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Doo Dah Parade proceeds out of Old Town Pasadena

The festivity, started in 1978 as an irreverent alternative to the Rose Parade, will be held May 1 in Lamanda Park, an eclectic neighborhood that producers say fits more with the spirit of the event.

March 08, 2010|By Corina Knoll
  • Tom Coston, president of Light Bringer Project, producer of the Doo Dah Parade, does a wacky walk on Colorado Boulevard in East Pasadena, home to the longtime festivity's new route.
Tom Coston, president of Light Bringer Project, producer of the Doo Dah… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

Before the trendy apparel chains, frozen yogurt shops and fusion eateries arrived, Old Town Pasadena was a bohemian neighborhood where the rent was cheap, the bars were dives and one could peruse the Free Press bookstore after attending a folk dance class.

It was here that an irreverent parade named after a campy British rock group known as the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band was born. And for the last three decades, it's where the Doo Dah Parade has stayed, drawing thousands to watch the offbeat and flamboyant entries -- the BBQ & Hibachi Marching Grill Team, the Church of the Ornamental Lawn Decorations, Human-Powered Cupcakes and Martinis in the Morning.

Doo Dah Parade: An article in Monday's LATExtra section about the move of the Doo Dah Parade to the Lamanda Park neighborhood of Pasadena said the event had never strayed from Old Town Pasadena. Although parade organizers have said this year's event would be the first outside that area, a scaled-back parade in 1993 was held at City Hall Plaza, several blocks east of the Old Pasadena business improvement district. —

But on May 1, those hoping to join in the customary crowd tradition of tossing marshmallows, tortillas and neckties along the parade route will have to head east to the Lamanda Park district, a quiet side of Pasadena that, unlike Old Town, has seen little revitalization.

Although the parade has often varied when it comes to date, route and regularity (it's sometimes been held twice a year and sometimes not at all), it has never strayed from Old Town. Organizers, however, say the crosstown move is a chance to return to the indie roots of what began as an impish reply to the pomp and extravagance of the Rose Parade.

Started out of the now-defunct Chromo's Bar by a group of friends, the first Doo Dah Parade took place Jan. 1, 1978 -- a date the Rose Parade would have dominated were it not for its "Never on Sunday" policy that pushed it to the following day.

"It was a collective-consciousness kind of thing," recalled one of the original organizers, Corky Peterson, 62. "We worked this whole thing from the bar's pay phone. People called up wondering what was going on. The parade was like a way to let off steam."

But a couple of years ago, the current parade's producers said, they began to feel that the festivity and its setting had lost some of its organic appeal. With a growing Doo Dah crowd and Old Town now a commercial shopping mecca where consumer favorites like Abercrombie & Fitch and the Cheesecake Factory dot the background, they believed the spirit of the parade was getting lost.

It also appeared to be heading toward becoming the very thing it had hoped to parody.

"We were on the cusp of predictability, and that's something the parade was not about -- it was about being spontaneous and improvisational," said Tom Coston, president of Light Bringer Project, a nonprofit arts organization that produces the Doo Dah Parade.

"By moving it, we're peeling a few layers away so it becomes less of an entertainment vehicle and more of a public art event," Coston said.

Coston said he thought Lamanda Park, an eclectic neighborhood with antique stores, auto body shops, family-owned boutiques and old-time ambience, could benefit from a high-energy event.

Shauna Novotny, owner of Novotny's Antique Gallery, said she would welcome the Doo Dah Parade in front of her East Pasadena business, even if attendees weren't interested in patronizing her store.

"I think it's a great idea to move it to this direction and give people a chance to mingle in this area and see what we're all about," she said. "It puts a new perspective on things."

The parade could also help with name recognition of the neighborhood. "It's not necessarily known as Lamanda Park but is known as that stretch of Colorado with trees and the little stores," said Paul Little, president of the city's chamber of commerce.

"It's a really nice area and has a unique personality -- it's sort of what it probably felt like back in the '20s, '30s and '40s, except the cars are newer."

Architect Dale Brown, whose firm moved to Lamanda Park a few years ago, said the artistic nature of the parade would fit the area. "We're not a real shirt-and-tie kind of place," he said.

Despite complaints from some that Old Town has lost some of its urban verve, Steve Mulheim of the Old Pasadena Management District said the 21 blocks that make up Old Town shouldn't be generalized as mainstream.

"The side streets are independent restaurants and shopkeepers, and a lot of very artistically driven people, so that component is most definitely still here," he said. "We're certainly a much more polished environment, but we still are very organic."

Many Old Town businesses were disappointed to hear of the Doo Dah Parade's departure and said they will miss the spike in revenue that came with the event.

"It was one of our big days of the year," said Aaron Powell, manager of Old Towne Pub on Fair Oaks Avenue. "We counted it almost like a holiday, like St. Patrick's Day or New Year's."

Peterson, who hasn't attended the parade he helped create in years but will serve as this year's grand marshal, said he's in favor of the change in venue.

"I think it's going back to the people," he said.

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