A small, dedicated crew toiled under a giant tent last Saturday, laboring long hours while making significant progress on the city’s float that will roll down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena next January as part of 134th Rose Parade.
It’s not quite “crunch time,” those manic hours when most of the flowers are applied by teams of volunteers just before the float heads to the starting area at the close of the calendar year. But those working on board in August, most holding welders and shielding their faces with heavy-duty industrial masks, recognize their importance.
“This is the critical time for construction, and without it, frankly, we don’t have a float, ” said Brant Dunlap, the chair of the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses, pointing out that additional help on the city’s entry is especially welcome.
“Want to meet new friends, learn how to build a float, etch your name in history?” he asked. “Come join the SPTOR construction team and be a part in the oldest float in the parade. We could use your support.”
Further, Steve Fillingham, the float’s construction co-chair alongside Rob Benjamin, poses community members the question: “Have you ever wondered about how the South Pasadena Rose Parade float gets built, and thought to yourself I’d like to do that?”
Fillingham said he’s seeking additional support from individuals willing to cut steel and wood, do some welding and grinding, “You know,” he added, with a laugh, “all the dirty stuff.”
Feeling like you lack experience? No worries, says Fillingham, offering a remedy. “Some of you are thinking ‘I would love to help but I don’t know how to do that kind of thing.’ No problem. We will teach you. We’re looking for a few good people.”
While some might think putting a float together is a seasonal project, think again, insists Dunlap, who explained it’s a year-round effort.
“Hundreds and hundreds of hours,” he said when asked what it takes to build and decorate a local floral masterpiece each year. “It starts in January with our design campaign. In February we submit to the tournament for approval. From February to August, we plan the build with regular meetings between the design team, the decoration team and the construction team.”
Now in his third term at the helm, Dunlap said the goal is for those on the construction side is to hand the float to decorators, getting it ready for the mass of flowers, by December 1, noting: “This means that all major welding is done, the foaming or woodwork is completed and scaffolding is in place.”
With temperatures reaching the mid-90s on Saturday, the challenge of completing a task was even more demanding on construction workers as they worked in the back parking lot of the War Memorial Building along busy Fair Oaks Avenue.
Dunlap, pleased by the progress being made, is no stranger to when it comes to the float and looks forward to the annual spectacle that welcomes in a new year.
“Like most everyone else I got sucked into it because of my kids,” said Dunlap, explaining what keeps bringing him back year after year to be apart of the float building experience. “When you hang around long enough and help a little extra, you get put in charge.”
Taking a year off here and there, Dunlap estimates he’s been part of SPTOR for about 15 years.
Along with donating over the years to Little League in town, serving as the organization’s president, combined with his float duties, Dunlap estimates he’s given approximately 25 years to the two organizations. Along the way, Dunlap considers himself fortunate to have met some of his closest friends through his service to both.
“Getting involved in the community with all that is offered is a wonderful way to meet others,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest reason I do it. This city has so many opportunities for people to get involved. SPTOR is a great one! Since we build the float throughout the year, community members can join in at any time. We could always use the help.”
In his current role as SPTOR president, he conducts monthly meetings with current board members, updates committee chairs on the latest developments from the Tournament of Roses, and puts in the necessary time under the tent, like he did last weekend, ensuring all systems are go for the float’s big rollout and 5 1/2 – mile Rose Parade journey in view of millions worldwide watching on television and thousands more taking it in live along the sidelines.
“I spend about 15-20 hours a month leading a team of amazing volunteers,” Dunlap said, talking about his commitment to the project.
The traditions of the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game date back to the late 1800s, and South Pasadena holds the distinction as having the longest running entry and the oldest constructed entirely by volunteers, joining five other self-builts in the parade. With costs continuing to rise, SPTOR schedules a variety of fundraisers throughout the year, from a golf tournament, selling See’s candy, rummage sales, and sponsorship signs, to a year-end dinner auction inside the War Memorial Building.
A second rummage sale this year is slated for September 9 and 10 at the War Memorial Building. “We encourage everyone to come out and support it,” said Dunlap. “This is the city’s float and we all take pride in the participation the parade each year. Having the community get behind us means so much to those who work on it.”
Efforts are underway to absorb the expenses of steel, wood, flowers and other associated costs in putting the city’s newest float – “Spark of Imagination” – at the starting area for the next parade on January 2. Since the Tournament of Roses never showcases the event on a Sunday, the traditional January 1 date will be moved back a day. When the first Monday of the year does come, South Pasadena hopes to continue its streak of award-winning floats. Last January, the Founder’s Trophy was won for its “Sky’s the Limit” float after the parade was cancelled on account of COVID a year earlier. In 2020, South Pasadena earned the Mayor’s Award, winning for “Victory at Last.”
“Every year we feel good and then the following year costs go up,” explained Dunlap. “In three years a bunch of roses has gone from around $20 to $50. We will be using over 20,000 roses this year. Wood has seen double to triple cost, as has steel.”
He expects the 2023 float to exceed $100,000 in total costs. “That’s why we look and appreciate the community support we receive every year,” said the SPTOR president. “It’s crucial to our success.”
Multiple welders have been busy working on the float’s deck, while a team of decorators has cut statice into some 100 buckets, with more to come. Improvements have also been made for better airflow in the driver’s compartment in the underbelly of the float.
“After the tent went up we began to ramp up our work days two nights per week and all day on Saturdays for construction on the float,” said Dunlap. “I like what I see. Everyone, as usual, is working very, very hard.”
Individuals interested in joining the construction crew are encouraged to contact Steve Fillingham at email@example.com , firstname.lastname@example.org or reach Brant Dunlap at email@example.com .