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Beachcomber: Why Celebrate Play Days?

  • By David Barron
It must have been an interesting journey to travel from Southern California to Sacramento in 1916. But it was a determined group that wanted to save its community from possible environmental disaster that made the journey.
You see, it seems the cities of Alhambra, Pasadena and South Pasadena wanted to dump their sewerage in Monterey Park. They were proposing to place a large sewage treatment facility here. I guess the Monterey Park area was down hill from them.
In a special election, the residents of “Ramona Acres” as the area was called then, voted to incorporate itself on May 29, 1916 by a vote of 455 to 33. As the legend goes two of our city fathers at that time traveled furiously to Sacramento to file the incorporation papers with the Secretary of State. 
And, this is the reason we are celebrating “Play Days,” but read on.
On May 19 through the 21, we will be celebrating Monterey Park’s “birthday,” or cityhood anniversary, with a festival and parade that continues today. Today, the festival is called “Play Days.” Nobody seems to know why, but like all springtime festivals it is a time to celebrate the changing of the season and a new beginning.
But now you know!
At one time, the festival was called “Pioneer Days,” and there would be many silly contests, such as the longest beard or the best-looking legs. When I first got involved, it was a pretty vibrant event, with carnival rides, live entertainment in the Barnes Park Pavilion, lots of food booths, games and information booths sponsored by community groups.
I remember the Methodist Church had a pie booth, Eastside Optimist would sell barbecue short ribs on Saturday, while other groups sold hot dogs, hamburgers and taquitos. On Sunday, there would be a large barbecue dinner sponsored by the service clubs. It really wasn’t that good, but it was cheap.
One year, the service clubs backed out, so the baseball clubs – Monterey Park Angels and Monterey Park Sports Club – volunteered to host the Sunday Dinner, but with a Mexican-American flavor.  We marinated and cooked 400 pounds of carne asada. The team moms made beans and rice.
The first year we served more that 1,500 dinners and made about $700 for each club. We did that for a couple of years, until someone demanded “real American food.” I took up the challenged and had “Mr. Meat” butcher shop in Rosemead cook and slice about 400 pounds of rump roast. 
We served the meat open face on a bun with plenty of barbecue sauce. We also served freshly cooked corn, salad and bread. It went over great! But we didn’t make as much money as before.
Today, Play Days is still a great festival, but with fewer participants. The heart of the event will still be the “Play Days” or city birthday parade. We will be celebrating the city’s 95th birthday. If your group wants to participate in the parade, it’s not too late. It is free!
Just call the city recreation department at (626) 37-1390 for information.
I want to personally invite all of you to come for the parade on May 21 at 11 a.m. The parade will start at Alhambra Avenue and travel west down Garvey Avenue until it reaches McPherrin Street.
Besides the usual local politicians, there will be clowns, crazy cars from the movies and lots of local school bands.
Come on down!

EDITORS NOTE: If you would like to know more about Monterey Park History you can obtain a history booklet called “Reflections” at the Monterey Park City Clerk’s office for only $1. You can also get a copy of the booklet at the City Museum located at Garvey Ranch Park on Orange Avenue. The museum is open Saturdays and Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m.

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