A wet and windy December capped with bone-chilling cold on New Year’s Eve was all but a memory by the time festivities got underway Saturday morning for La Cañada Flintridge contingent of Rose Parade royalty, volunteer float builders and their boosters on the bleachers.
Clouds parted and the sun shone brilliantly in the sky above Pasadena just in time for the 8:03 a.m. commencement of the 122nd annual Tournament of Roses Parade — a fast-paced kaleidoscope of artistry and showmanship complete with 47 dazzlingly colorful floats, 22 marching bands and several equestrian teams that all whizzed by in about two hours behind celebrity chef and parade Grand Marshal Paula Deen.
Minutes before the parade’s start, the warmth of daybreak was a welcome blessing for those on the Macy’s Royal Court float, including La Cañada resident and Rose Queen Evanne Friedmann, Princess Katie Thomson and Princess Jessica Montoya, who was shivering as the royal float gently started on its way from the Tournament House to the crowds waiting along Colorado Boulevard.
“Our adrenaline is keeping us warm. Riding down Colorado Boulevard is going to be the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” said Friedmann, 17, a senior at La Cañada High School who was all smiles as the big moment approached.
“This is going to be the ride of my life. I can’t wait to see my friends and family and give them my big princess wave,” said Thomson, a Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy student.
“It’s unbelievable!” added bone-chilled Montoya, a senior at Flintridge Preparatory School. “Our excitement is definitely pushing us through.”
For members of the Rose Court, New Year’s Day starts at 1:30 a.m. said Friedmann, who prepped for the big day with a 2:15 a.m. spa session, climbed into a makeup chair at Tournament House around 4 a.m. and greeted sunrise doing television interviews.
Toward the back of the parade queue a few blocks south on Orange Grove Boulevard, excitement was also reaching its crescendo for crew members of this year’s La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association float — a whimsical portrayal of a children’s playground being built by cheery hydraulic-motion construction machines that was titled “3-2-1 Dig!” and played off the parade’s theme, “Building Dreams, Friendships and Memories.”
Hundreds of volunteers worked year-round to bring the concept to life, complete with curious critters and flowing water, though most floral coverings are assembled in a brief flurry of post-Christmas activity.
More than 17,000 carnations went into creating the familiar bright yellow of the earthmovers and construction crane, while palm bark made for gopher fur and powdered seeds and vegetables brought rich color and texture to the scene’s other elements.
Some 7,000 roses and 2,600 irises also helped complete the float.
Though “3-2-1 Dig!” did not win the parade’s coveted Animation Trophy this year as volunteers had hoped, the rich detail and lively moving parts of the all-volunteer effort did make for a standout entry — one easily holding its own among professionally built entries that included skim-boarding dogs, choreographed dance routines, and a constant-motion mechanical kitchen reminiscent of a Jules Verne novel that won the Animation Trophy for Trader Joe’s markets.
“It’s such a wonderful day. We want to enjoy it as long as we can,” volunteer decorator and construction crew member Arlene Buchmann said before stepping into the “3-2-1-Dig!” driver’s compartment, tucked neatly out of view under a palette that was part of the float’s moving floral landscape.
Buchmann would steer the float down the parade route while JPL mechanical engineer Randy Bartos operated the its spinning mechanical characters and Dustin Crumb, the float’s lead engineer and construction chair, rode along as a lookout and troubleshooter.
Concept artist and designer Jacob Maitless was also on hand for early morning preparation.
“It’s a big collaborative effort and I’m really excited,” said Maitless, who began designing La Cañada Flintridge entries six years ago as an Art Center College of Design student.
Also cheering on the crew were Doreen and John Aitelli, La Cañada Flintridge residents who brought their daughters Emma, 11, and Kyra, 6, for a pre-sunrise sneak peak of the floats.
“You get to see everything up close…then we go home and have breakfast,” said Doreen Aitelli, who said she was most impressed at how decorators used multi-colored potato-halves and a cornmeal-rice grout to achieve life-like stone walls.
“It’s about the hometown spirit of La Cañada. It’s part of what makes this a nice, small community,” she said of the La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association’s annual undertaking, now in its 33rd year.
Crew members had driven the float between 8:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. the previous night to Pasadena from its construction site under the freeway overpass at Hampton Road and Foothill Boulevard in La Cañada, said Crumb, 35, who is currently designing a future JPL weather satellite in his day job at the aerospace firm ATK.
Keeping a watchful eye on the float in the blustery cold of the early morning hours until the steering crew arrived was a separate overnight squad that included construction volunteer James Herrington of La Crescenta — 23 and already on his ninth float for La Cañada — and 17-year-old Adam Rahtz of St. Francis High School.
Though 48 people were arrested overnight along the parade route, 39 of them for public intoxication and at least one for assaulting a police officer, Herrington said the chilly night passed without incident.
Crumb reflected on this year’s float-building experience, his 13th in La Cañada and 18th overall.
“I love designing things, but it’s also that the group we build with is fun to work with, and being a float operator is a unique experience,” he said. “Part of what keeps me coming back is just the reaction of the crowd. …Going by and watching smiles come onto their faces as the float drives past is an amazing experience, and one I’ll never forget.”
For Rose Queen Evanne’s father Kurt Friedmann, the brief but unforgettable moment of the day was watching his youngest daughter shine after three long months of practice and preparation.
“While she’s doing everything else, this is the moment you’re thinking of,” he said after the parade, “and it all happened so fast.”