BY SUSAN SCAFFIDI Contributing writer
Thirty years ago, downtown Bakersfield business owners met to discuss what it would take to revive the downtown Christmas parade. Now reaching its three-decade milestone, the annual parade is the cornerstone of a week's worth of holiday events.
The theme for this year's parade is "An American Christmas," and starts at 6 p.m. Dec. 6.
30th annual Bakersfield Christmas Parade
When: 6 p.m. Dec. 6
Where: starts at 22nd and L streets, travels south to 21st Street, west to G Street, south to 20th Street and then east to N and O streets
"I noticed that the parade itself goes way back to the 1900s," said Pam Carlock, coordinator for the parade. "It really goes way back."
Carlock said her research into the parade's history shows that by the 1930s Bakersfield's downtown parade, then sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, had become a major event. But by the early 1970s, interest in the parade faded for about a dozen years.
"In the '70s when the (Valley Plaza) was built and we lost the parade in the same era," said Downtown Business Association president Cathy Butler. "That's when interest began in developing the southwest."
Around the same time, many stalwart supporters of the parade could no longer participate, and there were growing problems involving security, Butler said.
"I think that's why they lost it back in the '70s or so, because they started to have some problems," Butler said.
But residents began complaining. Butler said there were several failed attempts at reviving the parade, but nothing ever happened.
"And we got complaints every year," Butler said. "We didn't have a parade, Lamont had a parade; everyone else did."
"I remember at the back of Dave's Deli meeting with all these people, and saying let's pull all this together," Butler said.
The parade was revived in 1983, and has become a mainstay of the city's holiday celebrations ever since. While the original parade route -- down Chester to California, and then later down Chester to the Old Church Plaza on Truxtun -- has been shortened over the years, participation and attendance have been growing steadily.
"After that first success, everybody wanted to be involved," Butler said.
Carlock said the committee reviews applications for the parade each year to make sure they spread out participation as widely as possible.
"We have a really nice variety this year," Carlock said.
Carlock said 20 high school and junior high bands will march in the parade, along with 30 floats, 22 vehicle groups, and a dozen drill teams and other marching group. The parade's honoree this year is Tim Smith, manager of the Bureau of Land Management for the Kern County area.
Carlock said city police will begin blocking off traffic at 5 p.m., but spectators actually begin showing up by at least 3:30. The parade will begin at 6 p.m. at 22nd and L streets, travel south to 21st Street, west to G Street, south to 20th Street and then east to N and O streets where the parade will disband.
In recent years, the parade committee has included activity centers and "Christmas Square Marketplaces" at various locations downtown. Carlock said these centers have activities and presentations for children, food vendors and other offerings. School choirs will be performing at various "Choir Corners" scattered throughout the area as well. Many of these activities will be operating by 3:30.
"It gives (spectators) an opportunity to pick their spots," Carlock said.
"(The parade) has evolved through the years," Carlock said. "The addition of activities and vendors creates more of a festival atmosphere."
Carlock said the committee expects about 20,000 people to attend the parade, which will last until 8 p.m.
"Obviously, weather is always a factor in determining how many people turn out," Carlock said.
"It's just a great kickoff for the holidays," Carlock said. "It's just wonderful to see so many people having a good time."