Shared Stories: Miss Fireworks

Sharon Benson Smith lived in East L.A. during the car culture period of the 1950’s – before the construction of the East L.A. Interchange changed the neighborhood.  This story is about her participation in a July 4th advertising campaign.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns


By Sharon Benson Smith

In 1954, at age 16, and shortly after I was crowned Friendship Festival Queen of East Los Angeles, I was approached by a local merchants’ association to pose as “Miss Fireworks” for the local advertising of an upcoming 4th of July celebration to take place in the general area.

Again, I was honored, discussed it with Mom, and she quickly agreed as long as she could accompany me.  

Sharon Benson Smith in an advertising photo for July 4, 1953.  She is sitting atop a three-story building at the corner of Atlantic and Whittier Blvd. in East Los Angeles.

Sharon Benson Smith in an advertising photo for July 4, 1953.  She is sitting atop a three-story building at the corner of Atlantic and Whittier Blvd. in East Los Angeles.

So, I donned the pink high heels that I wore in the Friendship Festival contest and the multicolored, one-piece bathing suit I wore when completing my Junior Lifeguard tests at the local Atlantic Plunge.

All of my siblings and other family members were elated for me, as usual, and we awaited the momentous occasion.

Mom was with me, of course, but she wasn’t too thrilled that they wanted me to pose, three stories high, seated with my legs dangling down the side of the building  They assured her they would take every precaution to ensure my safety.  So, up three stories I gladly went, via the elevator, to the top of the building.

By the way, this took place right outside the window of our family dentist, Dr. Winnegar, so that put me at ease immediately.  I was sitting on top of my little East L.A. world, looking down on the streets we cruised on Friday and Saturday nights.

From this vantage point, I could see the familiar intersection of Whittier and Atlantic Boulevards.  I could even see the very popular Stan’s Drive Inn, where we often “hung out,” as well as the façade of the Golden Gate Theatre where I was then employed.

A family member took photos of me in the bathing suit, but this 8” X 10” photo is the only photo I have that was taken professionally of the occasion.  If my memory serves me correctly, a few photos were posted in the area surrounding the celebration, but it didn’t get a lot of publicity.

I was just honored and humbled, once again, merely to be considered to take part in such a special occasion, and I can’t think of any celebration more significant that the 4th of July!

My memory of that long-ago day keeps pulling me back to what was truly special about it - looking down on a very worried Mom who was looking up at me writing her hands, and telling the gentleman in charge to, “Please take care of my precious cargo.”

Special congratulations to Sharon from the Memoirs Class for her recent L.A. Press Club award, 3rd place, for her article about housing which appeared in the Downey Patriot last year. “We’re proud of you, Sharon!”