Monday, January 18, 2010

Early History of the San Pedro Fishermen's Fiesta

In the decades after World War II, the San Pedro Fishermen's Fiesta was a colorful extravaganza that paid tribute to the Port of Los Angeles-based fishing industry, the largest in the nation for a good part of the twentieth century.

During its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s the Fiesta attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators and was acclaimed as the third most photographed special event in the nation (behind the Tournament of Roses and the Mardi Gras). Well-known celebrities and politicians such as Ronald Reagan, Pat Brown and Richard Nixon attended.

The origin of the San Pedro Fishermen's Fiesta dates to the years preceeding the Second World War. Near the end of summer, San Pedro fishermen would take their families to nearby Catalina Island  for a "big picnic" before the start of school. Frank Canetti, a former Fiesta director, said in an interview in 1982 that as a young boy he remembered a fleet of 50 to 60 decorated boats being blessed and then sailing with crew and families for a weekend at the Island.

Although it wasn't called the "Fishermen's Fiesta," on March 26, 1938 about 100 decorated, flag-bedecked purse seiners (fishing vessels) paraded through Los Angeles Harbor. This was a celebration by the Fishermen's Co-operative Association to dedicate its new terminals and clubhouse at the Southern Pacific slip.

On Sunday, October 21, 1945 what can be called the first "formal" Fishermen's Fiesta took place in the harbor. Thousands of dockside spectators watched more than 100 brightly decorated fishing boats sail a 20-mile course past anchored warships and Cabrillo Beach, into the main channel at Wilmington, and around Rainbow Pier at Long Beach.

Occurring shortly after the end of World War II, this salute to the local fishing fleet was billed as a Victory Parade. The winner of first prize was the boat City of Naples II that carried a living replica of the famous Flag raising on Iwo Jima.  Fishing industry spokesmen proclaimed that the fishing industry at the Port of Los Angeles was an important wartime supplier of food, supplying more than 12,000,000 gallons of sardine oil to strategic war industries for example.

On October 6, 1946, the Second Annual Fishermen's Fiesta was held from 10:00 A.M. to midnight at the "World's No. 1 Fishing Port." There were no Fiestas in Los Angeles Harbor the following two years, but the nautical parade returned with a vengeance in 1949 (with four days of festivities from September 8-11).

The 1949 Fiesta featured a coronation of a “King Fisherman” and dedication of a newly built $1,500,000 fishermen’s dock christened by Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron with a splash of waters brought from the Seven Seas.

*Above image shows a photo of the fishing vessel San Antonio participating in the 1949 Fiesta.
**Stay tuned for further history of the San Pedro Fishermen's Fiesta.

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