Mike James: A Look at Past Ocean Beach Street Fairs and a ‘Radical’ Proposal for the Future

by on July 6, 2020 · 15 comments

in Ocean Beach

Light show in Singapore.

Back to the Future: A Proposal to Replace the OB Pier Fireworks Festival With A Light and Water Show

By Mike James

Originally posted June 21, 2019

In 1980 I was 24 years old and part owner of the James Gang Custom T-Shirts with my brothers Ron, Rich, Greg and Pat.

I was also serving my first term as the president of the Ocean Beach Merchants Association (later renamed Mainstreet Association).

As a new organization formed in 1978, we were looking for ways to promote the community.

I had remembered watching the Fourth of July fireworks off the Ocean Beach Pier while on vacation in 1974. An event that ended a year later due to lack of sponsorship.

So in the spring of 1980 I proposed to a skeptical OBMA Board of Directors to bring back the fireworks.

The James Gang, along with John Small, owner of the Sunshine Company Saloon, guaranteed the proposed $3,000 budget for the fireworks.

With the sale of commemorative T-Shirts and donations from the community the initial budget was met plus an additional $1000 for the fireworks.


On the July 4, 1980, under hazy skies the First Annual Ocean Beach Fireworks Festival began.

In 1983 the Street Fair was added to the event and in 1985 the Chili Cook-off. In the 90’s, with the popularity of the those events the name was changed to the Ocean Beach Street Fair and Chili Cook-off.

I could hardly imagine those many years ago of what this event would become.

Over the years the event has changed, the Street Fair went from a two day event to one. The once popular Marshmallow wars became a nightmare and is now no longer welcome.

With the structural damage to the pier during winter storms, a change has been required on the fireworks logistics as well. Previously large trucks were allowed to move the fireworks to the end of the pier. Now only smaller trucks will be allowed. This increase in cost plus a substantial decrease in funding from the County’s tourist tax money has affected the viability of future fireworks.

There has also been concerns with the environmental impact of the fireworks as well as noise factors affecting animals and those with PTSD.

As we celebrate the 40th Annual Ocean Beach Fireworks Festival/Street Fair and Chili Cook-off, four decades since I proposed bringing back the fireworks, I offer a new idea.

Light show in Amsterdam.

To explore ending the fireworks and to began the Light and Water Festival.To replace the archaic fireworks with new technology in light and sound.

To use the pier and the ocean as the canvas.

Communities across the world are embracing this art form and new innovations are constantly added.

Imagine the pier lit up, images projected off of water misted in the air.

I realize the idea seems radical but where better than O.B. to think outside the box.

It was a radical idea 40 years ago when my brother Rich James proposed to bring a 60 foot Xmas tree and place it in the sand.


The idea of replacing the fireworks with a light and sound event may not happen overnight but I think it is time to once again dream of what we can accomplish as a community.

View the links below and just imagine the possibilities.

Singapore Light Showhttps://youtu.be/K25LP8ikJRE

Dubai Light Festivalhttps://youtu.be/t2g_Vnf13GE

International Light Festival http://international-lightfestivals.org/

Disneyland Fantasmichttps://youtu.be/GS2cvKS_lNY


{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

TD June 21, 2019 at 1:10 pm

Love it. Change can be a good thing.

Will it be cheaper than the fireworks?

I know that La Jolla use to rely on donations for their fireworks show and had to stop doing it last year because donations dwindled. Yup. Money from La Jolla stopped flowing. So I always wondered about the viability and longevity of OBs firework show.


Vern June 21, 2019 at 1:24 pm

That’s a pretty neat idea.


Peter from South O June 21, 2019 at 2:43 pm

Looks very, very expensive to do. The Dubai Fountain cost $218 million to build.


Sam June 21, 2019 at 3:06 pm

I appreciate the idea behind this, but it looks like it would be very expensive. It also looks like it will only be visible if you are right up on it as well. The nice thing about the fireworks is that they are up high and can be seen from all over. Not everybody wants to fight the crowds to come down to the pier.


