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History of Independence Day - 4th of July Parade of 1947

By City Archivist Kathie Schey

The people of Huntington Beach have always loved a good parade and have taken every opportunity from Christmas to Flag Day to hold one.  By far and away, however, the most cherished was the Independence Day Parade and accompanying celebrations beginning with the arrival of Henry Huntington’s Red Car on July 4, 1904.

This popularity was predictable.  Many of our early settlers fought to keep our nation whole in the Civil War.  They were followed by the many WW I veterans who chose to make Huntington Beach their home.

From 1904 to 1941, the annual 4th of July parade grew.  Flag-waving school children, marching veterans and festive bands joined in. Decorated wagons evolved to decorated vehicles.  Businesses and churches were represented. City dignitaries waved jubilantly from their rides along the route. Picnics were shared, bathing beauties were crowned, and even the odd greased pig was chased.

In 1942 the parade fell silent. Our world was at war and our City was transformed.  Our oil was declared a critical military resource.  Military vehicles sped up and down present-day Pacific Coast Highway.  Portions of the future 17th Street Park as well as the buildings at Lake Park, including the Scout Cabin, were given over for military use.  Women entered the workforce.  The community learned about “black-out curtains” to keep homes concealed at night.  Even the high school’s “Model Airplane Club” was called into service making models of enemy aircraft used to train “spotters” stationed along the Pacific Coast. Our people diligently contributed their part, remembering more strongly what independence – freedom – meant. Following the end of hostilities, we pulled ourselves together, returned to living in peace and celebrating our way of life.

For four long years, the July 4th festivities had been a memory.  In 1947, it roared back to life! Soldiers were home, business was booming, and our shining beaches were a tourist mecca.

The 1947 parade theme was “Victory” and declared “a tribute to the men and women who fought so gallantly for our country in World War II.”  It was an enormous affair. Veterans, bands, civic groups and businesses were all featured. Stars of popular western films were present along with trained horse riders and trick ropers.  The local cab company’s float was a mock Conestoga wagon, which a band of Indians was to later circle and burn. Even Pinkie, the “Hubba Hubba Clown” appeared.

The legacy of victory was visible everywhere.  The parade began with a “Bomb Salute.” Planes flew back and forth overhead.  The floats, however, offered the clearest picture. A now retired target aircraft from the Santa Ana Naval Air Station rode on the back of a truck.  The Orange County Carpenter’s float bore a sign reading “Victors Building Peace” and featured a reenactment of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima. But the VFW float is the most thought-provoking.  Four men sitting around a table each dressed to represent the allied nations of the U.S., the U.K., China and Russia, appeared to be engaged in conversation.  As the float passed by, the words “Who’s Bluffin’ Who” were visible – a message for the future.  Freedom and independence are always to be celebrated, but never taken for granted.