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Lots of visitors at Lotus Festival, but still no lotuses

A scaled-back event in Echo Park is missing dragon boat races and a fireworks show, but food vendors and families are out in full force.

July 12, 2010|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times

The Lotus Festival, Los Angeles' annual tribute to cross-cultural Asian heritage, reemerged in Echo Park this weekend after a one-year hiatus but still without one significant participant: the lotuses.

The 32-year-old festival has grown over the years from a modest one-day event to a weekend-long extravaganza that has attracted as many as 150,000 people, organizers said. This year, organizers said they expected roughly 30,000 visitors.

The festival, put on by the nonprofit L.A. Lotus Festival Inc. and the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, took a year off in 2009 because of the city's budget problems. This weekend, the food vendors were back, hawking pad Thai, halo-halo (a Filipino ice cream treat) and other fare. Singers, dancers and martial artists filled the stage. And festival-goers wandered through booths looking at art work and exotic birds.

But because of the scaled-back budget, organizers canceled the dragon boat races and the fireworks show and didn't set up the children's courtyard. Bob Gin, 59, of Monterey Park, one of the core volunteer festival organizers, said he'd gotten a lot of questions about the missing events.

"They missed the fireworks and the dragon boat races, but they're happy the festival is back," he said.

Kristian Vu Bostic, 8, came to the festival with his parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. On Sunday afternoon, they had eaten a Thai lunch and were walking through the booths around the lake.

"I liked everything," Kristian said.

But as hundreds of people were out enjoying the sunshine, food and performances Sunday afternoon, there was one pressing question: Where were the lotuses?

The pink and white blossoms once blanketed the lake. The plants were a piece of Echo Park history, believed to be descendants of lotuses brought from China in the 1920s.

"That's one thing our family looked forward to every single year is the blooming of the lotuses — that tells us the Lotus Festival is coming," said Nancy Bautista, 32, who was out perusing the festival grounds Sunday with husband Anthony Santos, 33, and their two small children.

But there was not a lotus bud to be seen this weekend, or for the last three years. City staff and festival organizers have given a number of possible explanations, including bacteria and chemicals in the water and nonnative turtles eating the plants.

In 2006, California identified Echo Park Lake as an impaired water body. But in 2011, Los Angeles plans to kick off an ambitious rehabilitation that will include bringing back lotuses. The $65-million project will be funded by bonds approved in 2004 for clean-water projects.

This time, the flowers will come not only from China but also from Thailand, Bangladesh and other Asian countries, said Annamaria Galbraith, a supervisor with the city's parks department. The project's target completion date is spring 2013, in time for Lotus Festival.

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