“It will be celebrated with pomp and parade … bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.” —John Adams, second President of the United States of America
Independence Day arrives on Monday and it’s the 240th birthday of our country. Americans celebrate outdoors with barbecues, parades, fireworks, family, lemonade and lots of beer. Parks throughout the country are filled with happy people and the aroma of hot dogs, hamburgers and ribs. In Santa Monica, our density increases tenfold as throngs of people from throughout the region come to spend their Fourth at our beaches, downtown and parks. On this day, we welcome our visitors as they arrive to enjoy this special place. This year, many will arrive by light rail as well as by car, bicycle, by bus and as pedestrians. We are fortunate that we can enjoy each and every day in our beachside community.
Many of those who come are seeking the fireworks spectacle of bygone days in Santa Monica. Yes, to enlighten those new to the area, Santa Monica for decades had an extravaganza of fireworks explode and light the sky each Fourth of July. In fact, my mother and father met each other for the first time at the pier on Independence Day. The aircraft carrier my father was serving on was the launch pad for the 1949 fireworks display. The Valley Forge anchored here and fireworks ensued — apparently between my mother and father as well. Unfortunately, the growing density of the region and the very popularity of our fireworks brought about their end. Huge throngs of people choked our roads, caused havoc at the beach and created unmanageable amounts of crime — too large and unruly a crowd for a small city police force to handle, as Angelenos forgot how to be good neighbors.
So, Santa Monica’s fireworks are now presented well before the actual holiday. Santa Monica College puts on a great afternoon and evening of family friendly fireworks on Corsair Field called “Celebrate America.” This year, the event was held on June 25 and by all accounts was a wonderful gathering where residents of every political persuasion came together to celebrate our city. Even though our fireworks celebration occurs well before the actual holiday, it’s still meaningful to our residents. It has been suggested that our fireworks become “silent fireworks” — yes, that’s a thing. This is an idea worth exploring, as it would allow our pets to join in the excitement rather than suffering through the evening. We need more such family-friendly occurrences in our city and, of course, more parks to facilitate those celebrations. As you prepare for Monday’s barbecues and picnics, remember that Marine Park, Virginia Avenue Park, Douglas Park, Ozone Park, Tongva Park, Reed Park, Crescent Bay Park, Hotchkiss Park and Palisades Park (the crown jewel of Santa Monica) are among the outdoor spaces where you can all gather together and party.
Although our municipality no longer has fireworks on Independence Day, there are fireworks just across our borders for you to enjoy. Here are some of them:
On Sunday, July 3, both the Beach Club and the Bel Air Bay Club present fireworks for their members at 9 p.m. To experience the Beach Club’s spectacular fireworks, stand at Inspiration Point in Palisades Park or walk to Lifeguard Station 2 on Santa Monica Beach. The Bel Air Bay Club (16801 Pacific Coast Hwy.) is located between Temescal Canyon Road and Sunset Boulevard, with parking available on PCH. The rocks on the shore and small beach just north of the club are a fabulous place to watch the show.
On July 4, Brentwood County Club sets off their fireworks at 9 p.m. for their members. Free viewing is available on Montana Avenue, with prime spots between Stanford and Centinela. Palisades High School, Marina Del Rey and Malibu Pier also have excellent firework shows once darkness has fallen across Santa Monica Bay. Finish your evening at the highest point in Santa Monica, atop Franklin Hill. Park at Mt. Olivet Reservoir, get out of your car (or simply walk up the hill) and face east. You’ll see fireworks from Downtown Los Angeles, through Hollywood, Century City and Westwood. Turn toward the south and you’ll see fireworks from Baldwin Hills to the South Bay, and then face the Pacific Ocean to see all the fireworks on the Westside. Mt. Olivet Reservoir is the highest point in Santa Monica and is slated to become a small park — a simple, peaceful park space to reflect, to look and to simply breathe.
I’m neglecting to mention one more activity in our town. It’s the 10th anniversary of the Ocean Park Association’s Main Street parade. This parade is a return to small-town Santa Monica and everyone is invited to attend and to participate. City Council members, bands, service clubs, schools, local musicians and more will “promenade” down Main Street beginning at Pico Boulevard and Main Street at 9:30 a.m. It’s a great reminder of the little things that matter in our city. A street without high rises and a parade that draws 10,000 to 15,000 … all of us people who love our town and can come together to solve the big problems by working together as a team.
Independence Day is the day to celebrate our diversity, our differences and our similarities. We can celebrate the great experiment that is our democracy in this republic. It’s a day to remember that even though we don’t always agree with each other, we are able to use a ballot box to change conditions in our city, state and country. With all of our civic discussions over height, density, traffic and that other kind of fireworks that will surely occur this fall, Santa Monica is still worthy of pomp and parade. The Founding Fathers of our country questioned whether we would come to be ruled only by the “almighty dollar” or whether we would be about more than that — about principles and ideas. Santa Monica will face those same questions this fall. Can we live up to our founding fathers’ aspirations and expectations and rise above the continuous mudslinging that we see on the national level?
To remain distinctly Santa Monican must be an important ideal for each of us. Our city is unique and we have 141 years of shared history. Wisely, Santa Monica refused to join Los Angeles decades ago. We did not want to blend in to the vast metropolis. As Independence Day arrives, let’s celebrate that while Santa Monica is the lungs of Los Angeles, we will not blend in. July 4 is the day to celebrate the beacon of light that was our country’s birth as well as the wisdom our city fathers showed those many years ago.
In spite of our differences, Santa Monica has a true sense of place, a sense of history and community. We are progressive and compassionate. The yearly fireworks at SMC and the Main Street parade prove that we are an American community that cares deeply… about each other and the future of our city. Our messy civic conflicts are part and parcel of our democracy. While you’re at the parade and at picnics, barbecues and the beach this weekend, remember our city motto, that we’re “fortunate people in a fortunate land.” The entire city of Santa Monica is a proverbial “speaker’s corner,” set in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
I’ll see you at the parade.
Phil Brock for SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)
Thane Roberts AIA, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Daniel Jansenson Architect, Ron Goldman FAIA, Samuel Tolkin AIA, Armen Melkonians Civil & Environmental Engineer, Phil Brock Chair, Parks & Recreation Commission.