to what began as a minor fight.
This weekend, a 12-member security crew--recruited from the neighborhood and, for the first time in the fair's history, paid--will attempt to handle any trouble before police action is necessary, said Robert Aguayo, one of the security chiefs and an El Centro counselor. In addition, about 200 volunteers, including many area teen-agers, will work as street monitors, directing traffic and controlling entrances.
Admission to the fair is free, as are the performances by the 76 bands and dance groups scheduled to perform. Entertainment ranges from Latin salsa bands and an opera singer to the Asian American Children's Ballet Company and aerobics demonstrations. "The idea is that this is the most diversified area in the city and so we wanted to represent that in our entertainment," McKinley said.
Profits Used for Community
Any profits from the fair, which come primarily from beer sales--are to finance community-based social services, according to organizers.
Other co-sponsors include Central City Action Committee, RSVP Senior Center, Gay and Lesbian Latinos Unidos, Hollywood Sunset Community Clinic, Search to Involve Philipino Americans and the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, whose 13th District includes Silver Lake.
Woo was unable to get city departments to waive the nearly $5,000 in fees required for staging the fair, but he obtained a $3,000 city appropriation for the event, his staff explained.
Missing from list of co-sponsors is the Silver Lake Merchants Assn., a group of businesses mainly along Hyperion Avenue. The association participated in the past but decided against it this year because many members are afraid of violence and traffic snarls that could disrupt their businesses, said Larry Lloyd, association president. However, Lloyd stressed, he hopes the fair is a success.
The fair will run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday through Monday. Sunset Boulevard will be closed to traffic in the fair zone from 2 a.m. Saturday until about 4 a.m. Tuesday, officials said. From noon today until early Saturday, two of the six lanes on Sunset will be closed, although two-way traffic will be allowed; a similar shift in lanes is expected during the cleanup Tuesday.