Sweet history: Garden Grove celebrates community, kindness and strawberries
The strawberry is an important part of the city of Garden Grove’s history.
“We used to have prolific strawberry fields in Garden Grove, and it was one of our main crops,” said Andrea Perez, president of the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival.
Strawberries used to be associated with Garden Grove in the same way Valencia oranges are associated with Orange County. Strawberries were farmed on both the east and west sides of the city, and in 1958, the Chamber of Commerce hosted the first Garden Grove Strawberry Festival as a way to bring the entire community together.
Garden Grove resident and public relations professor Tom Hoxie organized the first event, held in a vacant lot between Garden Grove Boulevard, Brookhurst Street and Brookhurst Way.
Strawberries are not quite as prevalent in the city today, but the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival still runs annually.
“It is a tradition in our city that everyone looks forward to,” Perez said. “Generations of families have been coming to our festival. There are generations of families that came when they were kids that are bringing their grandchildren.”
Taking place over Memorial Day weekend, May 26 to May 29, this year’s festival will feature carnival rides, games and food vendors as well as live music, contents and competitions. Admission is free for all.
After the festival’s inaugural first year, citizens formed the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival Assn., a nonprofit that took over the event from the Chamber of Commerce and still runs the festival to this day.
“We are a 501c3 nonprofit organization, and we are all volunteers,” Perez said.
The event benefits local organizations, and over the last 65 years, the Strawberry Festival Assn. estimates over $7 million has been raised for local charities. Festival profits have funded the children’s wing of the central library, a police command post, the twin towers in Atlantis Park and a building for the Garden Grove Boys & Girls Club.
“We are a philanthropic group, so we also offer space for Garden Grove nonprofits to sell their food,” said Perez. “And they get to keep 100% of their profits to help their cause.”
Local nonprofits run the game booths, and each year 2,000 special needs kids are treated to a day of free rides and food.
Along with the charity efforts, many of the festival’s longstanding traditions can be found this year.
Creating the world’s largest strawberry shortcake has been a tradition at the festival’s opening ceremony since the beginning, with Priscilla’s Cake Box, a longtime Garden Grove bakery, making the first cake that reportedly weighed 500 pounds. Other bakeries have since taken up the duties, including Herb’s Black Forest Bakery in Fountain Valley, which was in charge of making the colossal cake for 22 years. More recently, the honor has gone to French’s Pastry Bakery in Costa Mesa.
The 2023 strawberry cake cutting will take place at the Showmobile at Main and Acacia streets on May 26 at 6 p.m.
“Friday night we will have our opening ceremony, and we give free cake to everyone that attends, so about 2,000 slices of cake,” Perez said.
Hoxie is said to have come up with another favored strawberry festival tradition, the Redhead Roundup, celebrating strawberry blonde and redheaded beauties. The contest inspired other contests like the Berry, Berry Beautiful Baby contest.
“We have five different contests for all ages,” said Perez.
Festival goers can register online or in person an hour before the contests take place. The Redhead Roundup occurs on Monday, May 29 at 11 a.m., the Berry, Berry Beautiful Baby contest on Sunday, May 28, 11 a.m., and the Tiny Tot King and Queen Contest Friday, May 26 at 4 p.m.
The festival theme this year is “Celebrating Kindness,” and the association added a new contest to recognize community ambassadors who represent kindness.
The second year of the festival in 1959 was the first year to include a parade, when silent movie matinee idol Francis X. Bushman served as grand marshal of a line of antique cars that drove down Brookhurst to Westminster Boulevard.
This year’s parade will be marshaled by KTLA 5 anchor and Garden Grove native Vera Jimenez and Tony Adkins, a physician assistant at Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
The parade kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 27, starting at 9th Street and Chapman Avenue and will include marching bands, floats and equestrians.
Other festivities include live music performances throughout the weekend at the Garden Grove Amphitheater on 12852 Main St. and classic carnival rides, like a merry-go-round and Ferris wheel. Tickets can be purchased for individual rides, or special one-price ride-all-day wristbands will be offered for $35 on Friday and $40 on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. A full schedule of events can be found at strawberryfestival.org.
Perez assures there is something for everyone in the community to enjoy.
“It gives the community a place where they can go and have a fun day that is safe with all kinds of activities, with their families and friends,” Perez said.
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