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History in the Making--and Unmaking

August 16, 1992|SUSAN PATERNO

It started three years ago as a whim, an excuse to introduce some history to the Long Beach sand sculpture contest.

Members of Gateways to History, a Long Beach-based volunteer educational group, built an intricate replica of a medieval timepiece, a sundial with ancient heraldry adornments. At three feet tall, it was dwarfed by the towering seven- and eight-foot sand skyscrapers that competitors built from plastic and plaster models.

"You just couldn't see ours," said Suzanne Miljevich-Rosse, a Gateways organizer. "The judges like big pieces, not the subtle ones."

Last year, the group enlisted engineers, designers and artists from among their membership, doubled their sculpture's size and chose a more obvious theme: "We did a castle," Miljevich-Rosse said. The result: Gateways to History took first place in its division.

This year the group hopes to do the same by building a medieval, mythological castle with soaring towers, spires and dragons when the annual sand sculpture contest begins at 9 a.m. Aug. 23 on the beach in front of the Belmont Plaza Pool in Long Beach.

The contest is part of the 60th annual Sea Festival, a monthlong celebration organized by the city of Long Beach, the Chamber of Commerce and private and nonprofit organizations. The festival sponsors nearly two dozen events during August, from a model boat regatta, jet-ski and sailboat races to volleyball tournaments, a catamaran world championship and the sand sculpture contest.

The sculpture contest draws dozens of entrants, with bigger, bolder and harder-to-beat designs each year. Last year, Miljevich-Rosse and company got wise--they discovered a Disney Imagineer among their members and designed a towering re-creation of the lost city of Atlantis with a huge sea serpent rolling through it. "It's not really fact," Miljevich-Rosse explained, "but it is historical."

Miljevich-Rosse, who founded Gateways to History and organizes the group's 24-person team, only recently discovered her interest in sandcastle building, but her love of history goes back to childhood. Her father, a steelworker who never graduated from high school, is a self-taught scholar "who read his way through three libraries," Miljevich-Rosse said.

He instilled in Miljevich-Rosse a love of learning, history and libraries, which came in handy when she discovered building sandcastles is not the child's play most people think it is. "Most people don't realize there are whole books on the subject," she said.

Books, however, fail to prepare sand sculptors for the intensity of the Long Beach competition, Miljevich-Rosse said. Competitors race against nature, which threatens to blow down the castle or take it back to sea before the judges get to it.

"It's a madhouse," Miljevich-Rosse said. "It gets really intense."

Observers are cautioned to arrive before 4 p.m., because roving bands of children have been known to go on search-and-destroy missions right after the judges pick winners. Parking is available at the Belmont Plaza Pool lot, 4000 Olympic Plaza, Long Beach, and on side streets. Judging begins at 1:30 p.m., and awards are presented at 3 p.m.

For information on how to enter, call Louise Carlson at the Chamber of Commerce, (310) 436-1251, Ext. 233. For information on remaining Sea Festival events, call the festival hot line, (310) 421-9431, Ext. 4102.

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