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A Look Back: A glimpse at Fish Fry’s golden era

Recently digitized film shows Fuchsia Queen, marching bands, then-mayor in traditional parade.

May 23, 2009|By Alan Blank

While Costa Mesa has grown rapidly in the last 50 years, one of its oldest traditions is a shadow of what it once was.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in a long clip of 16 mm film from the 1963 Fish Fry recently digitized by city historian Art Goddard.

The movie was recorded by Costa Mesa police, Goddard said, and was part of a collection of Fish Fry memorabilia held by longtime Lions Club member Mike Scheafer. It captures an event that looks more like the Rose Parade than the small family gathering the Fish Fry is today.

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A string of marching bands, each with dozens of musicians, strut down major city streets, which were shut down for the event.

Then-Mayor Alvin Pinkley rides down the main drag waving to the crowd in the passenger seat of a Model T Ford driven by Theodore Robins (of Theodore Robins Ford, still doing business today on Harbor Boulevard) who is wearing a tall, black top hat.

Miss Costa Mesa, called the Fuchsia Queen after the city’s flower, rides in another car wearing a sash. Women in dresses hold the strings of a Maypole.

“It’s small town and it’s Americana. I mean, this is what we did,” Goddard said.

Commentary on the video is supplied by several Lions, many of whom say the year’s event was the biggest turnout to date.

The parade, which drew people from up and down the state, became prohibitively expensive, though, and the Lions stopped putting it on. That’s one of the explanations for the fact that today’s attendance doesn’t come close to matching what it was 40 years ago when the city was much smaller.

Another is that peoples’ lives are faster-paced and there are more things competing for kids’ attention these days, according to Scheafer.

“I remember as a kid you couldn’t walk through that park. The whole park was jam-packed with people. The Fish Fry is still the biggest social event in Costa Mesa, but those days it was just overwhelmingly the case,” he said.

With all the differences, there are some things that are still the same. Every year an annual contest crowns Costa Mesa’s cutest baby and a carnival with rides continues to be a draw.

“The fish batter hasn’t changed and the basic concept of what we’re doing — to raise funds for the community — hasn’t changed,” Scheafer said.

This year’s Fish Fry is coming up next weekend.


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