Looking back at the inaugural Holiday Boat Parade
Editor’s note: The following excerpts are from a column by the late Darien Murray, a former Argonaut writer, looking at the first annual parade, then called the Christmas Boat Parade, in 1963.
“The Marina had just opened and had no breakwater, no nothing except a few docks. And very few boat owners,” recalled Margie Bragg. Most of the Christmas Boat Parade spectators were sea gulls and fishermen.
Proud owners of a 47-foot trimaran, Tres Leis (Three Flowers), the Braggs were among the first boat owners to rent a boat slip here.
Pieces of Eight (now Shanghai Red’s) was the only restaurant open in the Marina.
Margie helped organize the very first Christmas Boat Parade, and she recalled the Marina del Rey of late 1963:
“Nobody wanted to come here, so the county was delighted at our boat parade idea. The parade would advertise the Marina.”
“The boat owners were a very close group. We had dinners ashore and sometimes everyone gathered for dinners at our home.”
Pez Espada IV, Elizabeth Floyd’s 85-foot sailboat, won the top trophy in the 1963 inaugural Christmas Boat Parade.
Margie recalled the decorating job aboard Tres Leis, which won the top trophy in the second parade in 1964:
“Our trimaran was 47 feet long and had a 24-foot beam. What a wonderful platform that was!
“For our Santa Claus, we borrowed a Paul Bunyan from a service station. It took nine men to carry him to the dock, and we had to winch him aboard and wrap him to the stays.”
The Braggs went on to win prizes in the next three parades and then, “because it wasn’t fair to the other boats,” they became spectators.
Dream in Gold!
On Dec. 8, the Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade will be celebrating a milestone…the 50th parade. Thanks to the Pioneer Skippers for starting the tradition that continues to be enjoyed by so many people. This year’s theme, “Celebrating 50 Years…A Solid Gold Christmas,” brought out the gold as 3-time Olympic gold medal winner Kerri Walsh Jennings will lead the parade.
A big thank you goes out to the sponsors and contributors, but the parade takes a lot of volunteers to bring it all together. A big thank you to Lowell Safier, vice president; Judith Ciancimino, secretary; and Riley Walters, CPA, treasurer; board of directors – Diane Barretti, Mia Falkenstein, Eileen Fend, Alie Gaffan, Kelly King, Jerry Magnussen, Bob Singer, Debbie Talbot, Debbie Thomson and Greg Wenger; advisor – Willie Hjorth; volunteers – Sheila Butler, Vivian Callahan, Chuck Daugherty, Wanda Davis, Carolyn Epstein, Sue Foltz, Michael Graham, Paul Gregg, Stan Harris, Nora MacLellan, Yayoi Otani Magnussen, Don Mantarro, Vicki Pasek, Megan Peery, Genevieve Peters, Elizabeth Sampson, James Sampson, Yukari Santo, Louis Scaduto, Janice Solis, Joe Spereno, Adriana Van Hemert, Barbara Wasserman and Melanie Williams.
Once again, we are so happy to have Lisa Osborne and Mickey Czegledy as our park announcers.
Thank you to Michael Yokotake for taking photos of all the boats as they make their way around the Marina.
A special thanks to you, the community, for coming out to see the parade year after year and cheering the boaters on.
Most importantly, a big thank you to the boaters; without you there would not be a parade.
Quoting Misty May-Treanor, “Dream in Gold,” and have a happy and healthy holiday season!
Marina del Rey
Holiday Boat Parade
The evolution of the Holiday Boat Parade
By Pat Reynolds
Fifty years ago a bunch of boats in Marina del Rey strung some Christmas tree lights over the spreaders or fly-bridge and cruised around the sparsely populated harbor to celebrate the Christmas holiday – boater style.
Today, thousands of people from all around the Los Angeles area line the sidewalks around the basins to witness how creative the boating breed can be – to take in another dimension of the holiday spectacle. Folding chairs and blankets are the order of the day for spectators who are guaranteed a hearty blend of Christmas spirit and homespun LED artistry.
The parade has come a long way since its 1963 inaugural circling of the harbor, which at the time consisted of only about 100 boats. Fifteen to 20 decorated vessels rounded a course in a harbor that at the time had very few buildings, no public park and not yet had a separated breakwall at its entrance.
