South Pasadena Tournament of Roses takes us through the ABCs of Decorating a Rose Parade Float:
Before a float can be decorated, it must be designed and built.
A: Approve Design & Plan
Everything starts once its design had been approved. Work began on the 2024 South Pasadena “Boogie Fever” float this summer. This was six months before the city’s self-built float will travel along Colorado Boulevard in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day.
Self-built means work is done totally by volunteers. Only five other entries of this type are in the parade. South Pasadena’s has been in Pasadena’s iconic parade longer than any other.
The float is under construction in a large tent at the War Memorial Building at 435 Fair Oaks Ave.
Members of the “construction battalion” of the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee are building the framework, characters and features for the float. They use steel and wood primarily. They build atop a basic chassis that is reused annually.
At the same time, the “deco squad” is also busy at work. This team turns the steel and wood framework into art.
“We have been working on colors, different materials and products,” said Janet Benjamin, deco chair. She was referring to discussions that she and floral designer Chris Metcalf had been having.
“We have a design at this point,” she said, “and 90% of the product has been figured out as far as where it is going to go and how it is going to be put on.” All materials must be natural and organic, she said.
Metcalf said that he carefully assesses how much floral material to order. To determine the number of dried mums needed, for example, he measures how many heads of mums are in a square foot. Then he calculates the number that will be needed to cover particular sections of the float. His calculations must be precise, he said.
“You never, never want to run out of flowers,” Metcalf added. “I aim for 10% over.” The final floral order is due by the end of October.
B: Begin Prepping, Layering
Deco volunteers are now working every Saturday. They will add Sundays to their schedule in November.
The construction team has already created some of the individual features in steel, and these can be worked on now by the deco squad. For example, the three drums played by the orangutang are not permanently affixed to the float. Deco volunteers “screen them,” Benjamin said. “This involves covering the steel structure with a window-screen like material,” she explained. Then they paint and create patterns on the pieces, she said.
One important job for deco volunteers is cutting blossoms from dried flowers, such as statice, into tiny pieces. They collect them and other organic materials, such as beans and petals, in special boxes donated by Grocery Outlet. At the right time in December, they will glue them to the float with tweezers.
Volunteers count thousands of vials, which are miniature vase-like receptacles. They are filled with water, and the fresh flowers are inserted into them just prior to being placed on the float. After the count, Benjamin will know how many more to order.
They wash the vials to eliminate substances that could prove deadly to fresh blooms.
By late October, floral designer Metcalf says that the base of the float will be completed.
“We then lay down chicken wire and old sheets, and we spray them with foam,” he said. The community may be called on to donate old bed sheets for this stage, he added.
Next is a cocooning process — liquid latex sprayed out of a paint gun.
“It fills in the spaces,” Metcalf explained.
In November, volunteers start adding dried materials to “Boogie Fever.” This year, these include wheat, sycamore leaves, bark, seeds, buffalo grass, rice and popcorn.
C: Crunch Time Means All Hands on Deck
In December, when construction is complete, the deco squad’s work intensifies. Flowers arrive between Dec 23-28. After cutting their stems, volunteers place the flowers in buckets of fresh water. They store the containers in a refrigerated trailer, courtesy of the South Pasadena Bristol Farms Grocery Store.
From Dec. 26-28, volunteers work from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. in four-hour shifts, Benjamin said.
“We start ‘petaling’ on the 28th,” she said. This involves breaking each flower apart and placing its petals on the float petal by petal, she explained.
“Everything depends on the weather, however,” she said. “If it’s hot, we don’t start until the 29th. Otherwise, they’ll dry out.”
Up until Dec. 31, the crew cuts flower stems again, inserts them into water-filled vials, and places them on the float according to the design. At that point, volunteers are working around the clock to finish in time, she said.
On Dec. 31, work stops. Tournament of Roses parade judges arrive to rank the float for consideration to receive various awards. Volunteers then assist in the clean-up effort.
That night, a driver takes the now-magnificent-looking float to Orange Grove Boulevard. That is where floats line up for the New Year’s Day parade that starts at 8:00 a.m.
By then, volunteers are exhausted but ecstatic, Benjamin said. Some spend the night camping out on the street with the float.
Many return the following year to create another beautiful entry.
How to Join the South Pas Float’s Deco Squad
Decoration: Under the Decoration category, click on More Info. Read the Rules and Guidelines. Click on Volunteer Sign-Up Form to register for four-hour shifts. Registration is strongly recommended, but walk-ups will be accommodated if possible. Youth 10-14 must be accompanied by an adult. Community service hours are available for students, scouts. For questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Construction: email email@example.com .
Review parking guidelines at sptor.org .