It’s a year-round task, starting in January with the selection of a theme for South Pasadena’s float, followed by construction over the course of the year, dominated by decorating of flowers at the end of December as hundreds of volunteers lend a hand to the city’s floral masterpiece in the annual Rose Parade.
By the time the new year arrives, it never fails, those closest to the action, the core group at the center of construction and decoration – namely Chris Colburn and Janet Benjamin – who lead the charge, respectively, for the city of South Pasadena’s annual entry, show a tear or two, rejoicing over another major accomplishment.
A teary-eyed and exhausted Colburn was glad to make it happen, staying up 27 straight hours down the stretch working on the city’s entry – “Three Little Birds” – before Tournament of Roses officials came around Monday morning to view South Pasadena’s float site at 7 a.m. for the final judging.
His dedication, along with others, paid off handsomely as the city’s float won the hearts of those inspecting it carefully, TOR [Tournament of Roses] personnel scrutinizing every inch of it in a parking lot behind the War Memorial Building just 25 hours prior to the start of Tuesday’s 130th Rose Parade.
Some TOR members were toe-tappin’ to Bob Marley’s lively “Three Little Birds” hit song blaring from the float as they watched the animation on board work to perfection. It was a good sign to SPTOR committee members that the city’s entry just might be an award winner. The birds sang while flapping their wings, as judges smiled, one departing while giving an appreciative thumbs up.
Colburn held back tears until they left the scene offering, a quiet, “It’s pretty incredible.”
Indeed it was, especially in the eyes of Tournament judges who reinforced what they saw hours earlier by honoring South Pasadena’s entry in the 2019 parade Tuesday morning prior to the start with the prestigious Mayor Award, going to the most outstanding float from a participating city.
When the 6 a.m. announcement came from Tournament of Roses officials, a loud roar was heard from the South Pasadena contingent, those who labored for months, excited by the big news.
“Ecstatic,” said Colburn after hugging local float builders around him. “There’s nothing out there that can beat this feeling.”
Colburn says it’s special when a float like the one South Pasadena completed can top those constructed by commercial builders. “We can go up against the big boys and kick their tail,” he said. “A bunch of amateurs knocked it out of the park.”
SPTOR [South Pasadena Tournament of Roses] Decoration Chair Janet Benjamin said “everyone put in such a huge effort this year. It made our jobs easy. The volunteers were just incredible. We do this for the community and I couldn’t be more proud of our float.”
Unfortunately, for the local float builders, the anticipated worldwide television audience didn’t see much of it. The parade was marred near the finish as the Chinese American Heritage Foundation float, entitled “Harmony Through Union,” broke down, igniting a small fire just ahead of South Pasadena’s entry and causing a 25-minute delay.
Their float had to be towed to the finish and by the time South Pasadena’s floral display set out on its path down Colorado Boulevard much of the crowd had dispersed, believing the parade was over.
South Pasadena’s entry was among several floats and bands backed up behind the stalled float as confused spectators spilled onto the parade route. After the delay, the city’s float rolled safely to the finish line long after most of the crowd had left the area.
According to CBS2, Fiesta Floats, the company responsible for constructing the float, blamed the Chinese American Heritage Foundation float’s failure on an electrical issue resulting in the fire, and explained that it was halted as a safety precaution.
“We will be meeting with tournament officials in a few days to go over today’s parade,” said South Pasadena Tournament of Roses President Courtney Dunlap, not discounting for a minute the feeling she has for those who toiled the past 12 months on the city’s float, recognizing the major award it coveted. “I’m super excited,” said Dunlap. “It’s awesome. We knew we were a banner-winning float this year and we’re really proud. Having a banner in front of our float is the best feeling.”
It was no easy accomplishment. A giant tent at the float site went up on August 1 and soon after the welding by the construction crew, directed by Colburn, was underway.
“Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork, is what it took,” noted the construction chair, who worked with a small group of six dedicated individuals, and a little extra help in the final months, who put in countless hours working day and night, including many weekends, before the float was finished with the help of volunteer decorators in the final weeks leading up to New Year’s Day extravaganza.
“This is the best floral design I’ve ever seen,” insisted Colburn. “It’s absolutely amazing.”
Thousands of roses, gladiolas, daisies, orchids and eucalyptus bark, the latter collected throughout the city, lined the float the construction chair called “incredible,” adding, “The way colors vibrate off each other is just fantastic.”
South Pasadena City Council member Robert Joe pointed out the animated features, Marley’s upbeat song and impressive, beautiful flowers on board.
Fellow council member Dr. Richard Schneider said the music by Marley, “one of the world’s premiere musicians, gives South Pasadena’s float something special, something the other floats don’t have. It realty ties together the theme of the floral display.”
Joss Rogers, the animator on board the float, joining driver James Jontz in the underbelly of the city entry as it rolled down the 5-½ mile route, said he was “overblown” when he first set eyes on the finished product.
Now that hundreds of hours working on the are behind him, a weary James, who also put in an all-nighter in those hours leading up to the start of the parade added: “There’s amazing amounts of work in finishing the float,” noted Jontz. “It’s a crazy amount of work. I’m tired.”
The float’s design and rendering was the creation of Mike Mera, who’s said the thought process behind the city’s float was “a message of optimism, of happiness…just Bob Marley’s lyrics say, ‘Every day is a new day to start fresh, be kind to others and to yourself.’ That was the overall theme and concept that drove the design.”
The float far exceeded his expectations, noting that the construction and decorating team “really brought my sketch to life,” he said, before thanking those who worked on it for months. “It was a really fun experience.”
Benjamin, a seasoned float veteran, said she couldn’t put into words what her team of decorators meant to her. “We put in some monster hours. Everyone chipped in. The volunteers came from all over the United States thanking us for allowing them to decorate. They don’t understand we can’t do it without them.”
True to form, when the float came out for final judging Monday “we all kind of cried,” said Benjamin. “We couldn’t be more proud of what we did.”
Giving it a long look, she gushed, “She’s gorgeous.”
Benjamin then wiped her eyes, showing complete happiness in seeing what she described as one of the city’s best-ever floats.
Yes, indeed, it brought tears.
“We cry every year,” Benjamin admitted, laughing at the thought. “It’s what we do.”