Rockets, Cable Cars, and Protest Marches: Past SoCal Fourth of July Observances

Automobile decorated for a Fourth of July Parade in Compton, 1921. Courtesy of the South Bay Photograph Collection, CSUDH Archives.

On July 4, 1847, roughly 700 U.S. troops congregated on a hill overlooking the recently captured ciudad to celebrate the Los Angeles' first American Independence Day. Californio forces under Andres Pico had surrendered just months before, and as the war raged on far to the south, the troops constituted an occupying force in what was still legally Mexican territory. They were, in fact, assembled in an earthwork fort meant to secure the Americans' hold over the city.

At sunrise, Army Lieutenant J. W. Davidson raised the Stars and Stripes. From nearly anywhere in the city, Angelenos would have seen the flag flapping in the wind atop a 150-foot mast. Later, perhaps for the benefit of the diverse and largely Spanish-speaking population below, orators recited the Declaration of Independence twice -- first in English, then in Spanish, according to one source.

Today, Southern California's Fourth of July celebrations are less fraught with high political drama. For some, the holiday is an occasion for fireworks and pool parties. For others, it is a day to raise awareness of social justice issues. Now, as the region marks the nation's 236th birthday, join us for a look through historical images at how Southern Californians have observed the holiday in the past.

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In 1892, the Los Angeles Cable Railway decorated one of its cable cars to celebrate the July 4 holiday. Courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library and Archive.

Selected posters related to the Fourth of July from the extensive collections of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics. Top-left: a 1976 poster by Christopher Street West for 'We Were There,' a bicentennial gay pride celebration. Top-right: an undated silkscreen poster by Brian McKinney for the Venice Independence Day Parade. Bottom-left: a 1976 poster by Peace Press for a Fourth of July march and rally. Bottom-right: a 1986 poster by Roberto R. Pozos for a March for Justice and Freedom for All Immigrants and Refugees, held on July 4 at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The caption for this 1859 photo reads, 'Four-year-old Mark Malone of Burbank sticks to old-fashioned firecracker as his buddies, Myron Lieberman, 18, center, of Burbank, and Leston Newbill, 17, of Burbank, prepare to launch three-stage rocket they built for July Fourth celebration.' Courtesy of the Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

A crowded Ocean Park beach on July 4, 1912. Photo by Harry Vroman, courtesy of the Braun Research Library Collection, Autry National Center.

Carolyn Castoe pretends to hang on to a rocket in this photograph, shot to promote a fireworks show in Pasadena's Rose Bowl. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Examiner Collection, USC Libraries.

Many of the archives who contributed the above images are members of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, museums, official archives, personal collections, and other institutions. Hosted by the USC Libraries, L.A. as Subject is dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden stories and histories of the Los Angeles region. Our posts here provide a view into the archives of individuals and cultural institutions whose collections inform the great narrative—in all its complex facets—of Southern California.

About the Author

A writer specializing in Los Angeles history, Nathan Masters serves as manager of academic events and programming communications for the USC Libraries, the host institution for L.A. as Subject.
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