The first non-commercial boat in the Marina was also the winner of the first Marina del Rey Christmas Boat Parade. The Pez Espada, an 85-foot motor sailor owned by George and Elizabeth Floyd and maintained by Jack Sells, had its rigging adorned with lights and a full choir singing on her decks as she passed by the Pieces of Eight restaurant (what is now Shanghai Reds) where the judges were located.
Sells was also in charge of the very boat in the harbor, a fire boat that patrolled the area. He laughingly said that he and the Harbor Patrol would make the rounds, but since there were no other boats – the job was quite easy.
Longtime Marina del Rey resident and cofounder of the Marina del Rey Historical Society Willie Hjorth remembers those first days as less of a public event and more of a bonding and celebration between the few boaters that inhabited the new space. Hjorth later became a driving force in the progression and modernization of the parade, which led to events of over 100 boats that still hold participation records.
“Of course it was brand new and we all thought that if you had 20 strands of lights you were really great,” Hjorth said of the first parade.
The Marina was a more intimate place in the early to mid 1960s. Without a detached breakwall, a powerful ocean surge would often roll in and wreak havoc for the few boats inhabiting the space that now harbors over 4,000 boats. Boaters would band together and help each other manage the chaos. Illustrating how small and tight knit it was, one of the first Marina del Rey tenants, Margie Bragg, said in an interview that the entire town came to watch the first parade at the Pieces of Eight and there was room for everyone.
“Twice we had a Christmas tree on a raft out in the middle of the main basin, with a generator to light it,” Bragg said of the first few parades. “We kept it there throughout the holiday season. John Erskine and my husband, Steve, took turns rowing out every night with gasoline to keep the lights burning.”
In 1968, with the driving force of the main boater advocacy organization of the time, Pioneer Skippers Boat Owners Association, the boat parade began to become something significantly more substantial.
Hjorth recollects that a definite turning point was when parade organizers looked to people affiliated with the Rose Parade to come and share the knowledge that they evidently had (in abundance) for such an event.
“We were really helped along when we said to ourselves, ‘the Rose Parade knows how to put on floats – why don’t we get some people from there to come here and show us how to do it?,’” Hjorth said. “So we had some decorating seminars.”
Through the 1970s on into the 80s boats began to reflect the influence of the Rose Parade and the city of Los Angeles began to take notice. By this time Burton Chance Park was built in the heart of the Marina and was a perfect viewing area for city residents.
As years passed, LED (light emitting diode) lights, more compact generators and years of experience yielded more sophisticated and ambitious designs. Celebrity grand marshals became part of the tradition, citywide press coverage ensued and Marina del Rey’s streets were filled with spectators watching a spectrum of lights reflect off the harbor’s calm waters.
Hjorth said there was a stretch where the creativity and affection for the event was contagious and the interest sincere, but around 1990, volunteerism began to fade and participation numbers reflected the dilemma.
The “yuppie” movement, working mothers and an overall shift in lifestyle seemed to have affected the parade but it remained and continues to remain an event with character and roots that will likely always exist in this area.
While some have criticized the name changing from the Christmas Boat Parade to the Holiday Boat Parade, most, ultimately, understand that this event is one of the more pure displays of holiday spirit any one area has to offer. On Dec. 8, there will be a wide array of powerboats and sailboats incredibly adorned with lights configured in a seemingly impossible way.
There will be bands playing traditional holiday music, crusty old boaters dressed as Santas, little kids screaming kind salutations and for one night, hundreds of boaters putting on a show to make the world a better and happier place – which is what this time of year is all about. §
Marina holiday tradition marks 50 years
The 50th Annual Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade, with the theme “A Solid Gold Christmas,” will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, beginning with a
fireworks display off the south jetty at 5:55 p.m.
The event is organized by an all-volunteer committee of local business and community leaders. Spectators are invited to enjoy the festivities from popular viewing locations like Burton Chace Park, Fisherman’s Village and local hotels and restaurants.
The route circles the Marina channel past Fisherman’s Village, Burton Chace Park and the California Yacht Club. Parade judges will be stationed at Burton Chace Park where guests can enjoy live music and commentary from Lisa Osborn, KFWB-AM newscaster and Mickey Laszlo, a cartoon voiceover actor and KABC-TV traffic reporter.
To add to the festivities, the Marina del Rey Convention and Visitors Bureau is distributing Santa hats with flashing LED lights to the first 1,500 spectators at Burton Chace Park. Other activities for children will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. at the park, including arts and crafts, face painting and balloon figures, holiday hoops and free dental kits.
