Thursday, November 29, 2007
President’s Participation at Fiesta Evokes Jubilance
By ROGER M. GRACE
“From a broad blue canopied pavilion, surrounded by the members of his cabinet, Governor [George K.] Nash, of Ohio, and notables from many states, President [William] McKinley to-day reviewed the floral parade of the Los Angeles carnival.”
That’s the start of a wire service dispatch from here on May 9, 1901. It continues:
“The city was packed. The population of Los Angeles, according to the census, is over 100,000, but the streets must have held almost twice that number to-day.
“Pasadena, Santa Monica and other neighboring towns sent in hundreds of visitors. The scene on Broadway, where the reviewing stand was located, resembled Pennsylvania avenue in Washington on the day of an inauguration parade. Every façade flamed with bunting, flags, pampas grass and red, green and orange plumes.”
Those colors—representing wine, olives, and oranges, for which this region was then known—had symbolized the massive galas in the city since the first one was staged by the Merchant’s Association, forerunner M & M, in 1894. [Well, actually, yellow had traditionally been used to represent oranges, but let's not get too picky.] The term “fiesta” was used from the start, recalling far more modest celebrations conducted in the pueblo days.
The fiesta, in 1901, was no longer what it had been in the prior decade: a week-long, grand-scale festival with multiple parades and dances and athletic contests, a gala rivaling the New Orleans mardi gras. On the positive side, no longer was it denounced by the local clergy owing to the extent of the revelry, especially on “All Fools Night,” on which participants donned costumes and masks and debauchery was rampant.
Notwithstanding the paring down and toning down of the fiesta, spirits of attendees had never been higher than on May 9, 1901.
“Never before in the history of the City of Angels, have the residents of and visitors to the city turned out in such enthusiastic numbers as they did today,” that night’s issue of the Express observes. “Never before were any Angelenos here treated to the double attraction of an unsurpassed floral display and a chief executive of a nation.”
McKinley’s presence at the Fiesta de Las Flores was at the invitation of this city’s Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn. The M & M had scored innumerable victories over the past five years of its existence, but securing the attendance of the president was its supreme coup.
The presidential party, which had spent the night at the Van Nuys Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, gathered about 9 a.m. at “The Bivouac,” the Wilshire Boulevard home of Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis, where McKinley and his wife had been overnight guests. The McKinleys entered a carriage, sharing the conveyance with Otis and with Homer Laughlin, chair of the reception committee.
They toured residential areas, and the president left the carriage at a residence on 28th Street to pay his respects to the widow of John C. Fremont, one of the first two U.S. senators from California (in 1850) and the first nominee of the Republican Party for president of the United States (in 1856).
In a different carriage, bedecked with flowers, the president travelled the parade route, which started at Seventh and Main Streets, his journey preceding by several minutes the floats and bands. He was let off at the grand stand in front of City Hall, then located on the east side of Broadway, south of Second Street. At about 12:15 p.m., the parade reached the grand stand.
The Los Angeles Times’ edition the next morning relates the president’s reaction to what he was witnessing:
“ ‘The spectacle transcends the most sweeping reaches of the imagination,’ said he, just after the Chinese section of the pageant had passed in review. “This is one of the most imposing and inspiring sights I have ever seen. I expected something grand, but I was unprepared to view such magnificance. Words are too feeble to express my admiration.’”
The grandeur of the floral parade was attributable solely to the M & M, which had full charge of the fiesta that year (while an ad hoc General Reception Committee, on which the M & M had representation, took responsibility for the presidential visit).
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company
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