Burb's Eye View: Building city's Rose entry takes team effort

Walking around the warehouse home of Burbank’s Rose Parade float is a bit like a movie set — you’ve got constant motion, many colorful set pieces and the star of the show has lost her head.

Her head’s actually over in makeup, where it’s joined by several other large heads. Her “makeup artists” are creating a very special concoction to get that camera-ready tone; a mixture of white rice and dried roses are pureed in blenders and coffee grinders.

“It’s just amazing — they take the flowers and they make it into mulch and you get … that,” said Lisa Patino, a first-time volunteer on Burbank’s Rose Parade float.

This year’s theme, “Lights, Camera, Action!,” marks the city’s 82nd entry into the 125th Tournament of Roses Parade. The all-volunteer production takes months to assemble, but in the days leading to New Year’s Day, the Burbank Water and Power warehouse on Olive Avenue is overrun by volunteers.

For three days — about 12 hours total — Patino has artfully placed narrow rope braids that will become a giant straw hat for one of the float characters. Those braids were each hand-woven by Judith Miller, who, in total, has put in 50 hours’ work on this year’s float alone.

“I look forward to December when I get to do this stuff,” she says as she works four strands of raffia palms into a fishtail braid. “It’s a labor of love, truly. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

The city’s volunteer force has tradition on its side. Entire families devote weeks and months leading up to the parade to ensure each flower is placed properly and each petal is looking its brightest.

“It kind of gets into your blood after a while,” said second-generation volunteer Jennifer Tripet, who also brings her son to help each year.

It also gets into your dreams, according to Ginny Barnett. For two years, Barnett has served as the president of Burbank Tournament of Roses Assn., a job that involves literally living and breathing the parade float from May until January.

“It’s about that feeling you get … when my little float rounds that corner at Colorado, my little heart just beats,” she said.

On Saturday, she oversaw the construction of the float characters’ heads. The float portrays a classic movie set complete with a heroic cowboy, a dastardly mustachioed man and a damsel in distress.

The damsel had to have a little work done. Barnett said her proportions were slightly off and they shaved off some of her cheeks to make her look younger.

The faces are all carved by Suresh Iyengar, who studied sculpture near Florence, Italy.

“They give me a little springboard to display my art and I’m thankful,” he said. If their mouths look particularly expressive, there’s a good reason — Iyengar is also a dentist.

There are also technicians, welders and painters who bring Burbank’s floats to life each year. Some may have worked for 25 or more years (judging from the patches that mark each year’s entry on their overalls), and some may be not even 10 years old, but they pick up a brush and start painting the Styrofoam “coal” that will be added to the float later.

The result of all that effort often puts Burbank’s entries at the top of the judges’ lists. Barnett hopes the city can score an award for the fifth year in a row.

“This is probably the best group of volunteers you could work with,” she said. “They have creativity, they have passion … I think you need another can of glue …”

She’s off again to help another volunteer, because in the days before the parade, there’s always something else to glue.

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BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter: @818NewGuy.

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