Weekend celebration draws big crowds for tall ships, historic tours and Three Dog Night

By Gary Walker and Joe Piasecki

Don Knabe and a band of tall ship pirates cut the cake during Marina del Rey’s 50th anniversary ceremony on Friday at Burton Chace Park.

Don Knabe and a band of tall ship pirates cut the cake during Marina del Rey’s 50th anniversary ceremony on Friday at Burton Chace Park.

You know it’s a party when pirates help a Los Angeles County supervisor cut a cake with a sword.

Marking 50 years since the county declared the harbor officially open for business (and pleasure) on April 10, 1965, Marina del Rey celebrated its golden anniversary weekend with a series of free public events that drew crowds from throughout the Southland.

Friday kicked off the occasion with a cake-cutting, awards ceremony and outdoor concert by classic rockers Three Dog Night at Burton Chace Park.

Saturday and Sunday featured chances to board four vintage tall ships that at times engaged in mock cannon battles, historic harbor tours, and a dog- and family-friendly community festival at the park, as well as free concerts and other activities at Fisherman’s Village.

Friday’s formal 50th anniversary presentation, emceed by L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, honored community figures who had an impact on either the creation of Marina del Rey or the development of its community identity.

These included Shores apartment complex builder Jerry Epstein, an original developer of Marina del Rey who helped plan and lobby for construction of the harbor as a county volunteer.

“I thought the celebration captured the uniqueness, history and community feel that is so important in Marina del Rey,” said Marina Lessees Assoc. President David Levine, Epstein’s longtime chief of staff. “We are as excited about the next 50 years as we are about the last 50.”

Knabe called Epstein “a living legend” and also recognized Marina del Rey Historical Society co-founders Willie Hjorth (one of the first people to call Marina del Rey home) and Greg Wenger (a prolific area photographer since 1969).

Three retired members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who helped plan, build and maintain Marina del Rey harbor — Charles Holt, Valaria Lincoln and Ron Weiss — received special honors as well.

“I saw people who I hadn’t seen in 10 or 20 years. I’ve had a very fun day,” said Holt, a Westchester resident who supervised maintenance of the harbor from 1972 to 1982.

“What a week it’s been. I’m still in a state of shock,” said Lincoln, who designed harbor specifications in the early 1960s but was prevented from visiting the harbor during its construction because she’s a woman.

“But it’s not just about us old folks,” Knabe said while introducing Alexis Aiello, a college-bound teen who in 2011 took up rowing in Marina del Rey’s RowLA Summer Camp at Mother’s Beach.

She credits the sport for giving her focus and peace of mind during a time of upheaval in her personal life.

“Four years ago I came to Marina del Rey in search of something different in life,” Aiello said from the podium. “If it wasn’t for Marina del Rey I wouldn’t be here. We’re here not only to celebrate the marina’s anniversary but also to recognize its future.”

Hundreds of visitors received free cake slices or cupcakes after pirates descending from the tall ships assisted Knabe with the cake-cutting.

“I think this was a magical presentation of the past, present and future of Marina del Rey,” Knabe said.