Rose Parade floats, food, and friendship at annual self-built potluck

Photo: Sierra Madre float barn displays name signs from award-winning floats

Updated April 30, 2019 to add Sierra Madre Rose Float Association

by Laura Berthold Monteros

When the six self-built float organizations meet for the annual get-together and potluck, the talk isn’t of beating the others out for Rose Parade trophies. It’s a time to reveal designs for floats in the upcoming Rose Parade that have been approved by the Tournament of Roses, as well as a place for camaraderie among a rare breed of peopl who still build their own flower-covered floats to represent their communities. Ideas, techniques, and food—plenty of it and all delicious—are shared.

The Rose Examiner attended last Saturday’s event, hosted by Sierra Madre Rose Float Association in their float barn in Sierra Vista Park. All six associations had representatives there: Burbank Tournament of Roses Association, Cal Poly Universities Rose Float, Downey Rose Float Association, La Cañada Flintridge Rose Float Association, South Pasadena Rose Float Association, and of course Sierra Madre. The Cal Poly team was represented by alumni, because it was the weekend for students from both Pomona and San Luis Obispo to get together and plan for the parade.

The theme for the 131st Tournament of Roses is “The Power of Hope.” Each float entry must reflect that in some way. The designs, chosen from among scores of submissions, are presented to the Tournament of Roses for approval on theme draft day in February.

Self-built floats are usually humorous, though Downey often creates scenes simply for the beauty, such as 2016’s “Exploring the Everglades.” The 2020 float, “Wings of Hope,” features orgami cranes flying over a Japanese garden. The concept was inspired by a project at East Middle School that, like the students in Sadako and the Thousand Cranes, had a goal of folding 1,000 paper cranes to be given to patients at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Burbank also has a more serious theme this year. “Rise Up” depicts a phoenix rising from the ashes, a reminder of the fires that tore through areas of Northern California last year. President Ginny Barnett said she had friends in the almost completely destroyed city of Paradise. The phoenix represents the hope those caught up in the fires have for the future. She said this design is unusual for a Burbank float, which is usually about fun.

The 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage will be honored by South Pasadena with “Victory at Last.” The victory was the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. A gigantic straw hat decorated with feathers, flowers, and a campaign button dominates the float in a star-spangled celebration of a watershed event in American history.

“We’re trying to be as non-political as possible,” the presenter said. The Rose Examiner hopes that votes for women is no longer a political issue!

La Cañada Flintridge, whose floats are always highly animated, went to the birds with “Dodo Bird Flight School.” Penguins and an emu are also enrolled, but it’s doubtful they will have much success launching off the giant blimp. The emu, strapped to a da Vinci screw on a satellite float, may have the best shot.

Sierra Madre had a model of their float, “Ka La Hiki Ola” (The Dawning of a New Day) on display and will produce the rendering later. There will be a waterfall at the rear, and lots of tikis, and birds rising off the float.

The design draft for Cal Poly Universities was not yet ready, but we look forward to seeing it in the future. Visit All Things Rose Parade on Facebook to get updates on the Tournament of Roses.

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Burgers and camaraderie at self-built float picnic

Cal Poly Pomona 2019 float team, L-R: Elizabeth Meyer, Nathan Muro, Stephanie Ferreya, Hana Haideri, Caitlin Yaneza, Wolfgang Breitenbach

by Laura Berthold Monteros

One might think that there would be a good deal of competition among the associations that build their own floats for the Tournament of Roses Parade. Indeed there is, but it’s all good-natured. Once a year, they get together for a picnic or potluck at one of the float sites to reveal the designs for the upcoming parade, talk shop, and share information. Your Rose Examiner dropped by the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Assn. build site on Saturday to chat with some of the folks and glimpse the design sketches for the 2019 parade.

