The 15th annual Westchester Fourth of July Parade rides a wave of community support

By Jessi McDonald

Max and Bella preparing for the parade

Max and Bella preparing for the parade

A treasured neighborhood tradition that helps preserve small-town bonds inside L.A.’s sprawling metropolis, Westchester’s annual Fourth of July Parade steps off Saturday on Loyola Boulevard for its
15th consecutive year — this time funded entirely by community donations.

Working under the theme “American Beach Party,” float builders have spent the past week putting finishing touches on their homespun masterpieces.

Westchester Lutheran Church and School, winner of last year’s Best Overall Float award for its cheery depiction of a boy playing with a toy Space X shuttle, has once again entrusted float construction to Dan Garr. A father of two children attending the school, Garr has been the artistic director behind the school’s prize-winning floats for the past eight years.

Owner of the Westchester-based toy and 3-D modeling company Hot Buttered Elves, Garr takes a similar approach to floats as he does his one-of-a-kind toy designs: In order for a toy or float to be successful, it must tell a story that connects with people.

“Remember those days when you’re getting ready to go to a beach party? You go in the garage, get the tent, get the surfboards, get the cooler, fill up the cooler — and don’t forget the kids!” Garr said of his inspiration this year. “I’m that dad who’s carrying his kid who’s riding on the cooler, and he’s pulling the barbecue and surfboard, and the baby’s in the back. It’s like this highly comical scene.”

After building a float’s underlying structure, Garr recruits kids from the school to decoupage the frame with glue and tissue paper. Students have spent the past week painting this year’s float, and by the end of the week they’ll add banners as a finishing touch.

“It’s a salute to all of the great parents of Westchester who take the time and work so hard to make sure their kids go and have a good time,” Garr said.

Emerson Avenue Community Garden volunteers aim to give Garr and Westchester Lutheran a run for their creative money this year, however.

The garden’s 2014 float depicting a tranquil suburban home was named best in relation to last year’s “My America” theme.

This year the garden’s caretakers spent a considerable amount of time figuring out how to adapt their identity as a garden to fit the American Beach Party theme. They’ve since been hard at work on a creative interpretation that will feature a giant ear of corn catching a wave while different fruits and vegetables sitting in beach chairs watch from the shore.

While the design is aimed at giving spectators a smile, Emerson Avenue Community Garden volunteer coordinator Dorothy Stone believes that participating in the parade is about more than building floats.

“Our official model is, ‘Build a garden, grow a community,’” Stone said. “Anything we can do to help bring people with diverse interests and diverse backgrounds together, the more fulfilled we feel.”

To bring it all home, this year’s parade grand marshal is Del Rey American Little Leaguer turned Major League Baseball shortstop Royce Clayton.

Clayton was drafted out of St Bernard High School in 1988 by the San Francisco Giants, where he played from 1991 to 1996. Over 17 MLB seasons, Clayton represented the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1997 All-Star Game and won a 2007 World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox.

“We’re really excited to have him. The Del Rey American Little League is marching in our parade behind [Clayton], so it’ll be a homecoming for him,” said Christina Davis, president of the LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber takes the lead in organizing the Westchester Fourth of July Parade each year, but this year Davis has seen an unprecedented level of community support.

With insurance, permits and other expenses, the cost of putting on the parade adds up to about $25,000 each year.

Last year, LAX Coastal’s 16-member parade organizing committee (including one of Clayton’s former Little League coaches) took to crowdfunding website IndieGoGo to raise $4,000 over 27 days to defray event costs.

This year the chamber doubled down on a direct call for community donations. The overwhelming success of that effort made this weekend’s Westchester Fourth of July Parade the first that will be completely funded by donations.

“We have some people who own properties that have been sponsors since almost day one; some companies are longstanding supporters each year,” said Davis. “Sometimes we get local residents who really just enjoy the parade, and they’ll write a $100 to $500 check. And then you have people sending in $20 checks — so really, a combination of residents and businesses help support the parade.”

The 15th annual Westchester Fourth of July Parade starts from Westchester Park (7000 W. Manchester Blvd.) at 11 a.m. and continues down Loyola Boulevard until arriving at Loyola Marymount University at 1 p.m. Call (310) 645-5151 or visit laxcoastal.com for info.

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