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Annual festival celebrates historic Wilmington amid the blooming of wisteria.

They’ll be admiring the beauty of the flowering wisteria Sunday afternoon at Banning Park in Wilmington.

The vines were planted by a Chinese servant in the early 1880s when the parkland was the estate of Wilmington founder Phineas Banning, according to Zoe Bergquist, director of the Banning Residence Museum. With a look of time and permanence about them, the gnarled vines grow on an arbor near the barn behind the residence, a distinctive white Greek Revival home lived in by Banning family members from the 1860s to the 1920s.

In full bloom with lilac-colored blossoms, the vines will be the focal point of Sunday’s Wisteria Festival, which has been a free tradition at the park for 35 years.

With its entertainment offerings, booths set up by community organizations and historical tours, the festival is designed to attract people to the park and highlight Wilmington community life--past and present.

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“We want families to come to the park and picnic, have free entertainment and learn a little about their community,” said Park Director Karen Fox. The three-hour festival is co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department, which operates the park, and Wilmington-area Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who will attend.

Getting ready for the festival, the park staff has been painting and refurbishing the arbor, where entertainment by various children’s groups will be presented. They include tap dancers, gymnasts, a Mexican folkloric troupe in colorful costumes and a jazz ensemble from Wilmington Junior High School.

Children will have their own crafts center where they can make pinwheels to take home, Fox said.

The Wilmington Home Owners organization, the Banning Park Neighborhood Assn. and the Wilmington Historical Society are among groups that will have festival booths. The Wilmington Branch Library also will distribute flyers about its programs.

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“We hope to get people to recognize old Wilmington,” said Lori Roberts, past president of the historical society, who said the booth will feature historic photos of the community. The group also will try to interest longtime residents in recording their memories as part of its oral history project.

“This festival gets people together and promotes a community feeling in Wilmington,” Roberts said.

During the festival, tours will be given of the Banning residence and the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum a short walk away.

The one-time Banning home contains opulent furnishings that present a vivid picture of how wealthy Los Angeles families lived during the 19th Century. An abundance of photos provide a picture of historic Wilmington and Banning family life on the estate.

The Drum Barracks Civil War Museum is a visible reminder that Wilmington once was the site of the 60-acre Ft. Drum, built during the Civil War as a federal outpost. The two-story wooden building, which served as quarters for married officers during the fort’s heyday, contains--among other things--a large model of the original fort, military swords and rifles, ornate 19th-Century furniture in the parlor where the officers entertained their friends, and a re-created army dispensary.

The festival has always coincided with the blooming of the wisteria in the spring. In the past, some have included a wisteria queen and her court from Banning High School.

Said the museum’s Bergquist: “There’s a great deal of interest in the wisteria and the festival, and we get a lot of calls every year asking if the vines are in bloom. They may not be here forever, because plants last just so long.”


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