Richard June 21, 2019 at 5:52 pm

All I know is Mayor Kevin Faulkner who proudly stood with president trump just days ago is a judge in the chili cook off this year. Show your support for the mayor and his proud affiliation w trump Wear your maga hat.



Long Time Resident June 22, 2019 at 11:33 am

Please keep politics out of this! Trump is gone in 2020 so get used to it.


Geoff Page July 7, 2020 at 1:41 pm

I could not imagine eating anything with the mayor present and the image of the orangutan in Washington in my head. I hope the mayor sinks proudly in the muck along with his buddy.


Mark Elliott Lugo June 22, 2019 at 12:27 am

Certainly an interesting idea! I wonder if it would work over open ocean and, as others have pointed out, the cost could be exorbitant. Maybe corporate sponsorship is the way to go. Admittedly, seeing the same fireworks year after year has gotten a bit old for me, and I have concerns about their environmental impact, but, still, nothing says tradition and the Fourth of July like an old-fashioned fireworks display! But, then again, I wish I had been around to see OB in the early 1900s! As an artist, though, I’m really intrigued by the endless creative possibilities of a light show. I guess you could say, “The sky’s the limit!”


Nicole June 23, 2019 at 3:20 am

Can you have a laser light show in the flight path? I thought it wasn’t allowed. Thankful for the James family and awesomeness of Ocean Beach!!


Sam September 30, 2019 at 9:54 pm

I know this is an old article, but I just saw this on Reddit and thought it would fit in here. One of these drone shows could be a good replacement.




Geoff Page July 7, 2020 at 1:43 pm

I think this is a great idea if it can be done.

One thing stood out in this piece “With the structural damage to the pier during winter storms,” I just have to point out that it wasn’t the storms, it is neglect of the pier by the city that has caused all the damage. The pier is in seriously bad shape because of zero maintenance. It will take millions to repair.


Vern July 7, 2020 at 3:09 pm

Years ago a friend and I did impromptu A/V events, some north of the Huntington Pier. We’d get permits months in advance to paint murals on the cliff walls and then later incorporate those murals into the “light” shows.

These were more “guerrilla” affairs (performance art) than anything and we did this all over LA and parts of the OC in the early, mid, late eighties.What we found was that many people, in fact even families, really enjoyed much of it. We didn’t set out to entertain people (it was all experimental with unusual and self-made lighting and audio devices), but interesting to note that many liked it, or seemed to. No pollution, no debris, no negative impacts on animals, veterans, or the community in general. Just arrive, set up, show, break down, disappear into the ether.

With advances in video mapping and possible involvement of local A/V artist (if any exist in the SD area), light shows might be a cool way to go. The pier could be very creatively mapped. Maybe a time-aligned array on the pier for audio. Or a light show contest the evening of the chili cook-off contest, the winner gets bragging rights and a “royal scepter” to carry at the OB Xmas Parade.


Mike James September 30, 2022 at 9:56 am

Vern contact me. We are going to do this in 2023. Would love to have you onboard.


Jumpin’Gene July 4, 2021 at 2:52 pm

Mike, that’s a BOSS solution and approach to modifying an age old tradition of fireworks. It would still offer the visual stimulus while presenting endless possibilities for the celebration and cultivate opportunities for future events!


Cindy Benner August 27, 2022 at 12:18 pm

Please also pass this on to Denny Knox. I read the article about alternatives to fireworks, and I applaud you efforts in looking for alternatives rather than looking for an alternative location. Fireworks aren’t good for the environment and disrupt animal behavior such as seals and sea lions. Drones or other lighting alternatives would be a good choice.
Imperial Beach is an example of what other cities are doing. There’s an article from I believe KBPS as to what they did on the 4th.
Please let’s get away from fireworks.
Cindy Benner


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