When WASN’T there an SCV Fourth of July parade?

From scvhistory.com: "We can't be 100% certain because we have no written information to accompany this photograph, but we're filing it under 'Newhall Fourth of July Celebration, Saxonia Park, 1909-1913.'"
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By Leon Worden
President, SCVTV
Special to The Signal

Newhall has “purt’ near always” staged a Fourth of July Parade since 1932, but just how “purt’ near” has it been?

It’s safe to say Newhall has always hosted a Fourth of July celebration in some form, probably dating to the founding of the town in the 1870s, although there was no local newspaper at the time, so we don’t really know. What we do know is that the Fourth of July has traditionally been a time for people across the Santa Clarita Valley’s towns and scattered farms to come together in celebration of community and country. Sometimes the celebration manifested in parades and fireworks displays, sometimes in games and contests in a park and dances at a local nightclub.

Photographic evidence shows us there were community picnics at Saxonia Park in Placerita Canyon in the earliest years of the 1900s. In the 1920s, when a new grammar school building was erected in Newhall, activities were held in the park adjacent to it, such as pie eating contests, greased pole climbing and greased pig catching. After Val Verde came along in the late 1930s, the predominantly African American community held Fourth of July picnics in Val Verde Park and competed with Newhall in summertime baseball games.

Newhall hosted the SCV’s first Fourth of July Parade in 1932. It was coupled with a “Homecoming Celebration” (which evidently predated it) in the park next to Newhall School. “Coming home” for the Fourth were town founders such as Sarah Gifford, wife of the Southern Pacific’s first Newhall train station master, and early workers from the Pico Oil Field.

Parades were held annually until 1936, but a parade wasn’t yet a “can’t miss” part of the Fourth of July tradition, so there was no great protest when 1937 and 1938 went by without a parade. In 1938, the celebration included patriotic daytime activities hosted by Newhall’s First Presbyterian Church and dinner at the French Village.

With the Great Depression in the rear-view mirror and war in Europe looking inevitable in the summer of 1939, patriotism in the United States reached new heights even as the nation was sharply divided between isolationists and internationalists. Newhall’s parade came roaring back in 1939, 1940 and 1941. Then in December came the attack on Pearl Harbor, and wartime restrictions set in.

First to go were the fireworks displays. Powder needed to be conserved for the war effort. With caps for toy pistols excepted, in March 1942 the federal Bureau of Mines prohibited the manufacture and sale of powder for private use. Patriotic organizations could apply for a federal license for a community fireworks display.

But California’s restrictions were tighter. By executive order in April, the governor ordered the state’s fire chiefs to deny all permit applications. Later that month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors banned all fireworks, including public displays, in the unincorporated county areas. The city of Los Angeles imposed a similar ban, although it was eased in 1944 and 1945 so a large fireworks display could be held at the Memorial Coliseum — put on by the Bermite Powder Co. of Saugus.

The closest thing to a Fourth of July Parade from 1942-1945 was a display of America’s military might on July 4, 1942, when an estimated 33,000 members of the U.S. armed forces marched through the streets of downtown Los Angeles, along with their vehicles and materiel. Even Huntington Beach, traditionally the Southland’s largest Fourth of July Parade gathering, held “alternative” events in lieu of a parade in 1942.

Newhall saw 1942-1945 go by without parades, but the community displayed its patriotism in other ways. Flags lined Spruce Street (today’s Main Street) in 1942. In 1943, the celebrating came early when, in late June, Bermite Powder received the Army-Navy ‘E’ award for excellence in military production. Four thousand people turned out for a day of fun at Bonelli Stadium (aka Saugus Speedway), next door to Bermite, including a rodeo exhibition with famous names.

The 1944 celebration centered on some recent and unique nostalgia. Newhall being Hollywood’s backlot even then, movie companies were ever-present here. It turns out, Monogram Studios (based at today’s Melody Ranch) had filmed Newhall’s Fourth of July procession in 1939. Community leaders got hold of the film in 1944 and showed it at the American Theater — today’s American Legion Post 507 next to the Old Town Newhall Library. Per The Signal, “Maybe you’ll see yourself as you were five years ago!”

World War II ended with Japan’s surrender in September 1945. The parade returned to Newhall in 1946 and has been an annual tradition ever since — although it very nearly missed in 1955 when everybody dropped the ball and “forgot” to organize it. Determined not to let it go by, a de-facto fife and drum corps of 15 people marched down Spruce Street — and that was the parade. Otherwise, the Fourth of July celebration in Newhall has been the one time and place Santa Clarita Valley residents from all walks of life, political persuasions, religions and cultural backgrounds have come together to let freedom ring.

Parade organizers have changed hats through the years. Sometimes the parade was under the umbrella of the American Legion, or the Kiwanis Club, or the Chamber of Commerce, or another community organization. For the past decade or so, the duty has fallen to a group of volunteers under the umbrella of the nonprofit SCVTV, in partnership with the city of Santa Clarita, The Signal, KHTS and a host of community groups such as the Hart District ROTC and the American Legion Riders.

This year, a different type of national emergency has interrupted a Santa Clarita Valley tradition that has been unbroken for 74 years. State and county health regulations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have rendered it impossible to hold a parade, which, in recent years, has drawn upward of 3,000 participants and 25,000 spectators. (Huntington Beach, with more than 100,000 spectators, is also placing its parade on hiatus this year.)

But that won’t stop Santa Clarita residents from showing their patriotism. Spearheaded by the city of Santa Clarita in partnership with The Signal, KTHS and SCVTV, 2020 will be a throwback to an earlier tradition in Newhall when patriotic contests were the theme of the day. The same way homes are decorated for Christmas and Chanukah, SCV residents are invited to decorate their homes for the Fourth of July and be judged by a panel of the same volunteers who annually judge the parade entries.

Stay tuned for additional patriotic activities. SCVTV will be rekindling the spirit of 1944 when a prior year’s parade was shown in the local movie theater. On this July 4, the local TV channel (Spectrum 20, AT&T 99, SCVTV.com and other platforms) will be showing the most recent years’ parades (no repeats) and a few clips from 1950s Newhall parades — one with Lassie — followed by a nighttime fireworks display that was filmed on top of the Valencia Town Center parking structure some years ago. Viewers can see how the fireworks are set off.

Who knows? With a day of parades on TV, “Maybe you’ll see yourself as you were five years ago.”

SCVTV President Leon Worden has been in charge of the SCV Fourth of July Parade since 1996.

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