The floats will end up looking a good deal like the sketches, but there will be tweaks along the way, some by the builders as they work on structural and floral elements and some from the TOR Float Committee. With the theme being “The Melody of Life,” there’s an emphasis on incorporating musical elements in each entry. In the case of Sierra Madre Rose Float Assn., acceptance of the design was contingent on adding an instrument to the float. The team added a koto player to “Harmony’s Garden,” a depiction of the Japanese Garden on the grounds of Sierra Madre Elementary School.

Check out the photos below!

Five of the six self-built associations were at the picnic—SPTOR, Burbank Tournament of Roses Assn., La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Assn., SMRFA, and Cal Poly Pomona—which form a sort of necklace along the foothills. The remaining builder is Downey Rose Float Assn., which is further south. San Luis Obispo, the northern half of the Cal Poly Universities Rose Float, gets together with the Pomona when it rolls down in October.

We met Janetta Mcdowell, the Cal Poly Pomona Rose Float Director, and spoke with six of the students who are on the team this year. Despite all the hours they put in, they get no academic credit. “It’s a club, not a class,” they said. During crunch time towards the end of the year, they will be joined by other volunteers. Here’s a little about the students in the photo above.

  • Elizabeth Meyer is working on the float for her second year, last year as a volunteer and this year as a team member. She works on the hydraulics, a messy job but one that is redolent with the scents of childhood spent with her mechanical grandfather. She’s studying mechanical engineering and working on the float is her senior project.
  • Nathan Muro volunteered for a year before joining the float team two years ago. He is the design committee chair and is majoring in electrical engineering.
  • Stephanie Ferreya is an assistant chair of the design committee and is in her second year on the float. She majors in biology.
  • Hana Haideri is an electrical engineering major; this is her second year on the float team after volunteering for a year.
  • Caitlin Yaneza works on the electronics on the float as part of the construction team. This is her second year on the team. She is a psychology major.
  • Wolfgang Breitenbach is on the team for the first year. His choice was the deco committee, which handles the floral design. His major is manufacturing engineering, which he simplified for us by saying that it about automation and assembly lines.

Cal Poly Universities are known for engineering and agriculture, so we asked if anyone was an agriculture major. The head of the decorating committee, which is in charge of ensuring that floral and botanical choices are made, fulfilled, and get on the float, is an ag major, we were told.

The all-volunteer associations are very proud that they give the professional builders a run for their money. One of the Burbank volunteers noted that the only trophy designated for self-builts is the Founder Award, but in recent years, self-builts have frequently taken four or five trophies overall. In 2016, all six groups won awards. For long-time Rose Parade aficionados, the self-builts are the heart of the parade. It will be exciting to see how they fare in 2019.

Self-builders share picnic goodies and 2018 float renderings

At the annual Self-Built Floats picnic on May 6, 2017, folks huddled under canopies to nosh on burgers and potluck.

by Laura Berthold Monteros

Self-Built float associations may compete for trophies in the Tournament of Roses Parade, but there is a lot of camaraderie and mutual aid among the volunteers and students who build the entries. Of the 40 to 45 flower-covered floats, all but six are built by professional float companies. The six associations take turns hosting an annual potluck get-together to display the renderings and share stories. The Rose Examiner was honored to attend today’s event, in anticipation of the 129th Rose Parade to be held on Jan. 1, 2018.

La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association hosted barbecue at Los Angeles County Fire Camp 2, a training facility tucked between the Jet Propulsion Lab and Hahamongna Watershed Park. Tables were filled with potluck sides and desserts while LCFTRA volunteers grilled burgers and hot dogs. A fragrant log fire warmed our hands in the steady rain. It was the end of a typical spring week in Southern California, which saw sunny 90-degree-plus days in the first half of the week drop to 60 degrees for the weekend.

The six self-builders are Burbank Tournament of Roses Association, Cal Poly Universities, Downey Rose Float Association, La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association, Sierra Madre Rose Float Association, and South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association. DRFA and SPTORA were unable to make picnic, but we have photos of the rest.