Los Angeles County Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents Marina del Rey, said the parade has long been synonymous with the Marina.
“It always amazes me how folks go all out decorating their boats,” said the supervisor, who plans to attend this year’s anniversary event. “(The parade) reminds everyone that it’s sort of the kickoff to the holiday season in the Marina.
“It’s a great holiday celebration.”
Longtime Marina resident Willie Hjorth recalled some of her memories of the early days of the parade, when huge banks of fog came down the main channel, causing the parade boats to play “bumper boats” trying to find their slips after the fog swamped the Marina.
“The other memorable parade event was the county’s entry in the early 1970s which really upped the creativity quotient of decorating a boat for spectator delight,” recalled Hjorth, describing how three harbor boats were decorated like a green monster sea serpent with three humps emerging out of the water.
For the 50th anniversary event, spectators will have the opportunity to park in one of 10 county public parking lots near the Marina.
Olympic volleyball legend is grand marshal for ‘golden’ parade
Marina del Rey’s first Christmas Boat Parade was in 1963. It was sponsored by the Marina del Rey Pioneer Skippers, Inc., a group of local boat owners.
There were only approximately 100 boats in the Marina, and 20 of them participated in the parade. The Marina was not yet developed, and the boat parade seemed to be a good way of attracting visitors to the area.
This year, the Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade celebrates its 50th anniversary with the theme, “Celebrating 50 Years…A Solid Gold Christmas.” The theme is reflected by the choice of grand marshal for the parade, Kerri Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in beach volleyball. Jennings, along with her partner, Misty May-Treanor, won her first gold medal in Athens in 2004, followed by Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.
“This is truly a very special parade, considering that people got together 50 years ago to plan an event that is still ongoing and a popular event each year,” said Cindy Williams, who has been president of the Holiday Boat Parade for the past 10 years.
Williams said that she is ecstatic about Jennings agreeing to be the grand marshal. The story of how that feat was accomplished is about family and friends. Williams’ sister, Melanie, had attended Santa Monica High School and knew Bob Selznick, whose brother Dane coached May-Treanor and Jennings in 2004.
Bob and Dane’s late father, Gene Selznick, a legendary volleyball player and coach, had also coached May-Treanor and Jennings in the past. Williams’ sister talked to Williams about that connection, and Williams told her it would be a major accomplishment and honor to have Jennings serve as grand marshal. Williams said her sister then spoke to Bob Selznick, who arranged to have Williams e-mail Jennings, and the rest is history.
If May-Treanor’s schedule permits, she could possibly join her Olympic teammate on the grand marshal’s boat, Williams said.
Jennings joins a list of other notable people who have served as grand marshal throughout the boat parade’s history. Among those are Buddy Ebsen of TV’s “The Beverly Hillbillies,” actor Dick Van Patten, Florence Henderson and Barry Williams of TV’s “The Brady Bunch,” and former Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.
The holiday parade used to draw more than 50,000 spectators in the late 1970s and early 80s and attracted various celebrities over the years. Those who have judged the lights and music of decorated vessels have included Los Angeles city officials such as Councilman Bill Rosendahl and Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey, as well as The Argonaut’s founder and former publisher David Asper Johnson.
Additionally this year, Williams has persuaded Steve Hegg, a gold and silver medalist in the Olympics in track cycling, to join Jennings. He is well known for his two Olympic berths, 13 national titles, and a highly decorated 25-year professional cycling career. As a 17-year-old, he was the youngest downhill skier to be ranked number one in the world, winning four U.S. national titles before switching to cycling.
A third Olympic gold medalist, Rebecca Soni, the three-time gold and three-time silver medalist in swimming, is also looking forward to participating in the parade and riding on the grand marshal’s boat.
Mark Steines, an Emmy Award-winning journalist who co-hosted “Entertainment Tonight” for more than 17 years, is also scheduled to be one of the VIPs featured on boats in the 50th annual parade.
“This event has become a very important tradition for this community; residents, local visitors and tourists alike flock here every year to enjoy this beautiful spectacle and shop and dine in the community,” said Beverly Moore, the executive director of the Marina del Rey Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“It’s really a wonderful coming together of boaters, citizens and businesses working to make this happen. And all of us tip our hats to Boat Parade Committee President Cindy Williams and her troupe of devoted volunteers for their tireless efforts. By the way, this is an especially important year for Marina del Rey, as the 50th Annual Boat Parade is kicking off the first celebratory event in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Marina del Rey, which comes up in 2015.”