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Summer carnival returns with some changes

Menlo Park’s oldest festival will return next month for its 37th season.

The Nativity Carnival will take place June 9-11 on the Nativity Parish campus, bringing with it 14 rides, more than a dozen game booths, a food court, tiki bar, raffles with a $10,000 top prize and live entertainment.

The carnival is free and features four bands. Big Wave Band will play 1960s and ’70s hits from 6 to 10 p.m. on June 9; Bob Coons Band will play Motown and rhythm & blues hits from 2 to 5 p.m. on June 10; The Bell Brothers will play new country from 6 to 10 p.m. on June 10; and Dutch Uncle will play 1970s classics from 2 to 6 p.m. June 11.

Everything else will come with a cost, which is how the parish raises roughly $100,000 each year toward improvements to Nativity School and ongoing repairs to Nativity Church, which is nearly 150 years old.

For the first time, the carnival this year will sell wristbands for unlimited rides. Each ride costs $1 and wristbands will go for $65 to $140, depending on number of days used. The wristbands are discounted during online presales that end June 7. Visit for more information.

Planned rides include a roller coaster, bumper cars, funhouse, kiddie boats and kiddie swing, and a “Super Slide” that can be ridden down atop burlap sacks. The slide is making a comeback after a long hiatus, said carnival chair emeritus Pat O’Hare, whose father Frank O’Hare started the carnival back in 1981 with John Conway, who owns the Chevron station on El Camino Real.

The number of raffle prizes has grown to 10 and tickets will go for $25 each or five for $100.

“Your name is going back in the bin, so you have the potential to win 10 times,” Pat O’Hare said.

Conway said the June carnival developed out of an earlier October festival — Menlo Park’s first annual one. O’Hare said Nativity was one of the first Catholic parishes in the Bay Area to offer carnival rides, which Conway helped bring in after the festival was moved to June 1980. Conway said the rides are a big reason why the carnival has grown to roughly 20,000 visitors each year.

“We didn’t make too much the first year, then it really started to take off,” Conway said. “It just became a really popular event in the community; everybody came.”

O’Hare said the carnival signals the official start of summer for many people.

“It brings in a more family mixture than just having a barbecue. For older people, it reminds them of their childhood. … I’m 56 now, but I still get that joy when I’m going to it,” said O’Hare, who has been involved in the carnival since the beginning, when he just turned 20.

“The (Nativity) men’s club, when we’re setting up and helping, we (test) ride the bumper cars the Thursday night before. … We have a blast. You see a bunch of 50-year-old men turn into kids again.”

O’Hare said Nativity has raised roughly $2.5 million since the carnival began, which has helped pay for a new school wing and gymnasium for Nativity School, as well as “constant improvements on the church because it’s so old.”

An upcoming bicycle experiment along Oak Grove Avenue is not expected to affect parking along Oak Grove during the carnival, but there will be restrictions along portions of Laurel Street.


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