Bursting in air o’er Grand Park

July 2, 2014 

Fireworks, which lit up City Hall in 2013, explode over the Music Center this 4th.

There was a time when fireworks on the roof of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion would have been as hard to imagine as a crown of sparklers on the head of its namesake philanthropist/socialite.

The Dorothy Chandler was the stateliest spot in one of the stateliest cultural centers in the country, surrounded by high rises and imposing government buildings. And downtown was a place that many Angelenos went for work, if they went there at all—not a prime destination for frolicking in a park.

Talk about changing times.

Last year, some 10,000 showed up at Grand Park for its first Fourth of July party, so many that organizers thought it was a fluke until 20,000 arrived for New Year’s Eve.

Now, armed with lessons learned since the park opened in 2012 as an instant L.A. icon, park officials are replacing old rules with a growing playbook of downtown event planning. On the horizon: Everything from more ambitious community gatherings to a two-day Budweiser Made in America event on Labor Day weekend, featuring John Mayer, Steve Aoki and, possibly, Jay Z (park officials say he hasn’t confirmed yet).

This Fourth of July, Grand Park programmers are anticipating some 25,000 people, and are preparing a downtown perimeter to potentially handle twice that many. Two live bands—one soul, one indie—will provide music, twice the entertainment provided last year. No alcohol will be allowed in the park (bags will be checked.) But there will be more food trucks, more security and, thankfully, more bathrooms.  Organizers have even lined up a free bike valet to help park your ride.

Most striking, though, will be the changes in the pyrotechnics.

“Last year, we shot off the fireworks in the middle of the park, which meant we forfeited some of the real estate that people could have used to gather,” says Julia Diamond, Grand Park’s programming director.

This time, she says, the fireworks will come from the roof of the Dorothy Chandler, where programmers turned in an effort to save space and maximize visibility for the park’s farflung neighbors.

“We’re recognizing that these park events aren’t just park events, they’re becoming L.A. events,” Diamond says. “This year, the show will be visible from Boyle Heights, parts of Echo Park, Elysian Park—all over. People will not only have the option to come to the park, but they’ll also be able to watch from home if they want and still have a celebration. And this will give us flexibility to shoot off more and bigger fireworks than we’ve done before.”

The move reflects no small measure of ambition. Last year’s Fourth of July spectacle was impressive, but because the fireworks were launched from ground level, they were more like the stage pyrotechnics at a rock concert than the traditional Independence Day overhead extravaganza.

According to Los Angeles City Fire Inspector Ben Flores, the fire marshal for the Grand Park celebration, the traditional type of show is possible only with the use of projectiles that explode hundreds of feet in the air and require hundreds of feet of clearance so that onlookers aren’t singed by the burning, pressed-wood shells that fall in the wake of the starburst.

Past attempts at urban projectile-style fireworks downtown have had mixed results.

In 2006, for instance, a fireworks display at a black tie gala ignited a small blaze when one of the projectiles accidently flew into a ninth floor window at Los Angeles City Hall.

“Luckily, a sprinkler head was right there,” recalls Flores. “It didn’t so much burn as set off the sprinklers and cause water damage.”

Nonetheless, Diamond says, the experience was sobering enough for city firefighters that no one at the park even suggested City Hall as a staging area for this year’s fireworks.

Because Grand Park is technically part of the Music Center, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion loomed as the obvious venue.

“We installed new security railings to ensure the production team will be safe,” Diamond says. “And we’ll be using water to hose down part of the Music Center Plaza to make doubly sure there’s no damage.”

The roof itself, she says, is already fireproof. And the location is ideal because the Music Center complex is at the top of Bunker Hill, about 100 feet above the elevation of City Hall.

Diamond says security crews will begin clearing crowds long before the 9 p.m. start time of the fireworks show to ensure that the area around the Music Center is safe and clear for viewing.

And the fireworks’ change of venue should provide plenty of Instagram-ready moments.

“The Department of Water and Power will be right there, which is also an iconic backdrop,” says Diamond. “It’s going to be beautiful.”

Thousands spent Independence Day at Grand Park last year. Photo/Matthew McQuilkin via Flickr

Grand Park’s 4th of July Block Party will be held from 4-9 p.m. at 200 N. Grand Ave. in Downtown Los Angeles. The event perimeter will extend from Temple to Second Streets between N. Grand Avenue and N. Spring Street. Doors open at 1 p.m. Music starts at 4 p.m. Fireworks are at 9 p.m.

Posted 7/2/14

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