The parade starts at Old Mill Park at 10:30am – preceded by a memorial service to “honor those fallen heroes who served our country and protected the American dream” – and winds its way through downtown and Miller Ave. before ending at Tam High School.
Applications to enter the parade are available online – organizers just extended the application deadline to Monday, May 21 – and entry fees are $75 for commercial entities and $35 for nonprofits.
As usual, the parade is preceded by a 9:45am ceremony to honor soldiers from Mill Valley who died during war. The ceremony will is held on Throckmorton Avenue across from Lytton Square, the tree-laden island that splits the road between Miller and Corte Madera avenues into two. The island, which features a trio of towering redwood trees, a flagpole and a number of places to sit. is named for Lytton Barber, Mill Valley’s first WWI casualty, as memorialized in a plaque on the island.
According to longtime local history buff Tim Amyx, Barber grew up in Mill Valley and was 17 years old in 1917 when the United States entered World War I. He volunteered and was sent for training at Fort Lewis. Shortly after he arrived, he caught the fever of spinal meningitis. Tragically, it claimed his life within two weeks. He died stateside before he ever left the continental U.S., the first casualty from Mill Valley. The following spring, on Memorial Day of 1918, there was a dedication in his honor in Mill Valley, and thus Lytton Square was born.
Lautzker says any veterans are welcome to join in the ceremony and to ride on the parade float dedicated to veterans. He adds that while the parade focuses on honoring fallen heroes, it won’t lose the community party spirit that has been so evident over the past several decades.
The Mill Valley Memorial Day Parade was first produced in 1980. It was organized by Paul Moe, who still handles staging for the parade’s current iteration. The “I Love a Parade Committee” was formed in 1992 by the late Joe’s Taco Lounge owner Joe Leis, followed by local architect Billy Budd and assisted by Famous4 owner Larry “the Hat” Lautzker, who has been the head of the committee since 2002. The committee also includes fifth generation Mill Valleyan Stephanie Wickham-Witt, architect Chris Raker, former City Council member and Mayor Cliff Waldeck, noted jazz pianist Larry Moss and our graphic designer Jim Moon.
Lautzker says 1992 was the first year of dogs marching with more than 200 dogs of all sizes and breeds. “The Grand Marshall that first year was Clarence Clemons from Bruce Springsteen’s band, Celebrity Judges included Jerry Garcia, Mimi Farina and Joel Bartlett,” he says. “Rock Stars on Harley’s with portable amps playing our national anthem. All of this has continued and the parade has grown in size and public participation.”
Now there are more than 60 different entries in the parade each year and trophies are awarded for Best Car, Best Float, Best Dog, Best Music, Best Novelty, Best Business, Best Community Spirit and Best Overall.