Ninety years ago this month, a huge Chinese dragon, 85 feet long and 15 feet high, moved along the route of Pasadena's Tournament of Roses Parade under its own power, swishing its tail from side to side, turning its head and rolling its eyes. It was a sensation.
"Hundreds of thousands of spectators, seated on grandstands, sidewalks, windows and every other available space,'' watched as the dragon — one of a string of prize-winning floats designed by L. W. Chobe — blew smoke from its nostrils and opened and closed its jaw. Parade-goers burst into spontaneous applause, according to an unidentified newspaper of the day on file in Special Collections at the Glendale Central Library.
Radio, movie and newspaper accounts and photos spread the dragon's fame. Parades and festivals were popular in the 1920s, and Chobe's float was invited to Fresno's Raisin Festival in April and to San Jose's Fiesta de las Rosas in May.
Proponents began raising the necessary $3,000 to take part in those events, but civic leaders said "no." However, they were outflanked by the tournament committee, which covered the cost in light of the publicity the distinctive entry had received, as noted in the May 11, 1928, Glendale News-Press.
With tournament officials now in control, Fresno was dropped and Portland's prestigious Rose Festival was added.
Accompanied by designer Chobe, the float left this city in mid-May. Heading straight for San Jose, it created more excitement as it traveled along.
"In the towns and villages through which it passed, the inhabitants dropped their work to view the dragon,'' according to the May 23, 1928, News-Press.
Chobe's dragon created another sensation at San Jose's event, begun in 1896 as the Rose Carnival to highlight their "garden city" and to bring in tourists. It was renamed in 1920. Against stiff competition, the dragon brought home a first-place prize and the grand sweepstakes.
After its triumph, the float was taken to the county line, where local police escorted it into San Francisco's Civic Center. Later, it was taken on parade — all by itself — along the main thoroughfare and through Chinatown, as bemused residents looked on.
Then the float and its entourage headed for Portland's Rose Festival, held annually since 1907. The Grand Floral Parade, centerpiece of the festival, is, according to Wikipedia, the second largest all-floral parade in the United States. (The Tournament of Roses Parade is the largest.)
Local newspapers played up the visiting dragon with large pictures, and festival "airgrams," designed for mailing by visitors, also featured it.
Despite some logistical challenges — such as the parade route had to be widened and the dragon's legs removed to navigate a corner — Glendale's dragon again took first place and a sweepstakes honor. It received a silver cup, a plaque and $250 in cash, all to be kept by Glendale, according to the tournament agreement.
After the last of its triumphant appearances, the float was dismantled and the mechanical parts salvaged for future use. The rest was burned. Chobe and the delegation returned to Glendale with cash prizes, trophies and glowing tributes from their host cities.
The June 15, 1928, News-Press predicted that Chobe's dragon would take its place in Glendale's history as the most impressive float ever entered by this city in any competition.
The dragon was self-built by local volunteers in a space at 526 W. Garfield Ave.
"Residents of eastern states who heard of the float's features by radio or saw it on the motion picture screen raved at its novelty, and one man from Cincinnati, Ohio, made plans to visit Glendale based solely on the publicity,'' according to the Glendale Evening News, Feb. 2, 1928.
The delegation accompanying the float carried along 100,000 folders describing the dragon and outlining Glendale's charms. The folders were distributed to those viewing the float by local Boy Scouts, as arranged by Verdugo Hills Council Boy Scout executive, Harvey Cheeseman.
Although tournament officials declined the invite from Fresno's 1928 Raisin Festival, the April 30 Los Angeles Times described it as one of the "most beautiful and colorful street pageants in the history of California. More than 200 floats, 2,000 vehicles and 15,000 persons participated in the parade which extended 3 miles through the streets of the city. Miss Georgia Holmes of Lindsay, chosen as queen of this year's festival, led the procession, along with Wallace Beery, motion-picture star."