By Meera Sastry
For the past 12 years, Dan Garr, along with a team of parents from his son’s former class at Westchester Lutheran School, has built elaborate floats for Westchester’s Fourth of July parade. This year’s promised to be an exceptional one, with Garr’s son and his class set to graduate high school with suitable congratulations in order.
As COVID-19 spread, however, the students’ graduations and the annual Independence Day parade were both canceled. Nevertheless, Garr and the other parents were determined to commemorate the hard work and perseverance of their children, and repurposed their planned “Class of 2020” float. Instead of riding down the traditional parade route along Loyola Boulevard, the float will be driven through their Westchester neighborhood and Playa del Rey on July 4 as part of a police-escorted caravan and a celebration befitting of its time.
“We’ll have kids spaced out on the float and parents [will] say something to the group whenever we stop in front of a house,” Garr says. “We just want to tell them how proud of them we are, because of how much they’ve had to endure just to get where they are now.”
Garr, an inventor and artist, has designed floats for each of the last 12 years that the group of close-knit parents has competed in the Westchester Fourth of July parade float competition. He describes the event as being “like Christmas” for the younger residents of the area, who have grown up feeling the magic that the community celebration evokes each year.
Since the turn of the millennium, the Westchester Fourth of July Parade (traditionally sponsored by the LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce) has turned Loyola Boulevard into a real-life Norman Rockwell painting and shown the neighborhood’s strong community bonds. “We may be part of the city of Los Angeles, but there’s a small-town spirit here and the parade really reflects that,” Westchester Fourth of July parade founder and chair Gwen Vuchsas told The Argonaut in 2016.
This year she’s helped organize a grassroots “caravan” version of the parade (also inspired by drive-thru birthday celebrations), which will start at a secret location in Playa del Rey at 11:30 a.m., cross Lincoln Boulevard and wend its way through the residential streets of Westchester for about an hour. (This year’s event is not affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce.)
To prevent large crowds from gathering, event organizers will release the caravan route 30 minutes before step off and are encouraging residents to watch from their front lawns.
“We have a mobile DJ who is very fun… and he plays live drums on the back of his big red truck,” says Vuchsas, adding that a fire truck, a few police cars and around a dozen vehicles will accompany the graduates on the float designed by Garr. “We wanted to honor these kids and have them be able to ride in a parade and have fun on the Fourth of July.”
The real magic of this year’s Westchester Fourth of July celebration, however, comes not from the float itself — though its spectacular design reaches heights of around 15 feet tall — but the collaboration it took to create it. According to Garr, over 30 people pitched in, reducing the time it took to produce a float like this from around four to six weeks to only two.
“It was the parents and families that made this float, and all that it stands for,” Garr says. “At the end of the day, the float is a giant hug for our kids and all of their friends.”
The caravan route will be released at 10 a.m. on Saturday (July 4) on The Argonaut’s Facebook page: facebook.com/TheArgonautNews. This story draws on archival material from past reporting for The Argonaut by Joe Piasecki; Argonaut editor Christina Campodonico contributed to this story.