Although officially deemed America’s New Year celebration, the Tournament of Roses Parade, which takes place in Pasadena, California each year on New Year’s Day, draws 700,000 spectators with an estimated 70 million watching via worldwide television in more than 200 international territories and countries.
Produced by the non-profit Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association, this festival of flower-covered floats, marching bands, and equestrians originated on January 1, 1890 and was put on by the members of the Pasadena Valley Hunt Club. Many of the members of the Valley Hunt Club were transplants from the American East and Midwest and they wanted to showcase their new California home’s mild winter weather. It is said that during a club meeting, Professor Charles Holder announced, “In New York, people are buried in the snow. Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let’s hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise.” So the club organized horse-drawn carriages covered in flowers, followed by foot races, polo matches, and a game of tug-of-war on the town lot that attracted a crowd of 2,000 to the event. Upon seeing the scores of flowers on display, the professor decided to call the event the “Tournament of Roses.”
Over the next few years, marching bands and motorized floats were added. By 1895, the event was too large for the Valley Hunt Club to handle, thus the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association was formed.
The parade has followed the same route down Colorado Boulevard for many decades. The day before the parade, the streets south of the intersection of Orange Grove and Colorado Boulevards are sealed off and reserved for the organizing of the dozens of floats, bands, equestrian units, and other elements of the parade. On parade morning the various elements are merged and dispatched in front of Tournament House. The parade starts north on South Orange Grove Boulevard beginning at Ellis Street. At Colorado Boulevard it passes the main grandstands (and the main television and media stands) and proceeds east on Colorado Boulevard. The parade then turns north on Sierra Madre Boulevard ending at Paloma Street near Victory Park and Pasadena High School. The parade floats continue into the Post-Parade viewing area (which is open that afternoon and the following day).
People traditionally camp out on Colorado Blvd. hoping to get a good viewing spot for the parade the next morning.
The Post-Parade viewing area is located on Sierra Madre Boulevard and Washington Boulevard, near Victory Park. None of the float riders or dignitaries/celebrities involved in the parade are present and animated features on some floats are not activated. Admission to the viewing area is $10 and children are admitted free.
Today most floats are built by professional float building companies and take nearly a year to complete. Some communities and organizational sponsors rely on volunteers and the Cal Poly Universities still rely solely on student volunteers for their Rose float production . The Valley Hunt Club as it has done since the inception of the parade, enters a flower-decorated carriage. The floats compete for one of 24 awards selected by three judges each year.
Typically between 48 to 72 hours prior to parade day, the public can view several of the floats being decorated in the various float barns along the Arroyo Seco / Rose Bowl area in West Pasadena, not far from the start of the parade. I had the good fortune of seeing these floats being decorated up close several years ago. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience!
There is a float especially designed for the crowned Queen of the Tournament and the members of her Royal Court. Each year, more than 1,000 girls try out for the part of the queen and the six princesses. The selection process is held in late September and early October and is open to Pasadena-area girls (ages 17 to 21). The winners not only ride on a float in the parade, but they also carry out duties in promoting the Tournament, mainly during its duration and prelude.
This year, the 125th Rose Parade will take place on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 at 8:00 AM Pacific Time. This year’s theme: Dreams Come True.