In mid-January, when much of the country is digging out from under a second or third snowstorm, the historic Southern California city of Pasadena and its 935 Tournament of Roses volunteers and staff are already well into preparations for the 2014 Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game.
Devoting more than 80,000 volunteer work hours each year, this fanatically dedicated group pulls a spectacle — make that a phenomenon! — out of its collective hat each second day of January.
Imagine organizing more than 300 riders and horses, horses of many different breeds; 22 marching bands selected from more than 200 musical groups from around the world, some bands with more than 400 members; a queen and her court picked from 900 local young women for their personality, poise and scholastic achievement; a grand marshal, joining an elite group including Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, Sandra Day O’Connor, Kermit the Frog and three-timer Shirley Temple; and, of course, the spectacularly imaginative all-flower floats.
Float construction begins right after each previous parade ends. Entries are by invitation and application. Anyone may apply. An idea and design are submitted to the organization and, if passed through committee, are sent along to one of an approved list of float builders. The average cost is $200,000, although many run more.
First, a framework of steel and chicken wire is constructed. This is then sprayed with a polyvinyl material and painted in the colors of the flowers to be placed on the float. Meticulous care is given to the construction of the float to ensure the safety not only of those riding on the float but of the hundreds of thousands of viewers lining the arduous 5½-mile parade route.
Shortly after Santa Claus rides his sleigh over Pasadena rooftops, all volunteer hands are on deck. One by one, they glue flowers, leaves, seeds and bark onto the frame, the most fragile of flowers placed in individual vials of water. All in all, the floats require 600 tons of steel, 5,000 gallons of glue and 18 million flowers. This is a “green” operation, with almost every flower being reused to make potpourri — a practice in place for the past 20 years, long before “green” became widespread.
The president of the Tournament of Roses oversees all this hustle and bustle from the magnificent tournament headquarters in the Tournament House. Donated by the widow of William Wrigley after her death in 1958, it is the permanent base of operations for the Tournament of Roses and is still open to the public, a stately Italian Renaissance mansion with exquisite woodwork and Florentine Italian marble throughout.
The Wrigley Gardens contain more than 1,500 rose varieties, while the second floor of the mansion is dedicated to the history of past Rose Bowl parades and games. The Wrigley family loved to watch the Rose Parade unfold right in front of their home, known for years as Millionaire’s Row.
It is the responsibility and delight of the Tournament of Roses president to select the theme and grand marshal for the parade. One of the most popular choices in recent times was Capt. Chesley Sullenberger III, better known as “Sully,” “Hero of the Hudson” and “Captain Cool,” as dubbed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Before the Rose Bowl Game, his motivational talk in the locker room of both opposing teams was said to have made a powerful impact on each of the players.
“You could have heard a pin drop,” several players said.
Which brings me to the game — the “granddaddy of them all.” The first game in 1902 saw the University of Michigan rout Stanford University 49-0. The score was so lopsided and the crowd so overly excited that they abandoned football until 1916. Ask any collegiate football fan, and he or she will tell you it has been going strong ever since.
Ask any Southern Californian, and he or she will tell you that the only place to stay in Pasadena is the Langham Huntington Hotel. For more than 100 years, it has hosted discriminating travelers, reflecting the history and flair that distinguishes the Rose Parade phenomenon. Recipient of numerable hotel accolades and awards, it is top notch in every category, taking particular pride in its 11,000-square-foot spa of wellness.
California cuisine in The Royce by Chef David Feau, eclectic wine selections and innovative cocktails in The Tap Room complement the tapa menu, and comfort dining on the terrace will make you not want to leave this beautiful 23-acre property nestled beneath the San Gabriel Mountain foothills.
And, of course, there are rose gardens. Everything is indeed coming up roses in Pasadena.