A star-spangled party at L.A.'s Grand Park

A star-spangled party at L.A.'s Grand Park
Fireworks explode over the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as tens of thousands of people look on from the Grand Park Fourth of July celebration in downtown Los Angeles. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Attracted by live music, food and an elaborate fireworks display, thousands of people filled Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles on Friday to celebrate the Fourth of July under a hot afternoon sun.

In another sign of a resurgent city core, event organizers said that about 25,000 people were expected to attend the park's second annual Independence Day block party. By early evening, the crowd was estimated at more than 15,000 and growing, a number well ahead of last year's.


"I think it's great they're doing this for L.A., especially downtown L.A.," said Carlos Ramos, 46, who lives a few blocks from the park. "I think downtown needs to be a little more friendly, and this is a good thing. We don't have to go to Santa Monica or somewhere else."

The celebration began about 1 p.m. and ended after a spectacular fireworks show from the roof of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center. The first bursts went off about 9 p.m. while speakers blared Jimi Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

By the end, more than 1,900 individual fireworks had been shot off — some soaring hundreds of feet in the air, lighting up the skyline.

When Grand Park opened its gates, long lines of people eager to mark the holiday had already formed. Many were anticipating the fireworks display and listening to a favorite band.

Kayla Aihara, 19, waited with friends from the San Fernando Valley to get into the event as soon as it opened. She had come more for the music than to celebrate.

"We want to get to the front of the stage for Echosmith," Aihara said.

Erika Su, 19, visiting from Hong Kong, stood in line at the 2nd Street entrance with an American flag draped around her shoulders. As someone from another country, she said, she had an alternative perspective on the day.

"It's kind of different because we're not satisfied with the central government in Hong Kong," she said. "So on our national day, it's more of a big parade against our central government. Not in harmony, not with people dancing. Not like this at all."

Eden Gibson, 19, from Manchester, England, met Su at the hostel where they were staying and decided to go with her to the block party.

"It's good to see how Americans do things," Gibson said. "I think you guys do things a lot bigger."

The party spread beyond the 12-acre park and into downtown, where many surrounding streets were closed. Food vendors, their tented booths standing side by side, served a variety of items, including pizza, shaved ice and Mediterranean cuisine.

Indie rock, funk, soul and disco music blared from two stages. Live bands began playing at 4 p.m.

"I just wanted to come and be able to dance in the sunshine in the park," said Anissa Alston, 45, of Gardena, a fan of disco deejay Soul Nic, who performed at the event.

Even before the live music began, people were sitting on blankets and towels on the grassy lawn in front of the main stage. As the area filled up and the temperature approached 90 degrees, many sought relief under the park's few shade trees or cooled off in front of large fans spraying mist.


Almost everyone was dressed in red, white and blue. Some partygoers accessorized their looks with headbands, star-shaped sunglasses and temporary tattoos of the American flag.

"It's awesome. The crowd is very excited," said Bonnie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the event. "The bands have been amazing. The deejays have been amazing. People are dancing."

Organizers said they hoped the event would further their goals of making Grand Park a gathering place for everyone in Los Angeles and creating a community tradition by celebrating Fourth of July and New Year's Eve at the park annually.

Several hours after the celebration began, Goodman said things were going smoothly and no serious incidents had been reported.

A little removed from the crowd and the live music, Emily-Kathryn Hoey, 18, and Parker Seal, 17, sat under a tree to have a picnic. They had come from Pasadena on the Metro Gold Line, lugging a cooler, speakers, cookies, crackers and nuts. Their party gear included board games, card games and a blanket.

"I really want to see Phantogram," Hoey said, referring to one of the bands scheduled to play.

She noted that radio advertising for the event mentioned that the fireworks show was free, providing them at least one reason to attend.

"We're broke students," she said.

Michelle Ortiz, 30, of East Los Angeles — whose family fled civil strife in El Salvador — also set up a picnic in a shaded area with family members and a co-worker.

"We love celebrating all American holidays because we moved here for a reason," Ortiz said. "A lot of people think just because you celebrate an American holiday, you're taking away from your own heritage. It has nothing to do with that. It's just respecting America."

Fanning themselves, Yesehia Solis, 25, and Mario Guillen, 23, sat with her mother and his father across the street from the stage where Echosmith played. The couple live in Koreatown and decided to bring their parents to the party after Solis saw a photograph of last year's fireworks display.

"I was like, 'What do you mean there were fireworks downtown?'" she said.

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