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4th Is a Day for Red, White and Boom

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With won ton in Monterey Park, line-dancing in Agoura Hills and marching Boy Scouts in South Pasadena, Southern Californians celebrated a Fourth of July of glorious weather and good cheer Saturday, the 222nd birthday of the most polyglot nation on earth.

The festivities included several dozen parades and pyrotechnic shows both big and small, with fireworks filling the evening sky at the Rose Bowl and at football fields and parks from Northridge to El Monte.

“The music brings tears to my eyes,” said Robin McGrath of Reseda, waiting for the fireworks to begin on the football field at Cal State Northridge. “This is one day a year when you stop to think about where you live, what you have and what others don’t have.”

Her husband, Air Force veteran Richard McGrath, was dressed for the occasion in stars and stripes, wearing a red, white and blue top hat. “Having served my country, that’s why I get dressed up,” he said.

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That same spirit moved revelers in Monterey Park, home to one of the largest Asian populations in Los Angeles County. “This country was founded through a lot of hard work and hard effort and today is a day to enjoy it,” said George Chiang, 57, one of several thousand revelers who gathered at Barnes Park in Monterey Park.

The San Gabriel Valley city marked its Fourth with a ceremony that has become a community tradition: presenting certificates to the city’s newest naturalized citizens, Hsueh Ching-Chang and Maria Hernandez.

South Pasadena celebrated the holiday with a parade that could have been taken from a Norman Rockwell painting. Khaki-clad Boy Scouts marched down Mission Street, followed by an old pickup truck carrying the grizzled members of the local Masonic lodge. Next came City Treasurer Victor Robinette waving from a car decked out in red, white and blue.

Nearly everyone in the crowd, it seemed, knew someone in the parade.

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“This is what the city is all about,” said William Minnig Jr., 32. “It’s close-knit.”

Hal Edgar, South Pasadena’s 84-year-old “Senior of the Year,” was greeted with several cheers of “Hi Hal!” as he cruised along the mile-long route in a shiny red convertible.

“It’s like a dream,” said Edgar, who had spent the morning serving pancakes at the city’s Fourth of July breakfast. “My neighbors even come to see me.”

While South Pasadena’s parade and daylong picnic had the feel of what one resident called “Hometown U.S.A.,” there was an equally festive celebration in Skid Row, where volunteers at the Union Rescue Mission braced for bigger than normal crowds at their annual Fourth of July barbecue.

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There were already long lines at the event by noon, and some 3,000 were expected to partake of the barbecue lunch by the end of the day.

It took six cooks almost 24 hours to whip up the 485 pies and 2,880 pounds of chicken the mission expected to serve, said Rosana Torres, who oversaw the cooking. The lunch, which was topped off with sides of corn on the cob and potato salad, got rave reviews.

“Oh yeah, this is good today,” said April Easley, who’s staying at the mission to tide her over a tough time. She leaned over and whispered discreetly, “a lot better then it usually is.”

Janet Romer and her two sons don’t stay at the mission, but times have been lean for a year or so and the family drops by on holidays for special dinners they otherwise couldn’t afford.

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“It would cost at least $15 or $20 for me to get some barbecue like this together,” Romer said. “If we eat here and watch free fireworks later, it doesn’t cost a thing and it’s almost like a Fourth of July you see on TV.”

Across town at the Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills--several miles and a world away from Skid Row--Daniel Lynberg and his family sat on the lawn and munched on pistachios, French bread and three kinds of cheese. Tucked illicitly in the cooler were a few bottles of “firewater, to give the day that extra kick,” Lynberg said.

“Technically I don’t think we’re supposed to have alcohol out here at all,” Lynberg said. “But we brought some cheap chardonnay, and some fancy beer in bottles that make it look just like root beer. I think we’ll get away with it.”

After lunch, Lynberg and company planned on taking a shuttle over to a free city-sponsored symphony at the Civic Center.

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“It’s easy to feel patriotic with wine and live music,” Lynberg said with a smile.

In Westwood, two opposing groups engaged in another revered American tradition: civic protest.

Hundreds of demonstrators on both sides of the immigration issue traded insults, waved placards and chanted slogans outside the Federal Building, the scene of previous clashes over illegal immigration. Police reported no major disturbances, however.

At Hansen Dam Park in Lake View Terrace, Marta Lizzarraga of Granada Hills relaxed in a folding chair under a shade tree. “There are so many nice events here for the kids,” said the mother of six children, gesturing to the whirling rides set up in a corner of the park.

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“It’s a traditional Fourth of July when you have hot dogs and lemonade,” she said.

But the fireworks did not go off without a hitch. Falling embers touched off a brush fire that consumed just over two acres. No one was injured in the blaze, officials said.

In Agoura Hills, the daylong celebration at Chumash Park drew neighbors together.

“Most of the people here know each other,” said Janet Pohnke of Agoura Hills, walking the grounds with her daughter, Celine.

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Agoura Hills Recreation Director Dale Sumersille surveyed the children frolicking on the grass, parents pushing strollers and elderly line dancers and declared the day great.

“I was looking at the children as they were watching the parrot show or on the pony rides and their eyes were so big,” she said. “People really like traditional things.”

Times staff writers Shelby Grad and Dan Weikel and special correspondent Michael Baker contributed to this report.


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