(SAN DIEGO) The annual Toyland parade will take place this Saturday, December 5, at 11 a.m.
Although this is the 46th Toyland parade, several oral histories speculate the parade began long before its first officially documented inauguration in 1936. In the 1940s, the annual parade boasted crowds of more than 100,000, with spectators of all ages lining the streets to watch marching bands, floats and various celebrities kick off the holiday season.
Since its inception, the parade has seen a lot of starts and stops, most notably during all major war periods. The longest pause was during World War II, when the parade was originally scheduled to take place the day after the Pearl Harbor attacks. The parade was cancelled immediately due to concerns surrounding a subsequent attack in San Diego.
Decades later the parade was again cancelled due to the construction of the 805 freeway.
Shortly thereafter, the Mission Valley and Fashion Valley malls opened, causing the large retailers that had once occupied North Park Main Street (currently known as the stretch of University Avenue between Florida Street and the 805) to move away. Many San Diegans were lured by the shiny newness of these types of retail mega-centers and thus followed suit. Main Street was no longer the “place to shop,” and smaller, local merchants began to suffer when foot traffic waned, many going out of business due to the loss of revenue.
Ultimately, this trend turned what had once been a thriving mecca to little more than a mass of empty storefronts, vacant buildings and the memory of what it had once been. The North Park Theatre closed its doors and was boarded shut. The Toyland Parade stopped running. The North Park street sign (erected in the 1920s by the Women’s Auxiliary for the North Park Businessman’s Club) was taken down for repairs and for some reason was never put back up.
In 1985, following approximately a 15-year hiatus, the parade restarted thanks in part to the dedication of local business owner and resident, Patrick Edwards. Edwards and his wife felt it was time to reinvigorate the community- not just by reorganizing the parade, but also by reinstalling the North Park sign on University Ave. The Edwards' were successful in accomplishing both tasks.
Since then, the parade has occurred every year, with the exception of 2007, when it was cancelled due to rain.
The North Park Main Street association has high hopes the parade will once again reach the glory days of the 40s and 50s. North Park, as many San Diegans know, has gone through and continues to experience, extensive renovation and revitalization that is breathing life back into community.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Modeling itself after Pride’s opening act, the Dykes on Bikes, the Toyland parade organizers hope to have the local Derby Dolls race down University Ave and kick off the parade with energy, making this one of the best parades in years.
Included among this year’s 85 entries are eight marching bands from across San Diego, including El Cajon Valley High School, Hoover High School, St. Augustine High School and Lemon Grove Middle School. Seven dance ensembles and three cheer squads have also RSVP’d to participate, all having spent the previous months rehearsing their routines.
Sleek cars will be escorting local beauty queens such as Miss East San Diego, Miss California Princesses 2010, Miss Greater San Diego USA 2010, Miss Julian 2009 and Miss Lakeside 2009. Various church groups, gospel choirs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and San Diego’s National Champion Football Team will also be a part of the holiday celebration.
Of course no parade is complete without local city officials, and this year County Supervisor Ron Roberts and State Senator Christine Kehoe will be on hand, along with the parade’s Grand Marshal, Councilman Todd Gloria.
“North Park Toyland Parade’s history, reach and popularity, make it a hallmark event for San Diego’s holiday season,” said Gloria. “When I was asked to be this year’s parade Grand Marshal, I proudly accepted.
“Supporting local efforts, whether they are festive or charitable in nature, is critical this holiday season," he continued. "I am thrilled that I was able to secure $5,000 in visitor industry funding to ensure the Toyland Parade again spreads joy and energy to the heart of North Park. Part of the taxes paid by visitors to San Diego is allocated to support local events and organizations, and the Toyland Parade is an exemplary recipient.”
Firefighters from North Park’s local station have been participating in the parade since the mid-80s, and this year they have the honor of escorting the man of the hour, the big man himself – Santa. As with most holiday parades- Santa will be the main attraction.
Parade participation continues to increase yearly and there is hope that in the future, larger and more elaborate floats will be part of the celebration. Yet for now, the Toyland Parade remains a parade with a small town feel, organized by the community’s long time residents.
“This is the longest running parade in the San Diego region and it defines everything that is good about our local community,” says Elizabeth Studebaker, Executive Director of North Park Main Street. “We have a really nice cross-section of entries representing our mixed demographic that includes everyone from the young to the elderly, which is what North Park is all about.”
Studebaker feels that North Park, long known for embracing diversity and inclusion, is the perfect place to start the holiday season.
If You Go:
The North Park Toyland Parade will take place on University Avenue between Utah and Iowa Streets.
Following the parade, children will be able to visit with Santa at a separate event sponsored by the El Cajon Business Improvement Association and the Lafayette Hotel. Flyers were distributed to local schools by event sponsors, notifying families that Santa will be in town between 1 – 3 p.m. at the Lafayette’s Mississippi Room, located at 2223 El Cajon Blvd.
For more information visit North Park Main Street.
SDGLN.com Editor-in-Chief Margie M. Palmer contributed to this report.