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CELEBRATING THE FOURTH

Parks, beaches are fine for fun

Heat and rip currents don't deter Southland residents from annual traditions, including favorite ethnic dishes -- even if grills are banned.

July 05, 2007|Carla Hall and Ari B. Bloomekatz | Times Staff Writers

For a brief time, it looked as if the gods of outdoor revelry were turning against Southern California on Wednesday: In Griffith Park, grilling was outlawed. In Huntington Beach, lifeguards warned of rip currents. And the L.A. Basin simmered with heat.

Did that stop the dawn till dusk celebrating of the Fourth of July? Hardly.

In Rosemead Park, people frolicked in the pool or curled up in the shade. In Griffith Park, visitors improvised picnics without grills. "We just made sandwiches," said Hazel Melendez, 20.

At Huntington Beach, surfers rode high waves and swimmers splashed close to shore, many having fled the high temperatures of inland areas. Kevin Crone, a 20-year-old engineering student from La Habra, had to drive almost to Barstow to pick up friends for a day at the beach.

"I went out there to rescue them from the heat," Crone said. "I told them to bring half a gallon of sunscreen."

Although the day was not as hot as forecast across the area, a few records were broken. The thermometer in Lancaster reached 111, breaking a record by two degrees. Big Bear Lake peaked at 92 degrees, breaking a record of 90; Palmdale tied a record at 110.

Throughout the public beaches and parks of Southern California, people gathered, good-naturedly coping with the weather and the restrictions that come with living in the fire-threatened tinderbox that is Los Angeles.

And as something of a testament to the freedom the holiday recognizes and the diversity that Los Angeles embodies, you could hear Independence Day celebrants chatting with each other in Spanish, Armenian and Korean, among other languages, and see picnic spreads far more exotic than hot dogs and hamburgers.

Alicia Velasquez, grilling a feast of chorizo puerco, chiles and carne asada in Rosemead Park, came to the United States 10 years ago from Michoacan, Mexico, and decided to acknowledge the holiday with a Mexican flavor. "We are here; we should celebrate," she said.

In Griffith Park, Malou Gerona, 37, and her two young children were part of a group of friends, mostly Filipino, who brought blankets and chairs and set out a noodle dish called pansit.

"Whenever we have a party, we have pansit," said Gerona, a government data analyst who works in downtown Los Angeles.

Because of the Griffith Park fires this spring, a new ordinance forbids grills, table-top stoves or any other kind of fire. "It's so sad," Gerona said, looking toward the backdrop of fire-scarred hills dotted with blackened skeletons of trees. "That's why when they said 'no fire' we were fine with it. We love the park."

Most visitors took the no-grilling rule in stride, even when they arrived unaware of it.

Ruzanna Aslanian, 29, and her sister, Karina Zarokian, 28, both Glendale residents, were all set for an Armenian-style barbecue when they arrived in the park with their grill and were told by another visitor that it wasn't allowed.

"My husband and her husband were all excited. They were going to barbecue," Zarokian said. But the men had to pack up the meat and take it to the Los Feliz home of their mother-in-law.

Minutes after the sisters explained their predicament, the husbands returned with their picnic Plan B: luscious beef, chicken, and pork takeout from the Armenian restaurant Golden Fish.

For those who did venture to Griffith Park there was a luxurious surprise: no crowds. Compared to the size of last year's Fourth of July crowd, "it's not even a fifth," park Ranger Nadim Eskander said.

"Barbecues and the Fourth of July go hand in hand," Senior Park Ranger Patrick Joyce said, explaining the drop-off in attendance. Picnickers found to have grills were given warnings, he said, but those who ventured into still-closed burned areas of the park were given citations.

At the other end of the city, in San Pedro, a crowd gathered high on a hill at Angels Gate Park and enjoyed a cool ocean breeze. South Korean and American flags mingled -- homage to the dual heritage of most in the group.

"It's always hard to know what to say today," said Janice Hahn, the councilwoman who represents the area. Hahn chose to touch on the nation's war dead -- from casualties in the Revolutionary War to Iraq -- and gang warfare. "There is nothing that is threatening our freedom more than gang violence," said Hahn, the keynote speaker at a community celebration.

At the end of the ceremony, John Olguin, director emeritus of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, drew the crowd of 300 around the Korean Friendship Bell. The bell was rung as each of the original 13 American colonies was named.

"Delaware," Olguin intoned.

"Delaware!" the crowd shouted.

He went through them all.

"Rhode Island," he said.

"Rhode Island!" came the hearty response.

When Olguin was done with the colonies, the bell was rung again and he called out a tribute to a place far from the colonies.

"Korean unification!" he said.

The crowd paused, some looking at each other for guidance.

"Korea!" a man suddenly shouted.

"Korea!" the crowd followed suit.

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