Under blue skies in perfect weather, Pacific Palisades celebrated its centennial anniversary on Saturday in a giant white tent at Simon Meadow in Temescal Gateway Park.
Although the town was founded on January 17, 1922, “Celebrating 100 Years, From the Mountains to the Sea” was delayed four months by pandemic concerns and a desire to enjoy spring warmth.
After showing proof of Covid vaccination, more than 300 people gathered in the tent to enjoy an illuminating program hosted by the Historical Society and organized by multi-tasking board member Donna Vaccarino.
More than 20 Palisades High School student ambassadors, dressed in purple shirts, helped steer guests and hand out programs. Station 69 firefighters came to Temescal, only to be called out on an emergency run, just as the event was starting. The Garden Club (founded in 1944) contributed the two stage bouquets.
“It’s an honor to be here today,” said Alan Salazar, who gave a traditional Chumash/Tataviam/Tongva blessing. He explained that while people were arriving, he had burned white sage and walked around the tent because “the smoke takes away bad thoughts.”
The UCLA Navy ROTC presented the flag, as resident Greg Victoroff, a Fourth of July parade veteran, drummed a cadence on a vintage Ludwig 1950s marching snare.
American Legion Post 283 Commander Jim Cragg led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Before Methodist Pastor Wayne Walters gave the invocation, he noted that his wife’s great-grandfather, Dr. Oren Waite, had been the first assigned pastor for the fledgling Methodist Church in Temescal in 1923.
Walters led a prayer written by St. Francis of Assisi, which resonated with today’s turbulent times:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
In her opening welcome, Vaccarino said the event would be like a one-day Chautauqua, providing entertainment and culture for the whole community with speakers, teachers, musicians and dancers. As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Chautauqua is the most American thing in America.”
“The typical Chautauqua lasted a week or two,” Vaccarino said, “but we’re going to do this in two hours.”
She noted the importance of the elders in each generation teaching the next generation. “History is a good teacher; it never takes its eyes off the past. Today we celebrate the pursuit of learning.”
Historical Society leader Barbara Kohn said, “It’s my honor to be president during this centennial celebration and the celebration of the community where we live.” She named many of the activists who had shaped Pacific Palisades and then looked forward as “we start writing the history for the next 100 years.”
Former Palisadian-Post editor Bill Bruns, who is now an advisor to Circling the News, is overseeing a 56-page Centennial publication that spans the town’s history and will be mailed free to every Pacific Palisades mailing address by June 1.
While working at the Post, Bruns and his staff produced numerous special issues focusing on the town’s history, so he has an extensive knowledge of the activism and events that have shaped Pacific Palisades. He told the audience that residents founded the Temescal Canyon Association in 1972 to fight a proposed golf driving range in Temescal, and that residents like attorney Jack Allen (who was in the audience) banded together to defeat plans for the proposed “Reseda to the Sea” highway.
“If not for the activists who fought on behalf of our community, where we’re sitting today might have become a Marriott resort hotel, or a Reseda Highway connecting to Temescal Canyon Road.”
Bruns introduced Randy Young, the town’s reigning historian, who with his mother Betty Lou Young chronicled the history of Pacific Palisades in five books. With historic photos appearing on the screen behind him, Young provided a colorful overview of the town’s pre-history and its first 100 years. “My family was always trying to protect open land and the town’s environment,” said Young, a Palisades High alum.
Some of the photos elicited nostalgic appreciation in the audience. For example, when Young showed a treehouse in the 1950s, he quipped, “Kids built their own treehouses, no contractors were involved.” Another photo showed kids pushing their bikes across the street, heading for school.
The program was long, and when Pacific Palisades Honorary Mayor Eugene Levy came to the stage to emcee the remainder of the program, the comic/writer/Emmy winner drew laughs when he said, “Good night, everybody. Drive safe.”
Levy was serious, though, when he said that although he and his wife have lived in the Palisades for 16 years, they still feel like newcomers, and that they always enjoy learning about the town’s rich history.
Levy introduced the La FAZ quartet of Layla Adeli, Sophie Zhu, Vera Fang and Iman Morlot, who played a Shaker song composed in 1848, “Simple Gifts.”
After they finished, Levy quipped, “If I had an ounce of their talent, I could have made something of myself.”
Joseph Edmiston, the executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, thanked Randy Young and his late mother for how they preserved the history of Pacific Palisades in their books, and the active role they played in protecting the town’s character. Edmiston has led a 40-year campaign to save and regain open land in the Santa Monica Mountains, and oversaw the conversion of Temescal Canyon into a protected state park. “My responsibility is to make sure that continuous generations can enjoy it,” he said.
In welcoming the next guest, Levy said, “We wouldn’t be sitting here without the contributions of Bill and Cindy Simon.”
Cindy Simon spoke on behalf of the YMCA and noted that the four-acre meadow where the event was taking place was transformed in 2007.
She recounted how when she and her husband moved to town, their daughter Lulu played basketball on a Y team and it had lost every game. In the final game of the season, with 30 seconds to go, the score was tied 0-0. Lulu gave the basketball a “Hail Mary” toss and the ball went around the hoop once, twice and finally fell in. The girls won 2-0.
But more important than the win, Simon said, is that “memories are made at the Y and it’s a place where all are welcomed.”
Ernest Marquez, 98, and Sharon Kilbride, who are descendants of the Marquez and Reyes families, were next recognized. Kilbride spoke about the books that Marquez has written and published about the families, who were the first settlers in what today is Pacific Palisades.
“In two years, we will have Ernie’s centennial celebration,” said Kilbride, who noted that over the past 184 years that the family has lived here, they have been under three different country flags: Spain, Mexico and the U.S.
Sam Lagana, who grew up in Pacific Palisades and is currently the stadium announcer for the L.A. Rams, pointed out that this “isn’t just a place for famous people, it’s home. Pacific Palisades is home.”
Post 283 Commander Cragg said the town’s history is wrapped up in American Legion history, which was founded in 1928, and that the first Post in town was in Temescal Canyon.
Post 283 Auxiliary President Sue Pascoe explained that almost 200 youth had participated in the Centennial Art Contest, hosted by the Auxiliary in conjunction with the Historical Society. The Auxiliary also supplied red poppies for this event. The poppies are made by veterans and given out in May. She urged everyone to take one – because in 2014, the Ukraine adopted the poppy as a symbol of victory over Nazism and to commemorate victims of World War II.
In the most uplifting and energetic moment of the afternoon, Theatre Palisades Youth, under the direction of Lara Ganz, took the stage and performed. As they sang and danced, audience members appreciated the colorful costumes and the talented performers – who not only had great voices and splendid dance moves – but also were just delightful.
After the event, many of the attendees walked to the historic Aldersgate building on Haverford (now owned by Seven Arrows Elementary School) to enjoy an open house hosted by Seven Arrows and the Woman’s Club. Numerous nonprofits were set up on the lawn of the Buerge Chapel, and there were activities for the kids.
Happy Birthday, Pacific Palisades–and now on to the next 100 years!