In some of the finalpatriotic bashes of the millennium, residents across Ventura County turned out Sunday for a variety of Independence Day celebrations that culminated in spectacular bursts of fireworks over eight cities.
Clear skies and cool breezes welcomed thousands of visitors to the annual Pushem-Pullem Parade in downtown Ventura, while city leaders in downtown Ojai christened a rebuilt archway during an afternoon ribbon-cutting ceremony.
And near Simi Valley, a record crowd of Fourth of July revelers filled the courtyard at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum to enjoy apple pie and American anthems performed by musical groups.
"This is great," said Peggy Reid, a Simi Valley resident who spent the afternoon at the library with her family. "It's like a little piece of Iowa in Simi Valley."
That was the feeling library director Mark Hunt hoped to evoke.
"I think the whole idea was to provide a place for the community to celebrate the Fourth of July at not a lot of cost," Hunt said of the event, now in its fifth year. "It's a celebration of the freedom we all enjoy."
Last year's event drew a record 7,800 people, Hunt said. Attendance was expected to be higher this year.
So many people showed up at the hilltop museum Sunday that security guards began turning cars around to park at the bottom of the hill, where free shuttles waited to ferry visitors back to the library.
While some families picnicked on the lawn, laying out impressive spreads of cold fried chicken and salads, others lined up for a $1 slice of pie or a plump hot dog and potato chips, priced at $2.50. Admission to the library was free.
Inside the air-conditioned building, a wool-suited George Washington, as portrayed by Frederick Alexander of Burbank, cooled off from the sweltering heat and posed for photographs with children.
"I enjoy this," he said, smiling from beneath a black felt hat and white wig. "I love the kids. They soak up this history; they love it."
Earlier in the day, in Ventura, people stretched out along Main Street in a bustling sea of red, white and blue for the Pushem-Pullem Parade.
It's no small honor to lead the procession. That's why members of the Great Ventura All-Star Marching Band played for all they were worth Sunday, tootling kazoos and thwacking tambourines as the opening act.
The motley assortment of merrymakers--many of whom have played in the parade every year since it was founded at the city's 1976 bicentennial celebration--only knew one tune: a wobbly rendition of "You're a Grand Ole Flag."
"It really is a lot of fun," said Ventura resident Pat Guenther, who had the double honor of carrying the banner announcing the ragtag troupe.
"It's just real patriotic," she said. "And it's a nice thing to do for the children."
The parade featured kids on bicycles, tricycles, skateboards and strollers. And of course there were plenty of kids in wagons being pulled--or pushed--by parents working up a sweat under the midmorning sun.
Scoutmaster Michael Stout, dressed head to toe in a khaki Cub Scouts uniform, towed his 6-year-old daughter, Jaclyn, in a plastic wagon. The youngster was supposed to be dispensing candy to the 15 members of Pack 3133, who in turn were to toss it to parade-goers lining both sides of the street.
Instead, Jaclyn ate most of the candy herself while enjoying the free ride.
"Normally I'd be sitting on the sidelines watching the parade go by," said Stout, the manager of a local electronics company.
"But just look at that," he said, waving a free hand at the wave of parade participants marching behind him. "I love it. I love my small town."
Ventura resident Jared Smith got one of the best workouts of the day. He pulled his 7-year-old daughter, Briana, in a homemade float embracing the parade's theme, "What I want to be when I grow up."
Briana's float proclaimed that she wanted to be a successful working mom, and featured the girl behind a desk bearing a cupful of pencils and tall cup of Starbucks coffee.
Smith said he walked the parade route last year, but decided to get fancier this year with the cardboard float, which he guided with a thin length of rope.
"It's a lot of fun for the kids," said Smith, nearing the end of the parade route. "Of course, now I'm going to have to haul this thing back where we started."
In Ojai, community leaders christened a mission-style archway, or pergola, rebuilt this year at the entrance of Libbey Park, nearly three decades after it was torn down.
Following a ribbon cutting and short speeches by county and state politicians, the Ventura Clippers barbershop quartet launched into song.
The quartet set the tone for an afternoon that was billed as a day in the park in 1917, the year the city's first pergola was built in the same location.
The old walkway stood until 1971, when it was torn down because it had been damaged. Some say the demolition was meant to uproot hippies who had turned the archway into a favorite hangout.
"I have to admit, I was against it at first because I thought it would close off the park," said longtime resident Nancy Linkenhelt of the renovated walkway. "But it's very similar to the old one, and I have to admit I love it."
City Manager Andy Belknap said the $150,000, 9-foot-high walkway was paid for with donations. Many of the larger donors have their names emblazoned on small plaques that dot the walkway's walls.
Franklin Nordhoff, the great-grandson of Charles Nordhoff, the man for whom the city was originally named before it became Ojai, drove in from Torrance to see what all the hoopla was about.
"I'm quite impressed," Nordhoff said. "This is just beautiful."
Wilson is a Times staff writer, and Wolcott is a reporter for Times Community News. Times staff writer Fred Alvarez contributed to this story.
Independence Day Activities
(Activities will be held today)
Nordhoff High School, 1401 Maricopa Highway
Gates open: 5 p.m.; fireworks begin: 9:30 p.m.
Admission: $4 for one and $10 for a family pass in advance; $6 for adults and $2 for children 13 and younger at the gate
What you will see: A 25- to 30-minute fireworks show set to patriotic music
Number of shells in show: 534
Other events: Starting at 5:30 p.m. at the high school, there will be a concert, food booths and rides. Earlier in the day, there will be a parade, foot races, breakfast, a baseball game and other activities in town.
Information: 649-2729 or 646-3151