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Santa Ana Parade Fills Streets With Annual Happy Fete

Times Staff Writer

It may be known as “California’s other parade,” but on Saturday it was second to none.

In the words of those who watched The Times Orange County Holiday Parade from the streets of Santa Ana, it was great, it was beautiful, it was cool, it was joy.

It brought a twinkle to the eyes of Esther Allan, 98, who took it all in from the front porch of the Broadway Manor for the Elderly.

“It’s so colorful, and watching the crowd like that, talking to each other, clapping, so happy, it makes me feel good,” she said. “I love Santa Ana. I’m very patriotic. I’m so excited I can’t think straight.”

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It was like that all along the parade route, high-energy smiles, silly fun and madly waving hands. Kids jumped and hooted and squealed and blew kisses. So did their parents.

Motoring along in a classy black convertible, Roger Rabbit put so much adrenaline into greeting the throngs of parade-goers that his furry white body looked as if it were going to shimmy right out of the car.

Not to be outdone, Goofy the dog was throwing his heart and soul into dancing what looked like the frug from the summit of Disneyland’s “A Magic Kingdom Holiday” float.

Even a few horses, gussied up in silver saddles and black leather, managed an impromptu jig or two.

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And the words “Merry Christmas!” seemed to be on everybody’s lips, or, in the case of Shannon Hilliker, a curly-haired blonde from Laguna Niguel who just turned 2, it was more like “Murrie Keymis!”

Shannon, obviously pleased as punch, let go with that right after vigorously waving a tiny American flag and moving her hips to the boom-boom-boomity-boom of a passing high school marching band.

The Times Orange County Edition became the title sponsor of the fifth annual parade, known as Toys on Parade when it was sponsored by the city of Santa Ana, after donating more than $100,000 to help keep Orange County’s holiday parade alive.

Santa Ana Police Lt. Gregg Cooper estimated that at least 30,000 people turned out for the event.

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The parade, which featured floral floats, marching bands and equestrian units, remains the only West Coast parade to feature the giant high-flying helium balloons in the shape of characters, such as Popeye, a dinosaur and the Cowboy Deputy Dan, that were made famous by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

“My kids will now eat spinach because I am handling Popeye,” said county bus driver Steve Tooth, who was guiding him through the streets.

“Just looking at him being blown up was enough to silence my niece,” added another of the big sailor’s handlers, bus driver Jan Wagner. “And that is really something.”

Singer Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, an Orange County native, Santa Ana High School alumnus and recent Grammy winner for "(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” was the parade’s grand marshal, waving to the crowds from a classic Packard convertible along with his son, Darrin, 23, and 22-month-old daughter, McKenna.

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“It’s (McKenna’s) parade, really,” Medley said before taking off from the starting point at Broadway and Civic Center Drive. “But for me, it feels great to be here. I can remember being pretty excited when I was a little person watching the parade. This time, I’ve got a better seat.”

Old, Chubby Celebrity

Another celebrity with a choice seat was Santa Claus, an old, chubby man with a real white beard and real white hair, who would only whisper his alias: Ed Murphy of Fullerton.

Murphy--er, Santa--was making his third appearence in the parade, this time from a black horse-drawn carriage.

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“The most magical moment of the parade last year was when I appeared in the float at the end,” he said. “But they forgot about me and left me stuck up there. So this year I’m glad to be starting things off.”

Farther down the parade route, just outside the law office with “Viva Santa Claus” sprayed in white flocking in the window, Corinna Diaz, 10, was ready for the old man. She was just about set to compose her Christmas wish list with the paper and pen she brought along exclusively for that purpose.

“I’m going to try to get the note to Santa,” she said.

David N. Ream, Santa Ana city manager, said that although Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses Parade is California’s best-known holiday parade, “we like to think that we help set the stage for the holiday season that culminates with the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl.”

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‘Me Gusta’

Strolling along the route with two friends, Santa Ana resident Peter Hernandez, 32, spent a lot of his time pointing at floats and baton twirlers, exclaiming, “ Me gusta! Me gusta! (I like it! I like it!)”

“I think people are really having a good time,” Hernandez said, grinning. “It’s really cool.”

And like scores of others hoping to capture the big event for posterity, Omar Salas, 42, was positioned behind a video camera.

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“This is for the kids,” he said with a sweep of his hand toward his daughters Barbara, 11, and Brenda, 6. “But, I’m enjoying it myself.”

“It just gives you the Christmas feeling, the Christmas spirit,” was how Janice Dinga of Stanton put the parade in perspective.

Fan of Mickey

“I liked Mickey!” Dinga’s daughter, Jessica, 6, chimed in, apparently referring to that mouse fellow who turned 60 years old this year.

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The parade, which ran north on Broadway to 17th Street and then south on Main Street to Washington Avenue, also featured about 5,000 high school musicians and a pre-parade show starring the 80-member International Childrens Choir and the 30-member Orange County Song and Dance Company Kids.

The sweepstakes award for the most outstanding float in the parade went to Great Western Reclamation’s “100 Years of Beauty,” a gigantic arrangement of pink and mauve roses and other dried flowers.

The Broadway department store float, featuring lots of Jingle Bears, was judged the most outstanding commercial entry, and the mayor’s award for the most outstanding non-commercial entry went to “Celebration of Laughter” by Visions Floats.


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