By Samantha Schaefer
8:31 PM PST, December 30, 2013
New York has the iconic ball. San Francisco has fireworks by the Bay. Key West drops a conch shell and a drag queen in a giant high heel.
But Los Angeles? For many in the city known for its glitz and glamour, New Year's Eve is something of an empty promise. The city's blase approach to the night famously resulted in much hand-wringing during the Millennium eve, when L.A.'s celebrations looked sleepy compared to the bashes in London, New York, Paris and other world capitals.
Downtown L.A.'s burgeoning Grand Park is looking to fill the gap left by bars, clubs and those left to watch Times Square revelers on TV by ringing in the new year with its largest event yet.
"When we really sat down and thought, 'What is that L.A. thing?' we were really stumped. There's so much diversity," said Julia Diamond, programming director at Grand Park. "There was no one thing we could really drop."
Park officials have worked for more than a year to plan the free event, which focuses on local artists instead of the city's star power. Revelers can expect music, art installations, food trucks and a cash bar, starting around 6 p.m. and ending at 12:30 a.m. At midnight, a vibrant, flashing, 3D countdown will be digitally mapped onto L.A. City Hall.
The park isn't trying to be Times Square, but organizers say they hope this begins a new L.A. tradition.
"We wanted to set ourselves apart," Diamond said. "There's something to be said for tradition, but that ball drop is 106 years old. It's very analog, very 20th century."
The city is a creative capital, and organizers are tapping into that local talent and using technology to give the celebration a "wow" factor that can be flexible in years to come, said the park's director, Lucas Rivera.
"At the end of the day, having Justin Timberlake come to the park and then leave, what's left?" Rivera said. "We put the community on stage and when the stage is dark, the community still comes to the park."
Under sunny skies Monday afternoon, passersby posed in front of hanging purple baubles that spelled "2014" on the backdrop of City Hall.
Nearby, several small children raced from tree to tree as a group practiced tai chi on another patch of grass. A lower section hosted a giant hot pink "L.A." dotted with two glittering disco balls.
Maria Lugo smiled and waved her hands for a photo in front of the New Year's display. Though she won't be there for the celebration — she's a dancer and will greet the new year at a club — she's glad to have the space. It's inviting and feels safe. It has revolutionized her lunch breaks during work at the county building next door.
In 2000, many Angelenos watched Y2K come and go around the world on television. Officials said rain kept them indoors, but others blamed the lack of a central location such as Times Square or the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Freeways were empty, the Sunset Strip was sluggish, and Angelenos chose private parties over the separate neighborhood celebrations planned by officials.
L.A. usually has the perfect weather, but in such a sprawling city where locals hate driving on New Year's Eve, bringing people together is a challenge, Supervisor Gloria Molina said. The park creates an opportunity near the city's civic center to start a new tradition for Angelenos.
"People are longing for a place to come together. Our communities are just all over the map," she said. "We're starting a new tradition."
About 10,000 people packed the park for its Fourth of July celebration — a successful, larger-than-expected event. A crowd prediction for Tuesday wasn't available, but Molina said the potential turnout was "worrisome." Streets will be closed and more space, including overflow room at the Music Center Plaza, will be available, she said. People are encouraged to arrive early.
Itzel Sosa, a recent transplant from Sacramento, said she was shocked when she asked her co-workers about "the thing" to do for New Year's Eve. A club. A bar. No one knew, she said.
"It's L.A. Isn't there already something fun to do?" she said. "Everyone just seemed sort of lost about it."
Sosa, 20, and her fiancé decided on Grand Park so they can bring the newest addition to their family — Sophie, a beagle-mix they recently adopted. The couple are wary of leaving her home in Koreatown for too long, and they aren't old enough for the bar scene.
"We both just moved down here and it's our first year without families. Just to be around other people and families is nice," she said.
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