Westchester’s annual Independence Day street party celebrates patriotism and reinforces community bonds
By Alexandra Babiarz
Loyola Boulevard will be painted red, white and blue on Friday as families line the street to celebrate our nation’s birth and an enduring sense of neighborhood bonds with the 14th annual Westchester Fourth of July Parade.
With more than 1,000 participants and some 5,000 spectators, the parade has become the largest event held in Westchester each year.
“The Fourth of July Parade is a true celebration of community,” said Christina Davis, president of the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the parade each year.
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co-host Jovana Lara will serve as this year’s grand marshal, an honor bestowed on Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last year. Assemblyman Steven Bradford, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin and other local officials are expected to join Lara along the route, which starts in Westchester Park and follows Loyola Boulevard to Loyola Marymount University.
Building on the success of last year’s parade, event organizers say 2014 entries raise the bar even further.
The more than 50 parade entries this year include first-timers and old hats.
Westchester Lutheran Church and School, the reigning three-time Best Float champion, has participated in the parade since 2000, when it was first held as part of the Westchester/Playa Del Rey Historical Society’s year-long millennium celebration.
“In the fifteen years that the parade’s been going on, we’ve always done something,” said Westchester Lutheran Church and School administrator Sandra Masted. “A parent designs the float, and our families all come together to build it — moms and dads, kids, grandmas and grandpas.” But, she said, “It’ll be hard to beat last year’s [float]”—a soaring eagle.”
Despite its spirit of competition, the heart of parade is about coming together.
“It’s been wonderful for the community. People come out in droves. It started small, but it gets bigger and bigger every year,” Masted said. “People talk about it for weeks after: ‘Did you see this? Did you see that? Wasn’t that great?’”
The community pulling together has been reflected in the response to the chamber’s Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign, a concept launched this year to lighten the financial burden on parade sponsors and participants.
Chamber officials say the electronic fundraising campaign has met an outpouring of support from residents, who have helped raise more than $3,800 for the parade as of Monday, reaching two-thirds of the campaign goal.
“This is a testament to how important the parade is in the fabric of our community,” Davis said. “Residents want to keep this tradition alive so their families can enjoy it year after year.”
Matthew Tecle, a program specialist for Otis College of Art and Design’s Creative Action Program, agreed. This will be the first year that the college participates in the parade. For the college, “this is the first step in what will hopefully be a long relationship with the community,” he said.
This year’s theme is “Love My America.” Students from the Creative Action Program, which partners with local organizations to work on environmental and social justice issues, will transform a golf cart into an endangered rhino to raise awareness of animal rights.
“We love our country, and we love our community,” Tecle said. “We believe that includes animals, a critical part of all of our lives.”
The Emerson Avenue Community Garden Club’s float will bring this year’s theme down to earth. It portrays the American dream of a house with a white-picket fence and a bountiful vegetable garden. This will be the EACGC’s third year participating in the Fourth of July parade.
“I grew up in a small town in Nebraska, and this parade reminds me so much of my hometown,” said EACGC volunteer Dorothy Stone. “It’s kind of hokey, but it’s great fun, and people just love it.”
Stone, who has lived in Westchester for nearly two decades, said the parade gives residents a feeling of coming together as part of a community.
“It’s so easy in big cities to be anonymous and go about your own way,” said Stone, adding that she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else “exactly because of things like this.”
Tecle, who is moving into the area, echoed this sentiment.
“There’s a unique spirit here — in Del Rey, Mar Vista, Westchester. It has a small-town feel that’s really odd in Los Angeles,” he said.
“Now, people are opening their wallets to help make this happen” [through the crowd-funding campaign]. It shows that people appreciate what we’ve built here. I’m proud to be a part of it,” Tecle said.
The 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 igg.me/at/lovemyamerica to donate.