Neighboring cities of South Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge have been renowned for their self-built Rose Parade floats which have won them many awards through the years.
But for the upcoming 2023 parade, the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting funding challenges have put these local self-built float builders short on volunteers and cash, but not on passion and pride.
In a first for the record, the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses said they were having trouble raising funds to build their 2023 float, which is called “Spark of Imagination.”
“We felt the crunch certainly, not probably to the need or to the level of Downey at this point, but the pandemic really affected all of us. We had multiple fundraisers that were in-person and we’ve been hosting a car show for many years. When we started, we were one of only three car shows in the whole San Gabriel Valley in October. It’s canceled indefinitely. We never recovered from it. That was one of our big fundraisers,” Brant Dunlap, Chair of the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses told Pasadena Now in August.
Dunlap was referring to Downey, another city with a self-built float which was struggling to raise funds for their float and turned to their city council for help.
In September, the city council of Downey voted to donate $30,000 to the Downey Rose Float Association to go towards their 2023 parade float.
Thankfully, the situation has improved for the better since August and Dunlap said in a recent interview that this year’s float funding is complete.
“This year’s float funding is completed. I am not going to lie, we thought last year was pretty tough. This is equally as tough. Cost is outrageous and this could be our most expensive float we’ve ever built.”
Dunlap admitted that the pandemic has made it more and more difficult for cities with self-built floats. He said it has been a struggle trying to complete the roster of volunteers, and the costs have almost tripled compared to 2019.
“Roses have gone up threefold, steel and wood have more than doubled. So what would’ve been $60,000 to put a float down the road is now costing closer to $90,000,” he said.
‘Spark of Imagination’ – South Pasadena
“It’s basically about thinking out of the box, doing things that aren’t necessarily perfect, having some fun and learning why you’re doing it,” Dunlap said as he described the design of the float.
“We will have a couple of lab mice, and they’ll be doing experiments in the front of the float. And meanwhile in the back of the float, we’ll be having a house with some gears and a funky clock and boots flying around doing nothing, and spinning pinwheels. And that’s where the Rube Goldberg design will tie in as well.”
Named after a popular cartoonist in the 1920s, a Rube Goldberg design or machine is a chain reaction-type machine or contraption intentionally designed to perform a simple task in an indirect and overly complicated way.
Starting in June, volunteers have been helping build the core of the South Pasadena float. By the end of November, the float should be ready for the final floral decorations. Dunlap said the front deck has been completed, and over a week ago, they put up a giant magnifying glass with the words “Science Fair” written on the glass.
“South Pasadena Tournament of Roses is the oldest self-built float in the Rose Parade, having constructed and decorated their floats since 1893.”
‘There’s always enough, but there’s never enough’
In La Cañada Flintridge, Ernest J Koeppen, President of the La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association, said fundraising is an ongoing challenge, but so far so good.
“We all experience it. We all have our patterns and our processes (for fundraising). It is probably the biggest challenge every year to keep that process current and new. We used to do monthly backyard events, and now we’re doing quarterly public events. We kind of spread the gamut and we’re trying to keep the public face of the float in front of the public all year long, as opposed to just showing up at the end of the year when people come out and decorate,” Koeppen elaborated.
When asked about volunteers, Koeppen said that they have a full board and ample people to build their float “Secondhand Shenanigans” on time. But, they always need more volunteers to keep up the standards of their inventive and creative self-built floats year after year.
“Like the fundraising, it comes and goes in waves as to how many people you have (to build),” Koeppen added.
‘Secondhand Shenanigans’ – La Cañada Flintridge
In August, Koeppen said construction of their 2023 float, “Secondhand Shenanigans,” is proceeding smoothly, with anywhere from eight to 12 volunteers working onsite on a typical day.
“If you look at the rendering of the float, you’ll see a picture of a child in the window of the house, looking outside. What he’s done is he’s moving on to school, to college, whatever his next phase of life is and has taken all of his old toys and old remnants and put them outside. And a rambunctious group of raccoons has come to take advantage of what the child’s movement in life is offering them, which is giving them something to play with and move on. So it’s all in the theme of moving forward in a positive direction,” Koeppen said about the design of the float.
“What is left behind by one is taken up by someone else.”
The La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association has been building floats for the Rose Parade since 1978.
In the 2022 Rose Parade, the city won the Crown City Innovation Award. The award was first given in 2008 and encourages risk-taking and new float building techniques that attract the crowd’s appreciation.
When La Canada Flintridge won the Crown City Innovation Award in January, they were only the second non-commercial float to ever win the award.
“We did go all out last year and pushed the boundaries and really pushed a lot of people to think it was worth it,” Koeppen said. “I mean, if you’re going to do this, go for it. Raise the expectation of the end game and raise all ships with the tide and the parade gets better. The show gets better for everybody.”
In his most recent interview, Koeppen told Pasadena Now that La Cañada Flintridge’s self-built float had passed the mechanical review by the Pasadena Tournament of Roses.
“We had no issues, no flags, and drove properly up and down the street, both the large float and the satellite. Passed with flying colors, which was a great milestone and made everybody happy.
Koeppen also gave an update about the construction of the float.
“The superstructure is done. So the primary house and the overall framework is about 99 and a quarter percent done. And now we’re starting on the mechanized and animatronic characters. The characters are largely done, probably in the 60%, but the mechanization is what’s being worked on now. The target is to have the body, the super structure foamed by Thanksgiving and the characters and mechanizations be done by then so that we can start mounting them after the foaming takes place. So tight schedule, but still on it.”
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