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Calendar said March, right?

Downtown's day-early St. Patrick's Day Parade draws scant attention, but it does get motorists stewing over street closures.

March 17, 2007|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Maybe next year they should hold the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Los Angeles' Little Dublin district.

Except the city has no such Irish enclave -- which could explain the leprechaun-size turnout for the day-early St. Patrick's Day celebration Friday between Olvera Street and Pershing Square.

Relatively few onlookers were along the nine-block parade route as bagpipers, school bands and vintage police cars and firetrucks made their way along an empty Main Street. Some office workers heading to lunch sauntered across the route without even casting a glance.

Irish eyes were smiling, of course, among true wearers o' the green.

Councilman Tom LaBonge, the parade's chief proponent, covered the route on foot. And he was enthusiastic every step of the way, calling out to acquaintances he spied on the curb.

"This is our eighth annual parade. It's coming back. It's not as big as the Hollywood Boulevard Christmas parade. But we're getting there," LaBonge said. His Irish immigrant grandfather was a Los Angeles police officer from 1919 to 1949.

Just then, an old firetruck passed by, and LaBonge looked up at a man riding on it. "There's the great Sal Castro, who led the 1968 walkout at Lincoln High!" he shouted to a small knot of onlookers. "There's a wonderful relationship between Latinos and the Irish!"

The parade didn't exactly rivet downtown -- it was decidedly casual Friday. At some points along the route, office workers came outside to cheer. On 1st Street, many pedestrians seemed oblivious to the marching bands and other fanfare.

Those who stopped long enough to watch seemed to enjoy themselves.

Some spent their lunch hour watching and waving to participants such as actor Robert Patrick, the grand marshal, and Lt. Donald Farrell, who was honored as the LAPD's Irish Police Officer of the Year.

"It's fabulous," Tiffany O'Hare, an advertising saleswoman from Lake Elsinore, said as she watched from behind a barricade on 2nd Street.

Erin Uyeshima, a West Los Angeles law student who is interning in the city attorney's office, viewed the parade through a restaurant window as she sipped green-tinted iced tea with fellow intern Amanda Kent of Brentwood.

"It's Friday. It's fun and it's different," said Uyeshima, who quickly added: "I'm a quarter Irish, actually."

Kent was puzzled why so few were on the street outside. "It's nice to see a community come together. But we're very surprised more people aren't here to appreciate this."

As the Los Angeles Police Emerald Society Pipes and Drums Corps marched past, a handful of city officials rolled down Main Street behind a squad of antique police cars, including a siren-wailing 1947 Plymouth black-and-white. City Councilman Bernard C. Parks rode in a Mustang convertible, Council President Eric Garcetti was in a vintage Cadillac convertible and Councilwoman Jan Perry sat atop a horse-drawn Wells Fargo stagecoach.

Parade-watcher Allen Russak waited as a British double-decker bus rented by Casey's Irish Bar & Grille downtown slowly made its way along the route. Its occupants tossed green plastic necklaces and St. Patrick's Day buttons to spectators.

"St. Patrick's Day has been very good for me," laughed Russak, a Los Angeles food manufacturer and distributor whose wares include the Irish favorite, corned beef. "It's paid the bills the last two weeks."

A cellphone call from an employee interrupted Russak. "I hope you can get through the traffic to get there -- streets are closed," he told the caller.

"I think if they'd had this parade on Saturday, on actual St. Patrick's Day, they wouldn't have disrupted downtown traffic," Russak said after hanging up. "But on a Saturday, no one would have shown up."

The parade packed plenty of punch for some. By noon it had tied downtown traffic in a giant Celtic knot.

Sections of nine major streets were closed for nearly 90 minutes. "They're not too happy," said a city traffic control officer who funneled eastbound 1st Street motorists traveling from Bunker Hill to Little Tokyo into a zigzagging detour.

For his part, LaBonge remained upbeat at the parade's end.

"By the time we got to 5th Street, it felt like Fifth Avenue in New York. It was lined with people. I'm estimating 5,000 to 7,000 saw the parade." He then acknowledged: "I'm being very generous."

He did express disappointment in the traffic snarl and in the large gaps between the marching units.

And he voiced regret over the parade shutting down access to the federal courthouse's Main Street driveway.

"The plan was to keep all the streets open until the parade got to them. We were going to let buses through on Broadway," LaBonge said.

"But they thought it was in the interest of safety to shut down all the streets at 11:30 and reroute the buses."

As for federal judges unable to drive from their building to Friday lunch engagements, he was hoping for some future luck of the Irish.

"I hope I don't ever have to appear before them," LaBonge said. "This parade was done in full Irish fashion: with a few hiccups."

*

bob.pool@latimes.com

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