They’ve hardly missed one, a group of car buffs who tour the Southland attending weekend events with an opportunity to show off their shiny, flashy and well-maintained vehicles.
Members of the Road Kings, a Burbank contingent, travel throughout Southern California and beyond each week in search of top car shows from Big Bear to Huntington Beach, even San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles to the north showcasing their prized possessions.
South Pasadena was their latest stop.
“We’ve been just about everywhere [in the state] except Northern California,” explained club president Ray Astamendi, noting the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Cruz’n For Roses Hot Rod and Classic Car, which enjoyed its 15th anniversary last Sunday, is one of the best around.
While thousands turned out for the popular event, many wearing shades and shorts to stay cool as the heat beat down on the crowd, Astamendi, 77, says it’s becoming more difficult for shows like the one in South Pasadena to attract cars as a result of a growing number of events and a numbers game. “As the people [car owners] get older that are involved, they don’t go to as many car shows,” he explained. “They really don’t. It’s beginning to become a problem with a lot of us. It has diminished a little bit because people are just getting older and don’t go to them as much, which is a shame. It really is. Some of us still like to go and we do go.”
But the number of car owners he says who traditionally bring their vehicles to shows is dwindling as age plays a factor. Yet, as proof that shows are still in high demand, a fellow Road Kings’ member seated nearby noted that 10 other events in Southern California were scheduled last Sunday, including a large one in Irvine bringing in about 400 cars.
As Astamendi’s group ages, he noted the Road Kings continually “work very hard to get the interest of the younger generation into this sport,” he said. “Otherwise this sport is going to diminish,” he said.
The attendance at South Pasadena’s show “six or seven years ago would have filled up this parking lot,” Astamendi continued, pointing to an area where cars once spilled over because Mission Street east of Fremont Avenue was packed with cars.
This year as nearly 200 filled the roadway between Meridian and Fair Oaks avenues where there were open gaps just north of where the Road Kings set up each year. In past years, more than 300 cars have dotted the street, but with increased competition, event organizer Janet Benjamin, a member of the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee, says it’s increasingly more difficult to attract car owners to the local show. However, she vows the show will go on, calling the latest event “great,” adding No. 16 will return in 2020.
The Road Kings, with their formation dating to 1952, continue to bring out a “monstrosity of American made cars,” pointed out Astamendi, noting mostly Fords, Chevy’s, Pontiac’s and Chysler’s,” were brought from his group parked on both sides Mission Street near Fair Oaks Pharmacy, where nostalgia rings. Many in the organization found their way inside where malts, sundaes and shakes awaited, a reminder of an era gone by at the establishment’s ’50-style soda fountain.
“It’s one of the perks for us having our cars down here,” said a smiling Astamendi, looking forward to a cool treat inside the eatery as a reminder of the past.
“We grew up in the ‘50s and 60s and that’s where most of us are at still today,” he added, reminiscing before giving a shout out to Benjamin and South Pasadena’s event. “This is a great car show. We like the location, the people, and supporting the float is very important to us.”
Funds raised through car entries and sponsorship dollars all go to supporting South Pasadena’s float in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade each year.
Sunday’s event didn’t officially kick off until after a rousing rendition of the National Anthem sung by Berlynn Millikan and opening remarks at the staging area by South Pasadena Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian, city Police Chief Joe Ortiz, and Benjamin, a past president and current decoration chair for the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee.
As part of the opening ceremonies, members of the South Pasadena Police Department presented the colors prior to Ortiz leading the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a flyover by a police helicopter.
Brandt Dunlap, the vice chair of the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee, delivered a moving invocation and thanked the large crowd for coming out in support of the organization, Dunlap noting it costs an estimated $100,000 for volunteers to build the city’s entry in Tournament of Roses Parade each year.
In part, Dunlap told the gathering: “Let’s give gratitude for those who brought their cars and motorcycles and those who came to admire them in your support today of the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association. Let’s not forget the bravery of our first responders past and present. Let us offer thanks to members of the City Council and their continued support of this great community event. Let us have fun today, make new friends and be safe. Let the feeling of love, kindness and a well directed be it gentle spirit be reflected in our actions.”
Benjamin, who puts long hours into the success of the event each year, spoke at the opening in place of her father, Ted Shaw, recognized for his many contributions to the city over the years as the brainchild behind the first car show. Shaw, whom Benjamin said was feeling ill Sunday, arrived following the opening ceremonies and toured a portion of the event in a golf cart.
“I’m proud of what we started,” said Shaw. “We’re carrying on and I feel good about that. Janet has done a great job.”
Handed the microphone from Dunlap, Benjamin welcomed all “the car guys and gals” and large number the spectators for their attendance. “We do not raise the funds needed to build and decorate our float without you. Have a great day and let’s make a lot of money for the Tournament.”
Following her remarks, an enthusiastic Benjamin remarked, “Fifteen years ago we were just happy to get through the first one. I can’t believe it’s been 15 years. From what I’ve heard, everyone just loves it.”
She likes the idea it will return next year, saying, “Come on back, we’ll be bigger and better than ever.”
The D.U.D.E.S., (Dads Uniting Dads in Education & Service) a group of South Pasadena, well, dudes who give back by doing good deeds in the city, were busy selling barbecue lunches among an assortment of vendors donating to the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses. All the D.U.D.E.S. proceeds went back to support the city float.
“It’s just what we do,” said Ed Donnelly, the organization’s founder. “We’re glad to be a part of it.”
Khubesrian told the crowd she was “blown away” by the amazing cars as one of the judges faced with making difficult decisions. The mayor was selected to pick out an award winner.
“An event that goes on for 15 years does not happen coincidently or spontaneously,” she said. “It takes a lot of work,” explaining that many departments within the city come together in working with the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee to make it happen.
“I want to thank everyone on the (South Pasadena) Tournament of Roses Committee, which I’m the liaison to, for getting together, planning, being resourceful to bring creativity and fundraising ability to fruition.”
Khubesrian stressed that the “spirit of community, volunteerism and resourcefulness” shines each year when the committee hosts the car show.
“It’s the pride of a community working together to put forth something beautiful, creative and participate in the Rose Parade,” she said. “It’s quite a feat to have our city participate in one of the biggest international parades for over 100 years now and the car show helps pay for it. I support the arts. Our float is like a giant art installation and the city comes together to do it. It’s so important for the city to continue that focus and energy. We have to continue to enhance the arts.”
While she spoke, not far away sat the chassis for the city’s entry in the 2020 parade, which soon will turn into a floral masterpiece riding down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena in the 131st Rose Parade. “Victory at Last,” a salute to Women’s Suffrage, has been selected as the theme for the city’s float, reflecting on the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting American women the right to vote, ending almost a century of protest.
Ortiz thanked Benjamin for her involvement while paying tribute to the event sponsors, car show enthusiasts and those for coming out to view the cars. Later, he walked the street, clipboard in hand, as one of the judges tasked with the job of coming up with the top entry “based on the car that is most likely going to be pulled over by the police.”
Someone has to do it. Why not the police chief? He was standing next to a black shiny 1949 Mercury in pristine condition, Ortiz noting with a laugh, “This probably isn’t one of them.”
The event gives his department an opportunity to network with those in town, allowing visitors to get a taste of South Pasadena, and “mix it up with our community members and enjoy the good food and fellowship,” he said. “It’s really a great event.”