Rose Parade Shows 1900s in Full Bloom
Southern California opened the century’s final year Friday under blue skies as hundreds of thousands of spectators thronged to Pasadena from points near and far to ogle floats and cheer marching bands.
In fact, Southern California approached the end of the 20th century pretty much as it began it--with the annual Rose Parade. This year’s parade was the 110th, and the last of the 1900s.
The Southland’s annual advertisement for itself debuted cool, leaving overnight campers along the 5 1/2-mile route shivering in their sleeping bags, but also clear, offering the rest of the nation its traditional New Year’s chance to covet Los Angeles weather.
Billed as the last Rose Parade of the 20th century--over the curmudgeonly objection that the event in 2000, not 1999, will properly own that title--it featured floats and grand marshals chosen to reflect the theme “Echoes of the Century.”
Buzz Aldrin was on hand to recall the moon landing in 1969; producer David Wolper was there in recognition of his award-winning television and film work, ranging from “Roots” to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”; Shirley Temple Black was selected in part for her long diplomatic career, but was recognized by the crowd as the grown-up version of the child icon who charmed America; and Ray Bartlett was on hand to summon the memory of his close friend, former Pasadena resident Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier and helped end the disgrace of segregation.
But it was the floats and bands that the crowd cheered most.
Children and adults alike chanted “Big Bird, Big Bird,” in appreciation of the “Sesame Street” float called “Friends for Life,” winner of the event’s Humor Trophy. They enthusiastically applauded for a colorful “Cat in the Hat,” and oohed and aahed over a giant astronaut planting an American flag. The Sweepstakes Trophy, honoring the event’s most beautiful entry, went to “Friends of the Rain Forest,” which, among other things, featured six waterfalls and 1,500 gallons of water.
And thousands rose as one for the 110-member Marine Corps marching band, sun gleaming off its spit-and-polish instruments and uniforms.
“It’s just gorgeous,” said Kathy Magnanenzi, who traveled from Illinois. “We’ve watched it on TV at home for years. This is outstanding.”
There were hitches: Undaunted though it may be by rain and snow, the U.S. Postal Service faltered in the sunlight. Its float, featuring movie monsters and a coffin with a vampire inside, stalled just as it turned into television range. It had to be towed.
And there was some grumbling among the onlookers, dismayed by long lines for coffee, snarled traffic and cheek-by-jowl grandstand seating, which made the route no place for the claustrophobic.
Connielu Berg, who arrived just before 8 a.m. with a tour group from Long Beach, was irritated to find herself shut off from her seats by guards clearing the way for the parade.
“We sat on the offramp for an hour. We had to walk at least four blocks, and now we can’t cross the street. We paid $125 for this, and those are our seats over there,” she said, pointing across at the grandstand.
Moments later, however, police relented, and she and her companions scrambled to their places.
Indeed, the inconveniences were relatively minor and cheerfully accepted by most. Police reported no serious incidents, though they did log nearly 100 arrests, mostly for drunk and disorderly behavior. There were a few scuffles.
First-aid stations also treated a number of people, mostly for heat exhaustion. At least one person was sent to the hospital, possibly suffering a heart attack.
For most of the roughly 1 million people who lined the route, however, there was no evidence of trouble.
A Different Experience
Parents and children joined in their amazement at the floats, which are entirely covered in flowers and other plant material, from moss to shaved coconut to lilies--and, of course, mountains of roses.
“It’s so much better than watching it on television,” gushed Alexa Zabat-Fran, a 12-year-old from Mission Viejo. “You can see all the details. . . . There was one with a bunch of vegetables on it. You’d never be able to see that on TV.”
Josue Ruiz, 11, of Echo Park skipped the parade last year because his mother couldn’t convince him that the floats were made of real flowers. This year, he relented and was converted.
“It’s cool,” he said. “It has, like, a lot of stuff.”
Asked his favorite, Josue responded without a pause: “The one with the rocket. It was big.”
That same rocket put a scare into Max Taw, a 4-year-old who was so startled by the gigantic float that his father had to take him for a walk away from the crowd. By parade’s end, Max had his face buried in his mother’s shoulder and was sticking fingers in both ears.
Many of those in attendance Friday traveled long distances to get there. University of Wisconsin graduates, on hand to cheer on their team in the Rose Bowl, decorated the crowd in their bright red T-shirts and sweatshirts, some adding the distinctive regional touch of a yellow cheese-wedge hat. When the Wisconsin band passed by the grandstand, fans cheered lustily.
