Photos: SoCal Fourth of July Celebrations of the Past

Los Angeles' Thirty-Eighth Fire Company celebrates the centennial of American independence on July 4, 1876. Courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust / C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries.

From parades to barbecues to fireworks on the beach, greater Los Angeles has long joined the rest of the nation in celebrating Independence Day. As Southern Californians now prepare to mark the nation's 235th birthday, join us for a look through historical images at Fourth of July celebrations of the past and learn about some of the photographic archives that richly document our region's history.


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Los Angeles Public Library

The Los Angeles Public Library's History Department has maintained a collection of historical images for more than sixty years. Today, the library's extensive Photograph Collection numbers in the millions. The largest part, with more than 2.2 million images, is the photographic morgue of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and two of its predecessor newspapers: the Evening Herald and the Herald Express. The library also holds a collection of more than 250,000 historical photographs donated in 1981 by the Security Pacific National Bank, as well as a Shades of L.A. archive that showcases the diversity of the family life throughout L.A. history.

Based in Los Angeles, the International Institute was founded in 1914 to serve newly-arrived immigrants to the United States. Here, a group poses in costume at the institute's 1923 Fourth of July celebration. Courtesy of the Shades of L.A. Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

Women representing the newly-admitted states of Hawaii and Alaska hold up stars to the old 48-star U.S. flag at the Rose Bowl's 1959 July 4 celebration. Courtesy of the Hollywood Citizen News/Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.


Santa Monica Public Library

With photographs dating from 1875, the Santa Monica Public Library's archival collections richly document the visual history of the Santa Monica Bay area. Many images, including a set of historical maps and digitized editions of the Santa Monica Evening Outlook newspaper, are publicly accessible through the library's Imagine Santa Monica website.

Fourth of July parade float in Santa Monica (undated photograph). Courtesy of the Santa Monica Public Library Image Archives.

Fireworks along the Santa Monica coast, 1950s. Courtesy of the Carolyn Bartlett Farnham Collection, Santa Monica Public Library Image Archives


Orange County Archives

As the official archive of L.A. County's neighbor to the south, the Orange County Archives preserve a wealth of historical materials, from deeds to government records to early local newspapers. The Archives have also made hundreds of historical photographs publicly accessible through Flickr.

Walter Knott (left) holds a copy of the Declaration of Independence with chemist Arnold Beckman at his side at the 1970 Knott's Berry Farm Fourth of July festivities. Courtesy of the Orange County Archives.

Carl's Jr. founder Carl Karcher holds a copy of the Declaration of Independence at Knott's Berry Farm's 1976 bicentennial celebration. Courtesy of the Orange County Archives.


UCLA Young Research Library

The Department of Special Collections at UCLA's Young Research Library houses the photographic morgue of L.A.'s largest daily newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, from which the following three images were drawn. Many images from this invaluable collection and others are accessible online through the UCLA Digital Collections website.

The John Birch Society's float, which purported to represent the 'True Spirit of 76', was not permitted in Huntington Beach's 1965 Fourth of July parade. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0).

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley riding in the city's 1953 Chrysler phaeton during a 1975 Fourth of July parade. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0).

Gloria Loring leads a choir in celebrating the bicentennial of U.S. independence at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 1976. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0).


USC Libraries

The USC Libraries' extensive regional history holdings include several important photographic archives, including the California Historical Society Collection and the "Dick" Whittington Photography Collection. The USC Libraries also house the photographic morgue of the Los Angeles Examiner, a daily newspaper that merged with the Herald-Express in 1962. Many of the photographs from these collections, as well as images contributed by partner institutions, are publicly accessible through the USC Digital Library.

In what the caption describes as the first civic parade in Los Angeles, the L.A. Fire Department marches down Main Street on July 4, 1871.  Courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust / C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries.

Women play with a giant explosive on Ocean Park Beach to promote the beach's 1952 Independence Day festivities.

Spectators light matches as part of a July 4, 1958 celebration at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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 will 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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