Local Hometown "Self-Built" City Floats Proudly Take Their Place in Lineup Filled with Big Budget Corporate Efforts

Published : Sunday, December 31, 2017 | 6:27 AM

A cluster of local communities keeps alive a great tradition of volunteer-designed and constructed “self-built” Rose Parade floats, with some of those towns and small cities maintaining their own Tournament of Roses organization just so the community can take part in the Rose Parade every year.

Sierra Madre, South Pasadena, and La Cañada Flintridge have been building their own themed floats every year with the financial help of local donors and the manual labor of local volunteers – and their home-grown floats have gone head-to-head with the multi-million dollar efforts of major corporations seen on TV every year.

South Pasadena boasts of sponsoring the “oldest self-built float” in the Rose Parade. The float-building effort is led by the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee whose mission is “to create positive exposure for our city through participation in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, which will elevate our community and our organization by using principles based on voluntarism for the successful completion of our annual floral entry,” according to the Committee.

Sierra Madre, the smallest city to enter a float in the parade, is also one of the oldest participants in the Tournament of Roses, having entered a float since 1917. Today, the Sierra Madre Rose Float Association designs, builds, decorates and completely funds the community’s annual entry.

“During this last week, we’ve had upwards of 500 volunteers,” says Kay Sappington, Head of Decoration at the Association, as she describes current work on their float. “I have some very seasoned decorators who will handle it very well and I think that’s probably the most exciting. I never thought I’d end up doing this, no. I’ve always wanted to deco because my birthday is January 1st. So I did it at home and said, ‘Oh yes, I want to do that,’ but I didn’t know they were self-built back then. And now I just encourage people really to go to the self-builds a lot because it’s a more family kind of feeling and you usually get a good experience.”

Volunteering for Sierra Madre’s float, Tennessee native Jacque Page says she grew up watching the Rose Parade and had wanted to come out and help decorate. Eleven years ago, she got the invitation, and has been coming back every year since.
“I never thought I’d keep coming back though, but they just embrace you and you pretend like one big family,” Page says. “But the really cool thing is when it leaves here to make its journey down the parade place. When it comes out of the barn, that final time to go down, it doesn’t matter; you just sit there and you go, ‘Aww, that’s our float.’ And you feel like you’re really a part of it and they make you feel like that.”
The La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association was established in 1978. On New Year’s Day 1979, the group rolled out their first float called “Horse Play” for the theme Wonderful World of Sports, and won First Place for cities of 20,000 to 30,000 population.
Chuck Terhune, the Association’s president, said they’ve taken the past six months to build their float, and will be putting on the flowers last.
“So we don’t want them to wilt. You can’t put them on until the very end. So that’s where we are, all the animation is done and checked. It’s just a matter of making it look pretty,” Terhune says. “We usually have between a thousand to 1,200 people come through each year, depending on the size of the shifts.”
Terhune says just looking at the float taking shape is fun enough.
“It’s a lot of fun to get the community to figure out what kind of float they want next year based on the theme, come up with a good concept from their ideas, and then make it actually funny and whimsical and sometimes shocking, because that’s really important for us,” he says. “Just letting it go out the gate when it goes on convoy to the parade is really the payback. This is pandemonium right now as we speak.”
In May, La Canada Flintridge hosted the annual Self-Built Floats barbecue at Los Angeles County Fire Camp 2, a training facility tucked between the Jet Propulsion Lab and Hahamongna Watershed Park, according to the Rose Examiner. Six self-built float associations take turns hosting the potluck get-together to share stories.
Aside from South Pasadena, Sierra Madre and La Canada Flintridge, the other self-build associations are the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association, Cal Poly Universities, and the Downey Rose Float Association.

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