Originally published January 5, 2014 at The Los Angeles Beat
Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the technicolor luminosity of our city. The colors so saturated that it sometimes feels as if this place is a surreal universe. Are we in Oz? Wonderland? Or is this just the fortunate backyard of a random street in Pasadena or Burbank? When the sun is bright and the air is clear, the colors seem to pulse and contrast with each other- blues, reds, yellows and greens all competing for attention. This time of year most of the nation is hibernating from a palate of grays, whites and pea greens. Even though it seems cold here at times… 60 degrees????… the sun is still shining and we’ve still got our beloved flowers. In fact, this contrast, along with the satisfaction of rubbing snobby East Coast noses into our exquisite weather, is what prompted the very first Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day, 125 years ago.
“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 said professor Charles F. Holder, a member of Pasadena’s Valley Hunt Club, while deciding to hold the first ever Rose Parade in 1890. That first parade brought out an incredible 2,000 people. At that time Pasadena had only been an incorporated city for 4 years and its total population was less than 5,000. Los Angeles was then ranked 57th in the US with a total of 50,000 people.
The original Rose Parade had Victorian-era horse drawn carriages decorated with fresh flowers. That eventually evolved into today’s massive and elaborate floats. Throughout the years the rules have stayed the same however, that the floats must be covered in flowers. All surfaces of visible framework can only use plant materials- leaves, seeds, bark, coconut husks, seaweed etc. The parade has obviously expanded over the last 125 years. This year’s parade had 700,000 in attendance as well as tens of millions watching in televised broadcasts.
The theme of 2014’s parade was “Dreams Come True.” Among the 48 floats, 20 marching bands and 16 equestrian groups, its central spectacle was a celebration of the long awaited victory of gay marriage in California. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation featured a live same-sex marriage atop their float’s giant wedding cake making the two groomsmen appear like handsome little cake toppers from below. A true part of L.A. history, Dodger’s baseball play-by-play announcer Vin Scully was this year’s Grand Marshall. He has been with the Dodgers since 1950 and came with the team in 1958 when they relocated from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
So even though the rest of the country sighs deeply and looks at our sunshine and ever-blooming flowers with somewhat envious eyes this time of year, we don’t have to pretend we’re modest. We know we’ve got it made. Next year instead of watching the Rose Parade on TV, brave the crowds and go see it live. Or if you’re just too tired to leave the house so early after a fabulous New Year’s Eve, then make sure you check out the Post Parade showcase of floats on display each year on both January 1st and 2nd on Sierra Madre Blvd. in Pasadena.