L.A. Puts On Its Party Hats

Times Staff Writers

If you were bored Saturday in Los Angeles, it was your own fault.

A rare, single-day convergence of mega-events reminiscent of the 1984 Olympics unfolded around downtown Los Angeles, drawing tens of thousands of sports fans, music lovers and curious first-time visitors to the heart of the city.

Sports fans had their choice of games and teams: A capacity crowd at the Coliseum watched USC eke out a win over the Washington Huskies. The Dodgers ended their season before a packed stadium in Chavez Ravine. Hockey fans saw the Kings win their home opener at Staples Center. UCLA beat Arizona at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

The musically inclined could wend their way through four street festivals and concerts, including two downtown, one in Eagle Rock and another in the Mid-Wilshire area.


The physically fit could challenge themselves on the 1,500 steps at the US Bank Tower on the second day of a charity climb.

Those looking for a bit of ethnic culture could attend the Moon Festival in Chinatown.

The big-name bands at the L.A. Weekly Detour Festival drew a young crowd to Los Angeles’ revitalized downtown, including some who had written off the city’s core.

“It’s amazing that a festival like this could happen here,” said Maria Lai, 30, of West Los Angeles, who worked downtown six years ago and remembers when the area shut down at 6 p.m. and was mostly empty on weekends.

The street fairs are just the thing the city needs, she said. “You have to have a reason to come downtown,” Lai said. “You have the beach, you have everything in Los Angeles, and its downtown is known as dirty and dark.”

Lai, her sister and a friend had left their West Los Angeles homes Saturday morning with an agenda.

They would hit the music festival, spin over to Eagle Rock for more bands and then visit the Grand Avenue Festival for ethnic food. But they were satisfied by the eclectic fare at the Detour Festival, where they munched on gyros against a backdrop of indie rock and hip-hop.

Fans and athletes weren’t the only ones who had game plans Saturday.


At the Caltrans building downtown, five operators and a California Highway Patrol officer were stationed at computers and telephones, monitoring traffic problems. There are 400 cameras trained on Los Angeles-area freeways, but on Saturday all 11 monitors at the Caltrans building carried pictures of busy freeway exits near the Coliseum, Dodger Stadium and the Rose Bowl.

“I have never seen a day like this with so much stuff going on,” said traffic management operator Steve Holloway.

At the Coliseum, USC fans had their escape strategies planned.

Some planned to wait out gridlock at postgame tailgate parties. Others planned to leave early to beat the traffic, but were stymied by the to-the-wire finish.


“USC was supposed to win this game” easily, said Gina Hyde, who drove up with her husband and two toddler sons from Aliso Viejo in Orange County and planned to slip out of the Coliseum early to make the opening pitch at the Dodgers’ 5 p.m. game. Instead, they were just crawling out of the parking lot when the Dodger game began.

USC freshman Rob Weise cut out in time to make it to his box seat at Dodger Stadium with 10 minutes to spare. He made it from stadium to stadium in 20 minutes, he said, his face still painted crimson and gold. “It’s fantastic,” he said, looking around the stadium.

Chris Boyd, 32, of Baldwin Park and four friends had a carefully orchestrated sports day planned. It began at 6:30 a.m. with a tailgate spread outside the Coliseum that included two pickup trucks, a color TV hooked up to a satellite receiver, a large barbecue, a generator, seven stadium chairs and 60 bottles of beer.

It didn’t matter that they had no tickets to the game, Boyd said, “because on a day like today in L.A., you just want to come out and be a part of it.”


Although traffic sometimes slowed to a crawl on surface streets and along the Harbor Freeway through downtown, there were no major accidents, and congestion generally wasn’t much worse than a typical Saturday afternoon, Holloway said. “Sometimes, you just get lucky,” he said.

Public transportation was used by many of the 30,000 who turned out at the Grand Avenue Festival, which stretched from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels across the balloon-bedecked Music Center Plaza to the Los Angeles Public Library.

Most came for the family friendly art, music and ethnic foods at the street fair, which drew 10,000 more visitors than last year.

Others had no idea what they had wandered into.


Michael Catalano stumbled onto the festival while out running errands from his Sherman Oaks home with his 4-year-old son, Nicolas, in tow.

“We were doing some shopping and going to the carwash,” he said. “I wanted to show him Disney Concert Hall. Nicolas loves doing arts and crafts, so this is perfect.”

They wound up cutting and gluing alongside children from Pacoima and Koreatown as the three-man Japanese Festival Sounds group performed.

“Listen to the rhythm of Los Angeles,” drummer Johnny Mori urged the crowd as the group beat taiko drums, blew conch shells and shook a band of wooden sticks that looked like a centipede and sounded like a cicada.


A few blocks away, empty office buildings reverberated from the thumping bass of rock groups at the Detour Festival, which drew more than 15,000 people -- at $35.50 a ticket -- to a daylong fair featuring more than a dozen bands.

At 9:10 p.m., Beck took the stage with his hit song “Loser” as thousands waded through cigarette butts and discarded plastic cups to congregate at the front of his stage at 1st and Main streets.

For an afternoon, the center of Los Angeles seemed suddenly awash in hipness. Unlike the buttoned-down workaday crowd, the visitors were a mass of skinny jeans, slouchy boots and oversized sunglasses.

Listening to the music from the open window of a friend’s loft in the Higgins Building, adjacent to the concert, Rebecca Ruiz, 30, of Angelino Heights said, “This is what makes downtown L.A. like no other place. It’s the evolution of everything that is L.A.”


Concertgoers were sprawled on the lawn at City Hall, drinking beer and playing cards. St. Vibiana’s Cathedral -- once the headquarters for the Los Angeles Archdiocese and now a refurbished art center -- became a dance hall with black leather couches, DJs spinning tunes and visitors lounging in what used to be confessional booths.

Along 1st Street, a series of vendor booths testified to the all-embracing nature of the festival. A stand promoting clothing designer Paul Frank was flanked by a white-tented booth promoting the TreePeople and another advocating the medicinal use of marijuana.

On Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock, local restaurants handed out food as bands wailed on five stages at a festival that began at 5 p.m. and stretched until midnight. In the early evening, people walked the boulevard, some with babies in strollers. As the night wore on, the crowd grew older, the music louder.

In Chinatown, the Moon Festival drew about 300 people to celebrate the autumn equinox with storytelling, music and Chinese performances.


Most of the visitors were celebrating their Chinese heritage.

Rodney Jack, 38, drove from Norwalk to fulfill an assignment from his intercultural communications class at Cerritos College.

He picked the Moon Festival out of a newspaper listing and plotted his route on a computer.

“I’ve not been downtown before,” said the ex-Marine, pleased with the success of his excursion. “It was pretty easy.”


Times staff writers Stephanie Chavez, Mary Engel, Jessica Garrison, Vernon Loeb, John L. Mitchell, Joan Springhetti and Chrys Wu contributed to this report.