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SPOTLIGHT : FOURTH FEVER : Pyrotechnics and Parades Keep Step With Tradition


In a county where real traditions are rarer than undeveloped real estate, Huntington Beach's ongoing streak becomes all the more remarkable.

The beachside city's Fourth of July Parade is heading into its 86th year, making it not only the granddaddy of local Independence Day celebrations but also--according to organizers--the longest-running Fourth of July parade west of the Mississippi.

More and more cities are joining Huntington Beach in organizing civic observances of the Fourth, once-a-year bursts of latent Americana featuring everything from community softball games and carnival rides to Marine Corps bands and clogging troupes.

And then, of course, there are the public fireworks displays, of which no fewer than 20 will light up the local skies come Wednesday. The growing popularity of community shows reflects the local demise of the family fireworks party; only seven Orange County cities still allow sale and use of personal fireworks.

Several beach cities will be shooting their rockets over the Pacific: Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente all are offering free shows that can be seen from wide areas of the coast. A number of inland cities, from Los Alamitos to Brea, will combine their fireworks shows with community fairs and "old-fashioned" entertainment.

Revelers who prefer a more raucous Fourth can celebrate with ex-Eagle Joe Walsh on the last day of the Orange County Fiesta in Fountain Valley. Those looking for something a bit more refined can head to Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre to hear the Pacific Symphony (story, Page 8).

The Fourth is one of the busiest days of the year for Disneyland, and the park will expand its nightly pyrotechnics show for the occasion. Knott's Berry Farm also will offer a fireworks show on Wednesday. Anaheim Stadium is traditionally the site of one of the most popular local fireworks shows, but the Angels will be out of town this Independence Day and the stadium will be dark.

Huntington Beach's parade, with grand marshal Rosey Grier and other celebrities in tow, will start at 6th Street and Acacia Avenue at 10 a.m. and will travel north along Main Street to Yorktown Avenue. A pancake breakfast and eight-kilometer run precede the parade, at 7 and 8:30 respectively.

The parade theme this year is "Main Street Memories, USA"--appropriately enough, as memories are about all that's left of Surf City's historic downtown, which is being demolished to make way for extensive redevelopment.

Memories of the old Huntington Beach do live on among some longtime residents. The parade was just a few years old when Ray Vidal, now 89, moved to the city with his family. "When we came here in 1908, we had only 600 people" in the city, he recalls. "Everybody knew everybody and they were friendly. Now, you don't even know who your neighbors are."

Vidal has fond memories of early parades and the main force behind them, a colorful local businessman named William Gallienne who would ride the parade route in an all-white suit, waving his white 10-gallon hat at the crowds. "Bill Gallienne had a knack of getting people involved," Vidal says.

Huntington Beach, which has more than 170,000 residents now, was still a sleepy seaside town when city historian Alicia Wentworth saw her first parade in 1947. "We were only about 5,000 people in the entire city then," recalls Wentworth. The parade route followed Pacific Coast Highway--a stunt that, if attempted now, probably would snarl traffic from Dana Point to Malibu.

The Huntington Beach parade was selected as California's official Bicentennial parade in 1976, but just two years later its future was threatened by the passage of tax reform measure Proposition 13. It survived by turning to private fund-raising, and last year drew more than 100,000 observers.

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