Three teenagers responded by rushing the Wisconsin mascot, a fierce-looking badger, and spraying him with Silly String. The badger bided his time, then retaliated with a Silly String burst of his own. The crowd laughed and cheered.
As is the case every year, thousands of people secured spots by camping out the night before. This year was chillier than most, and as dawn broke over Pasadena, young and old alike huddled in blankets or around makeshift fires.
The night, some said, was not altogether pleasant.
Taralynn Reich, 17, and her boyfriend, Thomas Valencia, 17, were wrapped in sleeping bags side by side and wore matching metallic green fingernail polish. They had hardly slept.
“I was freezing,” Reich said.
“Oh, God, it was terrible,” Valencia added. “My hair was wet, my fingers were soaked. Everything was wet.”
Others arrived better prepared for the weather, which would be the envy of most of the country in January but nevertheless, at 41 degrees in the early morning, was cool by Southern California standards.
Bernice Bubnar came from Hawthorne, and she came prepared--protected by a hat, scarf, long underwear, blouse, sweatshirt and jacket, all under a coat.
By parade’s end, the chill had burned off and many in the crowd were stripped down to T-shirts.
For some, the event was more than a holiday outing. It was the fulfillment of a dream. Nettie and Walter Sadler were students three decades ago, when they vowed to someday make it to the Rose Parade. This week, they drove from Wisconsin and saw it for the first time.
“We traveled 1,000 miles the first day, 900 miles the second day and 600 miles the third day to get here in time,” Nettie Sadler said. “This has been a dream, a dream for 36 years.”
Betty Morgan, 79, of Santa Monica said her father marched in the Rose Parade as a high school student in 1916. It was pouring rain, the photos show, and “he was drenched,” she said.
“This is perfect,” she said as the morning chill warmed to a spring-like day. “It’s just beautiful.”
For others, the Tournament of Roses was a job.
Take Norm Haley, who had perhaps the most stressful job at the Rose Parade. As a Tournament of Roses official, he kept the official time.
“You have to make sure they’re exactly on time,” Haley said as he manned two phones, a walkie-talkie, a computer and a large clock. “All the people who sponsor floats and bands want to make sure they get the proper television coverage. It’s going out to 400 million people around the world.”
As he spoke, Haley punched the time each float, band and set of horses crossed Orange Grove Boulevard and Green Street. The computer calculated whether that time was ahead of or behind schedule.
If it was ahead, officials could slow the procession at the start. If it was behind, they could try to speed it up.
“We’re running 1 minute, 13 seconds behind now,” Haley said, his eyes nervously scanning the laptop computer screen. “We’ll catch up.”
By the time the Long Beach Mounted Police crossed Green Street, the parade was exactly 21 seconds ahead of schedule, ending at 10:13:25. “We were 13 seconds ahead last year,” Haley said. “We did fine. Just fine.”
As the bands finished the route, some weary musicians, flag girls and the like ran to the crates of bottled drinking water awaiting them. Others limped.
“I have the biggest blisters on my feet,” said flag girl Annie Baldassari, 17, a senior at Alexis I. Dupont High School in Wilmington, Del.
Barefoot, she held up her white, fake-leather boots.
“They felt like rocks with ropes strung around your ankles,” she moaned. “Now my feet are dirty, but I don’t care.
Nearby, Catherine Ford, a freshman from the same school, was gulping down a bottle of water.
“It was really hard. It was such a long time, and I lugged this . . . instrument,” she said, tapping her sousaphone as it lay on the ground.
“I wasn’t dying,” she added, “but I was close to it.”
The first-aid station at the parade’s end point reported brisk business, but most of it low-key. “Lots and lots of blisters and bloody toes,” one aid worker said.
By early afternoon, the floats had parked, the bands had packed up and the unofficial parade, the phalanx of preachers and doomsayers who walk the route warning of the impending end of the world, had come and gone as well.
And yet still sitting in the spot where they come year after year were Robin Arbor, 64, and Inez Lollis, 82, both from San Diego. They were lounging in beach chairs, waiting for the crowd to thin out and savoring the last moments of their New Year’s ritual. Lollis held a rose that a man from an Acropolis float had jumped down to hand her.
“Each year, you have to get here a little bit earlier,” Arbor said. But come 2000, he plans to be there again.
“You bet,” he said. “Same spot--1500 block on the shady side.”
Times staff writers Agnes Diggs, Caitlin Liu and Nancy Trejos contributed to this article.
* PICTURE-PERFECT DAY: Pasadena family shares the best seats in town; more parade photos. A4-A6