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Pacific Palisades' July 4th parade has small-town feel, star appeal

Dogs with flag bandannas and marching bands are regulars, and Ben Affleck, Steven Spielberg or Tom Hanks might be in the crowd. Ed Asner will be grand marshal.

July 03, 2013|By Martha Groves

Jim McGinn, a TV writer and producer, moved into his Pacific Palisades home on July 1, 1967. Three days later, the world, or so it seemed, streamed by the neighborhood newbie's front door.

"That's when we found out about the parade," McGinn said.

Pacific Palisades' two-hour Fourth of July procession — replete with bands, dogs wearing flag bandannas and kids riding bunting-bedecked bikes — is the centerpiece of the coastal enclave's rapturous celebration of Independence Day.

"It is not the Rose Bowl Parade, with million-dollar floats coming down the street, but it is one of the best hometown parades you're going to see," said Robert Weber, 45, president of the Palisades Americanism Parade Assn., the organizing committee.

One year, Miss America traveled the roughly mile-long route through the village center, along Sunset Boulevard and adjoining streets. Award-winning marching bands and a U.S. Marine Band regularly appear. This year, Kyauk Sein, a circle-drum virtuoso from Myanmar, will perform, as will the precision drill team of the local Optimist Club, wearing matching blue boxers, white shirts and black socks with garters.

The parade, for which organizers raise about $100,000, kicks off with the landing of three sky divers a little before 2 p.m. at Sunset and Swarthmore Avenue — or thereabouts — to the cheers of spectators wearing all manner of patriotic gear.

"How better to celebrate our country and our community?" Amy Barranco, a Palisades resident for more than 10 years, asked rhetorically. She and her youngsters — Logan and Marlo Harris — appear in full red, white and blue regalia on the cover of this year's parade program in a photograph from the 2012 event. Barranco wears star-spangled knee-highs, Uncle Sam top hat and sunglasses with peace symbols on the lenses.

It's as if middle America has been transplanted to the West Coast, with the added possibility that resident celebrities Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw or Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson might show up curbside to watch.

Arnie Wishnick of the local Chamber of Commerce, who has been on the organizing panel for 35 years, is charged with finding celebrities to appear. He also secures the portable toilets.

Amid postwar optimism, American Legion Post 283 sponsored the first parade in 1948. For this year's 65th, actor Ed Asner, accompanied by his grandchildren, will serve as grand marshal.

The parade is the day's main event, but it is far from the only one. Over the years, organizers have added morning 5K and 10K runs, a kids fun run, a VIP luncheon, a rock concert featuring marquee artists who live in the community and, of course, a fireworks finale. The events attract more than 20,000 people, creating monumental traffic and parking headaches along with the party vibe.

Residents along the parade route serve up burgers and margaritas for friends, family, neighbors and the occasional opportunistic stranger. Luann and Robert Williams, McGinn's neighbors, churn gallons of strawberry and peach ice cream.

Two years ago, director Sarah Kelly set out to capture the aura of this signature day for her documentary "Palisades Parade." Camera crews shot the parade and interviewed residents. The film, still in need of a distributor, recently had its premiere at Palisades Charter High School.

"That one day in the Palisades, it's still old-school," Kelly said. "For the richness of the town, it's pretty homespun."

The documentary also explores more sober aspects of this sunny-seeming place — the decline of its commercial core, the entitlement mentality of nouveau riche arrivals, recollections of Kelly's many contemporaries who died in auto accidents.

On the lighter side, the film showcases the home decorating contest. Many lawns are adorned with blow-up Uncle Sams and mini Statues of Liberty. The evening before the parade, judges make the rounds in carts and distribute ribbons. The competition has become a bit hard core over the years.

Jim Mercer's second-place finishes in 2011 and 2012 motivated him to up the ante this year on bunting, flags and red, white and blue lanterns and pinwheels hanging from the Japanese maples and birch trees in his front yard on Toyopa Drive. "It's a bummer to be runner-up," he said.

In a play for votes, Mercer and his family hung a giant "God Bless America and the Pacific Palisades" sign in their spreading sycamore.

It worked. The house was awarded first place Wednesday evening.

martha.groves@latimes.com

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