by Jim Bulls
When I was a little boy, way back in the 1940s, Mr. Walt Grawan owned the Sun Kings Café on Eleventh Street. All the local businessmen had hand-painted, personalized coffee cups hanging from a shelf behind the counter. Everybody went to Sun King.
In July 1950, Walt and his brother George went to Fresno to watch a fireworks show. Walt turned to George and asked, “Why not Reedley?” After the show, he looked up Bob Souza from Hayward’s Pyro Spectaculars to inquire about putting on a show. When he got home, he started a fireworks fund. Walt hit up all those customers with the coffee cups for donations, and even the restaurant supply salesmen were asked to contribute.
Reedley’s first fireworks show was held the following July at Washington Elementary School — admission was free. It wasn’t long before show attendance outgrew that location and it was moved to the high school stadium. The quality of the program brought return spectators; many came from neighboring towns, even as far away as Visalia and Fresno. As the crowds grew and the show got bigger, the Reedley Chamber of Commerce went door to door for fireworks donations but, finally, spectators had to start paying admission.
The show wasn’t without its trials and tribulations. Walt lost three fingers in a fireworks accident, but he just worked that much harder at gathering donations and designing a better show for the following year. The 9/11 tragedy prompted ATF agents to put tighter controls on the amount of black powder individuals could have. Agents confiscated the fireworks one year but, luckily, Walt got them back before July 4th.
The July spectacular continued to grow and so did attendance, even though almost all the surrounding towns now had their own fireworks displays. I was always amazed at the amount of after-show traffic going west on Manning Avenue.
This year, the fireworks show is moving once again. Because of the new all-weather track at Reedley High School, the show will be held at the brand-new Sports Park on Dinuba Avenue between Buttonwillow and Zumwalt. The Reedley Spectacular is celebrating 60 years with a “Blast to the Past” in what will undoubtedly be the best fireworks show in the Valley.
George Grawan still directs the show and hasn’t missed one yet.
Vintage images courtesy VintageHolidayCrafts.com.