When it comes to millennium celebrations, New York has Times Square, Washington has the Mall, Las Vegas has the Strip, and Los Angeles has the Hollywood sign.
At the stroke of midnight, that icon of the entertainment capital will be lit in a blaze of color and laser light. "You don't want to be in New York," joked Mayor Richard Riordan. "Who wants to see someone drop the ball."
But owing to the fears of hillside residents that their neighborhoods will be overrun by revelers, Hollywood will not be the focal point for the celebration in the nation's second largest city. Indeed, in keeping with the sprawling character of Los Angeles, there will be no epicenter for New Year's Eve events.
Instead, Angelenos can welcome the arrival of the new millennium at five free events across the city, all linked via giant video screens.
Plans for the the multimillion-dollar LA 2000 celebration were unveiled Thursday after a pair of Australian skydivers descended on Griffith Observatory. Organizers hope 2,000 gospel singers will bathe the Crenshaw district in sound, 2,000 folk dancers will swirl near Olvera Street, 2,000 band members will march on Bunker Hill, 2,000 drummers will rock San Pedro, and 2,000 line dancers will step out in the San Fernando Valley.
Singer Paula Abdul and actor Andy Garcia were on hand to provide the required element of celebrity for the kickoff event.
Abdul said she considered a variety of New Year's Eve venues before settling on her hometown.
"I want to be right here," she said. "This is a big celebration. Why go anywhere? The party's going to be here."
Asked what his plans are for New Year's, Garcia joked: "I'll be here in traffic." But he said: "The diversity of the celebration is something special. Like Paula said, this is the land of make-believe. If any city can welcome the new millennium, certainly Los Angeles and Hollywood are the ones."
Beginning at noon on New Year's Eve and lasting until 1 a.m., the five community celebrations will feature music, dance and children's programs in a family-friendly, alcohol-free environment.
As the new year arrives across the world, Opus 21, a citywide festival of sacred sounds, will feature choirs, bells, cymbals, gongs, shofars and other religious horns.
At Olvera Street, the birthplace of the city, the emphasis will be on the cultural traditions and performances of various countries. On Bunker Hill, four blocks of Grand Avenue will be closed to traffic, creating a pedestrian mall with two performance stages.
In San Pedro, New Year's Eve will see the lighting of the Vincent Thomas Bridge. The celebration of gospel music will take to the roof of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. A show featuring planes, helicopters, vintage aircraft, skydivers and hot air balloons will take to the air over the Van Nuys Airport.
Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas said the LA 2000 events will "cause the rest of the world to stand up and take notice of the greatness of the city of Los Angeles."
But Los Angeles is likely to be overshadowed by the mega-event that New York is planning for Times Square. The nation's biggest city is embarked on a colossal $7-million, 26-hour extravaganza that will transform the theater district into a performing arts stage.
Washington, D.C., will welcome the new year with a musical salute dubbed "America's Millennium." Chicago is putting on a Dance 'til Dawn gala. Boston is keying its First Night Party to the arrival of the millennium not on the East Coast, but five hours earlier, when the year 2000 arrives in that time capital Greenwich, England.
Riordan took pride in unveiling a splashy artist's rendering of what the Hollywood sign will look like bathed in light. "New York has its Statue of Liberty. Paris has its Eiffel Tower. Cairo has pyramids," Riordan said. "We have the greatest, our one and only, beautiful Hollywood sign."
But Adolfo Nodal, general manager of the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, said the city is not planning a venue for viewing the lighting of the sign. "It's for television. . . . There is no gathering at the Hollywood sign."
Nodal called on all the drummers, gospel singers, folk dancers, line dancers and band members who are interesting in joining the celebration to call (213) 485-ARTS or visit the Web site at www.lacelebrate2000.org.
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Millennium Party Plans
Los Angeles celebrates the arrival of 2000 at a series of community events featuring music, dance, and children's programs, leading to to the lighting of the Hollywood sign at midnight. The free events begin at noon New Year's Eve and last until 1 a.m. and are intended to showcase the city's cultural diversity. High video screens at each location will link the events, which are all alcohol free.
1. Hollywood: Lighting of the Hollywood sign and laser light show at midnight.
2. Los Angeles at Plaza Olivera: Highlighting cultural traditions and performances of various countries. Features 2,000 folk dancers.
3. Downtown Los Angeles: Grand Avenue between First and Fifth streets. Music, dance, fashion. Features 2,000 band members.
4. Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza: Artists, musicians. Features 2,000 gospel singers.
5. San Fernando Valley at Van Nuys Airport: Sky show, music, dance. Features 2,000 line dancers.
6. San Pedro: Arts, crafts, music, dance. Features 2,000 drummers. Lighting of the Vincent Thomas Bridge.
Citywide: Festival of Sacred Sounds: Choirs, bells, cymbals, gongs, shofars and other religious horns heard between noon and midnight.
For more information call 213/485-ARTS of visit the Web site: www:lacecelebrate2000.org