Pasadena flaunted its annual floral extravaganza Thursday, as it narrowly missed a Rose Parade record for cold weather and carried on after the death of World War II legend and grand marshal Louis Zamperini.
The theme for the 126th Tournament of Roses Parade, "Inspiring Stories," spawned creations both poignant and whimsical: One float paid tribute to those who have died fighting Ebola, another featured a cast reunion of the 1970s TV series "Love Boat."
Amid ice-blue skies and temperatures that bottomed out at 36 degrees — four degrees above the low set in 1952 — children gasped as the petal-encrusted floats began sliding down the 51/2 -mile route.
"There they are!" exclaimed 3-year-old Jack LaVine, cradled in his father's arms.
"He's cold, but he's excited," said his father, Mark LaVine, 48.
Zamperini — the USC track star from Torrance who became an Olympic runner, prisoner of war and subject of Laura Hillenbrand's book and the movie "Unbroken" — died last summer of pneumonia at age 97, two months after he was named to lead the parade.
Baseball legend and onetime Pasadena resident Jackie Robinson was named an honorary grand marshal of the parade in 1999, years after his death, but Zamperini had planned to participate in the event just as the high-profile film hit the screen.
Traveler, USC's mascot horse, walked the parade route riderless to honor Zamperini. The grand marshal's car carried Zamperini's family, followed by the float from his hometown, which offered petal portraits of the "Torrance Tornado" at various stages of his life.
Zamperini's son, Luke, described the parade as a cathartic experience — one more chance to honor their dad.
"We kept coming across people jumping up and down and screaming, 'Louis! Louis! Unbroken!'" he said. "We were nearly to the point of tears."
The Torrance float — bearing the words "Louis Zamperini — A Race Well Run" — won the parade's theme trophy. Perhaps even more of a feat, the entry dragged a teenager along the parade route away from his phone.
"Oh, that's the guy from 'Unbroken,'" he said, looking up from his screen. "So cool!"
Authorities reported 18 arrests, including seven people protesting police violence who were held on suspicion of interfering with the parade. The other arrests were mostly for drinking in public, police said.
While protests were muted compared with recent years, the parade featured symbolic efforts to redress historical racial injustice.
Five Nisei veterans of World War II rode on Alhambra's entry. They included Masao Takahashi, who was interned at the Manzanar, Calif., camp where Japanese Americans were confined by the U.S. government during the war.
Eighty-three-year-old Joan Williams, who was kept out of the parade nearly 60 years ago because she is black, rode on the "banner" float conveying the "Inspiring Stories" theme at the beginning of the parade.
Other entries paid tribute to survivors and heroes of international disasters. Teenagers who lived through Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami shared American Honda Motor Co.'s float with U.S. military service members who assisted them.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation sponsored a float memorializing those who have died fighting the Ebola virus in Africa.
A Wells Fargo executive presented a giant red key to a new home to retired Army Sgt. Dominic Perrotte III, a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq who received a purple heart after his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. Perrotte's wife sobbed as he accepted the donation from the Military Warriors Support Foundation, in Hampton, Va.
For many parade-goers, the early chatter focused on the cold weather, even if it failed to break the record. In the early morning darkness, it was still plenty bitter.
A Florida woman, Alla Lazareva, 43, said Pasadena was as cold as her native St. Petersburg — the one in Russia.
"It's tough," she said, huddled in a corner of a coffeehouse at 6 a.m., sharing a cappuccino with her husband.
Families hunched over heat lamps and fire pits, roasting marshmallows for s'mores and grilling shish kebabs and carne asada for tacos. With people arrayed in gear ranging from the minimalist — a piece of cardboard and a blanket — to luxe — a king-sized, 3-foot-high air mattress — the flames drew envious looks.
Vivian Rivera, 42, of Koreatown sat one of her kids atop a container of hot chocolate. A father-and-son team, more enterprising than most, brokered a deal: two pieces of wood for a like number of tamales.
Others took the cold in stride.
"At least we get some sun, unlike in Portland where you get only rain during the winter," said Chris Parrott, one of a group of 300 who came to town from Oregon to watch the parade and Rose Bowl game pitting Oregon against Florida State.
FOR THE RECORD: A previous version of this article said that Sue Zavala lived around the corner from the parade route. She lives in Porter Ranch.
Sue Zavala, 65, of Porter Ranch, sat atop a 6-foot yellow ladder. Her boyfriend Jim Vigue, 72, who lives just around the corner from the parade route, was on a stool next to her.
With the grandkids grown up and gone, it was their least elaborate setup in years, but they couldn't stay away, Vigue said.
Added Zavala: "I got the best seat in the house!"
Mary Margarum came from New Jersey to see the parade in person for the first time with her daughter Courtney, newly relocated to Los Angeles.
"I've been watching since I was a kid," said Courtney, who remembered the parade from an episode of the TV show "Beverly Hills, 90210."
As the last marching band passed by, Hector Morales told his 5-year-old daughter, Rotce, "Se acabó" (it's over). Rotce made a sad face.
The parade's beauty made up for the rugged temperatures, Morales said.
"It was great, great," he said. "From beginning to end."
Times staff writers Gale Holland, Brittny Mejia, Samantha Masunaga, Taylor Goldenstein, Sarah Parvini and Kate Mather contributed to this report.