Patriotic Displays: Down to the River in (home made) ships
During the halcyon days when Monte Rio was a thriving Metropolis George Carr owned a seven-story Monte Rio Hotel which had a unique feature unmatched by any hotel in the world, The Monte Rio Hotel, built backed up against Starrett Hill, offered street access from each of the seven floors. One of Carr’s promotional brainstorms was organizing the first Monte Rio Water Carnival in 1909 or 1910. He saw to it that floats were constructed, put the word out and was aided by other merchants and hosteliers who contributed money and prizes for the boaters. Carr felt it was time to promote the Vacation Wonderland and found youngsters who wanted to join in the action and eagerly signed up to decorate and stage the floats. In a stroke of wisdom it was decided there would be both a daytime and a nighttime parade.
Since folks were going to be jumping in the River, swimming events seemed a logical activity and a long swim course was mapped out from Riverview Hotel to Monte Rio’s Sandy Beach, with other water activities held at Sandy Beach. The year was 1909. As luck would have it Duke (his birth name) Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku, a native
Hawaiian, visited Monte Rio that summer. A friend of Bill Dean who was the life-guard for Sandy Beach, Duke was a young man from the Hawaiian Islands and an American competition swimmer who was also known as an actor, lawman, early beach volleyball player and businessman credited with spreading the sport of surfing. He was also a five-time Olympic Gold Medalist. Not a bad person to have drop by when you’re trying to promote a Water Carnival. He entered and won the first long race but then the non-winners could brag they raced against an Olympic medalist. The Night Show was more romantic and much more fun. The bridge was decorated with special lights as well as powerful spot lights to reflect on the boats as they came down the river.
The floats waited up by Little Sandy Beach and then were pulled down by motorboats. There was a variety of themes for the floats. Some were patriotic, some resembled spring gardens, and some carried musicians who blasted the spectators with music. One float was themed, “In the Good Old Summertime”, and another, “In old Hawaii”. Other floats were “Bathing Beauties, “Circus Days”, “Pioneer Days, and an Indian Camp”. The floats that had the best lighting were the most spectacular. A huge success, the Water Carnival became an annual event well into the twenties. Historian John Schubert writes “I have a program from the 1925 event that ran from August 15 to the 23rd! It died out, I’m guessing, because of the Depression.” The Festival was revived during the 1960’s with floats, queens, music and much flag waving. Many boats have passed under the Bridge and there have been changes not so much in the excitement, patriotic spirit and joy that comes with hanging out with friends and family on a summer evening, but with the watercraft appearing somewhat “low tech” and hastily assembled compared to what was showcased in 1909.
These days a giant American flag is unfurled and draped from the Monte Rio Bridge, the crowd gives voice to the National Anthem and colorful lighting devices are flashed, twirled and worn by many in attendance. Hoses lain along the bridge by the volunteer fire fighters form a curtain of water which provides a kinetic screen for messages and lights which it reflects. Fireworks follow. Even though a few floats may be described as modest there are still folks who enjoy the concept and construction as much rollin’ on the River. Some are wildly decorated featuring sparkly colored lights, go-go and hula dancers upbeat music and signage showing the names of the sponsors. Among those with both patriotic and nautical pride is the R3 Resort’s Roger Jensen who has advised friends and associates, “we purchased all the supplies and NOW construction! Damn excited. The River will Rock! If you want to help cut glitter glue paint etc., and be a part of History let me know! Come see me at the (R3) resort!” Jensen asks his “co-workers” to “meet at the resort Sunday morning, June 30th by 7a.m. – we must leave (for) the River by 7:30 a.m. – parade kicks off at 10:30 a.m.!” Additionally the boats are all powered now by people walking behind and next to them and pushing them. So any fumes and pollutants in the parade originate with humans.
A judging platform is erected each year and recent judges have included 49ers Hall of Famer Bob St. Clair and Fifth District supervisor Efren Carrillo. One of the parade’s most memorable moments came one evening when a Viking Ship ringed with torches and “Vikings” who had apparently spent some time at the local Meade Hall, had its main sail set afire causing the Vikings to leap into the six-inch deep water to escape the inferno. Everyone found it hilarious and there were no injuries (except for a few bruised egos).
If you go: