The 20th annual Westchester Fourth of July Parade celebrates American values and community character
By Jennifer Pellerito
Time flies when you’re having fun! On Independence Day the annual Westchester Fourth of July Parade returns for its 20th year, bringing thousands of community participants and spectators to Loyola Boulevard for an expression of local pride under a very unifying theme: “America, Better Together.”
“The country’s going through divided times,” explained Gwen Vuchsas, current and founding parade chair for event sponsors the LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce. “We chose the theme to embrace diversity, to embrace culture, and to embrace our community and our people.”
Fifty entries are participating in this year’s parade, including locally built parade floats, marching bands, performance groups, community organizations, local VIPs, and youth sports teams decked out in red, white and blue.
The parade steps off from Westchester Park at 11 a.m. sharp with the LAPD Pacific Area Junior Cadets and then continues down Loyola to the Loyola Marymount University campus at around 12:30 p.m.
Five high school marching bands including the feisty Venice High Gondoliers will keep spirits high with patriotic tunes, with perennial favorites the charro horses and marchers with the Kentwood Players and Westchester-Playa Historical Society bringing up the rear. The fluffy pups of the Great Pyrenees Alliance of the West strut their stuff in the No. 7 slot, followed directly by the AYSO 7 Westchester Blue Jets State Champions.
The Mar Vista Family Center Folklórico Dance Group joins for the first time this year, bringing traditional dance and dress from different regions of Mexico to center stage. Renowned lion dance team The Immortals showcases the ancient art of Chinese lion dancing with giant costumes, drums, gongs and cymbals.
Other VIPS include grand marshal Jory Rand, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, state Sen. Ben Allen, L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin, LAUSD board member Nick Melvoin, new LAX Coastal Chamber board chair Michael D’Amadio and Honorary Mayor Kelly King.
In addition to the high schools marching bands, 11 local school groups plus LMU and Otis College are marching or preparing floats for this year’s parade.
“No other community event brings Westchester out like this,” said Vuchsas, a local for over 45 years. “It’s a real hometown, beautiful thing to see all those families out there celebrating our country.”
Christopher Watson, principal of Visitation Catholic School, helped rally a team of parents to construct a float that gives their kids the chance to ride down Loyola Boulevard. For this year’s parade, they’ve interpreted the theme and built a train that can carry up to 200 riders.
“This year is the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad, which is what brought our country physically together,” said Watson. The massive, three-car train will be 50 feet high by
18 feet tall, complete with locomotive wheels and a smoke effect coming from the locomotive engine.
“We get some really good ideas on paper, and then we have a couple builders who can make it happen, and then we invite other families to come in and decorate it so that by July 3 we’re ready to go,” Watson explained. The collaborative spirit of building the float generates excitement throughout the neighborhood for weeks leading up to the parade, he said.
Parade officials award prizes for Best Float Overall, Best Float Related to the Theme, and Most Spirited Float, but builders aren’t just doing it for a trophy — “They want people to feel good. They want to wow people,” Watson said.
The Marina del Rey chapter of Bartels’ Harley-Davidson HOGs returns to rev their engines and lead the march of proud parade participants up Loyola Boulevard. One of the most popular attractions, the HOGs have participated in the parade since its beginning.
The Westchester Fourth of July Parade got its start in honor of the new millennium after Mary Lou Crockett, a realtor and active community member, brought the idea to the LAX Chamber. Vuchsas, who was chair of the board at the time, took the lead as the parade chair.
Garrett Smith, who serves as parade committee chair for the Neighborhood Council of Westchester, remembers those humble early days of the parade.
“We printed out a little flyer — probably about 1,500 copies — and we were wondering if anybody was going to show up to the parade,” said Smith. “At a quarter to 11, people just started flowing in.”
In fact, it was such a success that organizers and community members, some of whom arrive as early as 5 a.m. to stake out prime viewing locations, decided to make it a community tradition.
“It feels like you’re in a very small town when you come out for the Fourth of July Parade, even though you’re in Los Angeles right next to one of the busiest airports in the world,” LAX Coastal Chamber VP of Marketing Kirby Israelson said.
“It really is such a communitywide effort to make sure this happens,” she added. “People take ownership of it. This is our parade.”
Contact parade organizers at (310) 645-5151 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.