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Sam Hall Kaplan

Has the Parade Passed Los Angeles By?

July 02, 1988|Sam Hall Kaplan

This being the Fourth of July weekend, one wonders where, in case of another revolution, or better yet a celebration of universal peace, Angelenos would gather to bear witness to the event.

Unlike most other cities, Los Angeles does not have a major public welcoming space in which crowds can gather for scheduled or spontaneous celebrations; no Champs Elysees as in Paris, no Times Square as in New York, Grant Park in Chicago, the Mall in the District of Columbia, Red Square in Moscow, Trafalgar Square in London or Piazza Venezia in Rome.

The problem was illustrated recently by the relatively modest crowd, estimated at 100,000 people, that turned out to cheer the Lakers for winning the National Basketball Assn. championship. Similar events in other, smaller cities have attracted as many as 1 million people or more.

The lack of a large crowd here could be attributed to the fact that there simply was no single open, attractive space downtown to accommodate the fans. All that could squeeze into the stretch of Spring Street between 1st and Temple streets, facing City Hall where the team gathered on the steps, was a liberally estimated 40,000 persons, with perhaps another 60,000 having viewed the motorcade on its way there.

The city once had an attractive and popular Central Park. However, after being renamed Pershing Square in 1918, the park suffered a series of some very ill-conceived redesigns to become a frayed, isolated space.

The best free, open space in and around Los Angeles is its sprawling, sun-bleached beaches. They are sand-covered piazzas, with different stretches catering to varied groups and activities, as piazzas do. All the beaches are linked together in a marvelous welcoming expanse. That is where we tend to migrate on July 4.

But the beaches are linear and have no real focus other than the ocean. Perhaps to celebrate their championship, the Lakers should have been put on a grandstand atop an open barge and towed just beyond the breakers as their fans lined the beaches to cheer.

Griffith Park and Elysian Park are well-located open spaces relatively near downtown, but their topography, landscaping and scattered facilities preclude large, clustering crowds. Nevertheless, their varied picnic areas make them attractive public places for celebrating holidays.

The city's most historic public space is the plaza in El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park, at the southeastern end of Olvera Street downtown. Though it has been whittled away over the years and cannot accommodate large crowds, the plaza still functions as a gathering place for select events, such as the Cinco de Mayo celebration, the blessing of the animals at Eastertime and Las Posadas at Christmastime. There also are summer concerts. Information: (213) 628-1274.

I expect also if there was a major public event to spontaneously celebrate, crowds might gather in Pasadena at the broad intersection of Garfield Avenue and Holly Street in front of City Hall; outside the Coliseum in Exposition Park off Figueroa Street; in Westwood Village, especially when traffic is banned, and along select stretches of Melrose Avenue and Hollywood, Sunset, Pico, Wilshire, Ventura and Whittier boulevards.

As for just wanting to be in a crowd to watch or be watched, especially on a holiday weekend, there are the lines outside a host of popular eateries, particularly for brunch: the tables at the Farmers Market in the Fairfax district, and the Brentwood Country Mart, 26th Street and San Vicente Boulevard. Or you can just meander along Ocean Front Walk in Venice.

There is also Palisades Park in Pacific Palisades, where with my family (usually after waiting in line to get ice cream), I like to watch the sunset. It might not be the Lakers passing in review, but to us the sunset is a great, free public event.

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