Cannon and musket fire boomed throughout downtown Los Angeles July 4 reminiscent of the celebration that occurred July 4, 1847, when the first American flag was raised over a fort built here by the Mormon Battalion the same year.
Latter-day Saints joined with hundreds of others from the area at the site of Fort Moore for the re-enactment of the first Independence Day celebration on the site of what is now Los Angeles.This is the second year the re-enactment has occurred, with the addition this year of Olvera Street, one of the oldest streets in Los Angeles, to the festivities. Its early Spanish environment, its shops, and entertainment, attracts many tourists, and it is adjacent to the Fort Moore site.
Using the exact program from that day 151 years ago, the re-enactment began with cannon fire at 9 a.m. of an authentic mountain howitzer of the 1847 period. Robert Jones of the Glendora 1st Ward, Glendora California Stake, dressed in the style of the period, portrayed himself as an emissary of then-U.S. President James E. Polk. The celebration included the raising of a large garrison-type flag, musket volleys, brass band, and many dozens of authentically costumed re-enactors representing all cultures present in 1847.
The assistant to Mayor Richard Riordan, Tom La Bonge, spoke at this year's celebration and presented a special commendation from the mayor's office to the committee. He said: "The mayor likes programs like this where citizens use their own initiative in getting things done. He was so excited about [last year's] event that he wanted to call the fire department to see that if in some way water could be provided for the waterfall for the event."
He followed through, and the waterfall was functioning for this year's celebration.
The invocation was given by Father Alberto Vasquex of Our Lady Queen of Angels (Catholic) Church, and the benediction by Reverend George Cisneros, La Plaza United Methodist Church.
At Olvera Street, traditionally dressed "senoritas" and "soldiers" re-enacted the city's first Fourth of July with a military drill at 7:30 a.m. During the day there were children's workshops, a magic show and a Korean choir. Entertainers gave instructions in early Spanish dances, and an encampment by the Mormon Battalion was put up in adjacent Father Sierra Park. In the evening, a re-enactment of the original ball was held as it was in 1847.
The event was largely the result of the efforts of the Fort Moore Memorial Committee but spearheaded by three women, Carol Autenrieth and Denise Hamilton of Westdale 1st Ward, Los Angeles California Santa Monica Stake, and Pat Giles of Glendora Ward, Glendora California Stake.
"We wanted this to be a community event," said Sister Giles. "We wanted all cultures involved."
Fort Moore, overlooking present-day downtown Los Angeles, is gone, but the hill is still named Fort Moore. It was honored in 1958 with one of the largest historic memorials in California. The Memorial Wall is larger than the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is 400 feet wide and 46 feet high and includes bas-relief sculptures, and an 80-foot wide waterfall. A 73-foot flagpole and a 68-foot high decorative pylon were donated by the Church at the 1958 dedication.
Sister Autenrieth had an ancestor, John Roylance, in the Mormon Battalion. On a visit to Fort Moore eight years ago it pained her to see the monument in such disrepair. "It was forgotten, abandoned, the fountain was turned off," she said.
She was determined to remedy the situation. "Fort Moore is the best kept secret in Los Angeles, this is the historic core of our city. Its beginnings."
Sister Autenrieth went up to Fort Moore on a subsequent 4th of July and borrowed a flag from the school board office nearby and raised it herself. For several years she brought some Boy Scouts from her ward up to Fort Moore and had them raise the flag.
Sister Giles, as a member of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, became very excited about the possibilities Fort Moore offered. All three women felt that a celebration needed to be held at Fort Moore, especially since the 150th anniversary of the flag raising would occur in 1997.
A Fort Moore Memorial Committee was organized in 1997, headed by Jay Johnson of La Crescenta Ward, La Crescenta California Stake. They were able to organize and generate enough money, with the help of the Los Angeles Times and others to have the 1997 flag raising. (Please see Aug. 9, 1997, Church News.)
"This is a remarkable event," said Sister Autenrieth, speaking of the ball held on Olvera Street. "The purpose of the dance was to mend and to heal the wounds of war. The Treaty of Guadalupe had not yet been signed. Officially the war was not over. Such civility historically has seldom been seen before. They put aside their cultural and territorial differences and danced until dawn. This is a lesson to all of us. It needs to be taught in the Los Angeles schools."
Additional commendations by the city council and the commissioners of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument were given recently for the Fort Moore Memorial Committee.