Friday, December 1, 2023

Coronado History: First 4th of July Parade in 1888

Coronado’s first July Fourth Parade took place in 1888. The Belt Line Railroad had just been completed around the Silver Strand. The Hotel del Coronado was very close to completion and a roundhouse was being constructed at the Ferry Landing at the foot of Orange Avenue to accommodate train engines, rail cars and trolleys.

Orange Avenue had, of all things, orange trees planted down the median strip, and a hump existed between Third and Fourth Streets that eventually had to be leveled so steam locomotives overloaded with ferryboat passengers could make the grade headed south. Today you can still see the earthen cliffs on either side of Orange with condos and homes sitting high above the main street.

That first July Fourth Parade featured the Goddess of Liberty on a horse-drawn float of 38 women, starring postal clerk Miss Clara Hill as the “Goddess.”

The Coronado Natural History Museum provided horse-drawn floats featuring a taxidermist’s nightmare – a full sized rhinoceros and lion. The museum, which also had an enormous stuffed sea turtle hanging over the entrance, went out of business within two years.

It was estimated that 11,000 people turned out for that inaugural parade. A contingent of 400 arrived by train from Los Angeles. The rest came, for the most part, by ferryboat – the 100-foot paddle wheeler Coronado.

As the only ferry in operation at that early point in Coronado’s transportation history (two others, Silver Gate and Benecia, would arrive before year’s end), the Coronado carried 13 horse teams and more than 600 people on her wooden decks. She ran non-stop until 11 p.m. that night. She cost $15,000 to build and was worth every penny of that investment.

Today nearly 100,000 people attend the Coronado July Fourth Parade. Over the decades there have been a number of parade memories probably best left forgotten – spooked horses, drunken drivers (and politicians), streakers, kids playing pranks.
Late in the afternoon of July Fourth, 1888, the Hotel Del put on a daylight pyrotechnic display on the grounds. The agenda of fireworks included prismatic lights, blazing sun, caprice wheel and Roman candles.

An errant spark, however, dropped into one of the boxes and set off everything at once. Horses became frightened and bolted through the streets. People scrambled from the grounds and ran screaming in every direction. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

In 1896, celebrated architect Irving J. Gill was chairman of the Committee on Floats for the July Fourth parade.

In 1938, Central Drug Store advertised fireworks for sale. In those days it was legal to set them off anywhere in town, and selections offered included Roman candles, sparklers and pinwheels.

“Teenage Tommyrot,” as the newspapers called them, would purchase dynamite blasting caps over the counter, and attempt to blow the trolley off the tracks … just for fun (some succeeded).

1964 Parade Video:

In 1965, 55,000 people lined Orange Avenue to see the July Fourth parade, touted as “Coronado’s 18th Annual.” Apparently the parade was only held sporadically in the early years.

1978 Parade Video:

In 1998, the July Fourth Parade Committee celebrated the 50th anniversary of the parade as an annual event. John Laing had been parade chairman since 1970. His father, Al Laing, had been parade announcer for 40 years and was well remembered by locals for his beautiful tenor voice.

In 1998, the Lone Ranger’s horse “Silver” got loose. Officials chased him all over Spreckels Park before capturing the famous white stallion.

Another time a baby elephant ran through the front yard of someone’s house in the staging area. Prior to the 1970s it was a common sight to see parade horses galloping along our beach after the parade.

Actor Clint Walker (of the hit TV Western, “Cheyenne”) was set to ride in the parade one year but was talked out of his horse by then-mayor Robin Goodenough. The Mayor rode the horse; Clint rode in the Mayor’s convertible.

In the mid-1950s the Navy Frogs (UDT, precursor to SEALs) had a float in the parade that consisted of a huge tank of water with a ‘mermaid’ inside. She was outfitted in a bikini top and full mermaid tail, but along the route her top was removed, much to the surprise of onlookers. The mermaid wasn’t invited back, although the Navy and our Navy SEALs are featured prominently every year in the parade, and receive standing ovations.

My only suggestion to the current parade committee is, instead of calling it the 68th Annual or 78th Annual, why not say, “Since 1888?”

Happy Independence Day Coronado. Stay classy and be safe.

–Joe Ditler

Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler is a professional writer, publicist and Coronado historian. Formerly a writer with the Los Angeles Times, he has been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and Europe. He also owns Part-Time PR (a subsidiary of Schooner or Later Promotions), specializing in helping Coronado businesses reach larger audiences with well-placed public relations throughout the greater San Diego County. He writes obituaries and living-obituaries under the cover "Coronado Storyteller." To find out more, write or call [email protected], or (619) 742-1034.

More Local News