Q: For years I have watched the Tournament of Roses Parade and marveled at the beautiful floats covered in flowers. This year I found myself wondering what happens to the floats after the parade and viewing are over. Are the flowers composted? Do they reuse the float structure? Thanks for any insight you can provide.
E.L., of Belleville
A: As you might imagine, entering the 40-plus floats into the most celebrated spectacle on New Year’s Day is, well, no bed of roses.
To enjoy four hours in the sun, they take a year of planning and building, requiring hundreds of thousands of man- (and woman-) hours and flowers. It’s been that way ever since 1890, when the Pasadena Valley Hunt Club decided to greet the new year with a colorful gala to help people beat back the gloomy thoughts of winter.
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“In New York, people are buried in the snow,” Charles F. Holder told club members, many of whom were transplants from the frozen tundra of the East and Midwest. “Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let’s hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise.”
And so the world was treated to its first New Year’s Day parade filled with flower-covered carriages. It was followed by an athletic skills competition that drew an estimated crowd of 2,000 to watch such games as polo matches and a tug-of-war on the Pasadena town lot. Seeing the many flowers on display, Holder was inspired to name his new event the Tournament of Roses, and a tradition was born. The first Rose Bowl football game came along in 1902, although it did not become an annual event until 1916. By that time, the horse-drawn carriages had evolved into the elaborate flowery floats we enjoy today, pulled by horseless carriages.
It’s an extravaganza that requires every bit of a year to pull together. The 2017 pageant is barely over, but already parade officials are getting ready to announce the theme of next year’s parade. Immediately, builders will begin drawing up plans for new floats, for which they’ll submit two design concepts for each float proposal to the parade entries committee. The committee will review the estimated 200 submissions to make sure they follow the theme and do not duplicate each other and then approve about 60.
Once they get the go-ahead, the builders in mid-February will begin figuring the dimensions and start designing the mechanisms needed for any animated movement. By March, the builders start showing their refined designs to potential sponsors, who, usually sometime in May, start forking over the funding. That’s when construction begins in earnest. Here are just a few statistics to boggle your mind, according to Pasadena’s Official Visitors Guide:
▪ Each square foot of a float will contain 20 daisies, 30 roses or 36 marigolds — and, according to parade rules — every square inch of a float’s exposed surface must be covered with flowers or other natural materials such as bark or leaves.
▪ Each float requires about 15 tons of steel and 10,000 feet of chicken wire for its framework.
▪ The 44 floats this year consisted of some 600 tons of steel, 5,000 gallons of glue and 18 million flowers, including 500,000 roses in vials.
▪ To simply decorate each float takes 60 volunteers working 10 hours a day for 10 days.
“Flowers start arriving in late December and are stored in separate tents until they are needed.” according to a detailed explanation at www.madehow.com. “Approximately 30,000 workers, many of them young people from schools and church groups, report to the various builders’ construction sites to begin the round-the-clock job of decorating the floats. Most flowers are prepared by popping the heads off the stems before being glued in place. Delicate flowers are placed in narrow plastic vials filled with water before being pushed in place.”
Judging begins on Dec. 30 while the finishing touches are being added before a second round of judging takes place on New Year’s Eve with all the riders in place, sound systems blaring and animatronics working. Then, on Jan. 1, the floats are carefully towed from their constructions sites and placed in position for the parade by 3 a.m.
All this to be seen and enjoyed by a million revelers (and many millions more on TV) for about four hours (at a 2.5-mph pace) along a parade route that stretches some 5.5 miles. And afterward? Well, a rose by any other name may swell as sweet, but once off the vine they start to wilt in California’s sunny climes.
After the parade, the floats are displayed for several days so the public can get a closer look. Then they are towed back to the assembly site and dismantled. The steel structure is cut up and recycled while the major components — the engines, hydraulics, tires, wheels and electronics — are stored for future use. And, those thousands and thousands of roses?
“We’ve had companies who’ve tried to salvage the petals for potpourri, but they’re pretty dead by the time they get back here,” Lyn Lofthouse, a floral decorator with Phoenix Decorating Co., once told HGTV.
So, they are generally composted, but they still can mean a few bucks to those who dismantle the floats. Float builders often hide money in the foam, so children who help remove the flowers and save the rose vials can enjoy a scavenger hunt to make their job worthwhile.
What Tournament of Roses tradition started in 1893 — and why? BONUS: What may have been the first-ever parade float?
Answer to Friday’s trivia: Soon after the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, Australian and Allied forces were sent to Darwin to help defend Australia’s northern coastline. On Feb. 19, 1942 — just two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor — some 240 Japanese aircraft bombed Darwin in two separate raids, killing anywhere from 236 to 262, depending on the estimate. They were the first of roughly 100 more raids in the area until November 1943.