Published : Wednesday, December 26, 2018 | 6:21 AM
The Rose Parade in Pasadena may have an aristocratic heritage dating back more than a hundred years, but it has progressively grown into one of the most thoroughly democratic celebrations ever since — and that could be part of the drawing power of an event which has long been called America’s New Year Celebration and continues to pull in millions of television viewers worldwide.
The Valley Hunt Club, an exclusive social club formed by an elite group of new arrivals to Pasadena around 1888, launched the first Tournament of Roses in 1890 as a floral parade held before various sporting events at what was then Sportsman’s Park on Walnut Street east of Los Robles Avenue.
As they planned the first parade, Professor Charles F. Holder, founder of the Valley Hunt Club, noted that as New Yorkers were buried in snow that time of the year: “Here, our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear.”
“Let’s hold a festival to tell people about paradise,” Holder said.
It was to be a day to show the world that as other places in the U.S. were buried in snow that time of the year, flowers were in bloom in Pasadena and oranges were beginning to bear fruit in all of Southern California.
During the parade, members of the club decorated their horse-drawn carriages with freshly-picked flowers and paraded on Colorado Blvd. to the tournament grounds. The members led their greyhounds on leashes, and boys and girls followed behind on their ponies.
The first Tournament was a success with 250 spectators, which included a large number of guests staying at the Raymond Hotel.
After the parade, club members and their families played foot races, polo, and a game of tug-of-war that attracted about 2,000. Seeing the scores of flowers on display in the parade and throughout the games, Professor Holder decided to suggest the name “Tournament of Roses.”
By 1895, the event had become too large for the Valley Hunt Club to handle, and so the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association was formed. By 1900, the lot on which the activities were held had been renamed Tournament Park, a large open area directly adjacent to Caltech.
Activities soon included ostrich races, bronco-busting demonstrations, and an odd novelty race between a camel and an elephant. The elephant won that race.
Soon, viewing stands were built along the parade route and newspapers in Eastern Seaboard cities started to take notice of the event.
Every year since then, the Rose Parade has become a festival to showcase the warm California climate, attracting viewers from all over. A chariot race was added years later, and in 1902, the first Rose Bowl game was played after the parade.
In this initial game, Stanford suffered a crushing loss to the University of Michigan, and no other New Year’s Day Rose Bowl game was to follow until 1916. A new stadium for the event was built seven years later, in 1923, and quickly earned the nickname “The Rose Bowl.”
The game has sold out every year since 1947.
Now, the floats that make up the Rose Parade are a marvel of state-of-the-art technology that’s beneath all-natural flowers and fruit and seeds that float makers decorate their floats with.
Visitors, young and old, from all walks of life, have always longed to experience the beauty of the floats, along with the spirited marching bands and high-stepping equestrian units through the 5.5-mile route down Colorado Boulevard.
The parade, however, has not been without its own controversies.
In 1992, when the parade featured 60 floats, 22 marching bands nd 29 equestrian teams, native Americans protested against the parade’s theme, “Voyages of Discovery,” that paid tribute to Christopher Columbus and the 500th anniversary of the New World. They particularly protested the selection of Cristobal Colon, a Spanish nobleman who’s a direct descendant of Columbus, as guest during the event.
The parade also featured the first Grand Marshall riding on horseback, Colorado Congressman Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who was native American.
During the 2008 Rose Parade, hundreds of protesters called for the impeachment of President George Bush, and human rights activists demonstrated against a float promoting the summer Olympics in Beijing.
In 2011, the National Tribal Horse Coalition protested a Madeleine Pickens-sponsored float depicting a herd of wild mustangs galloping down the Rose Parade route, and called on the leadership of the Rose Bowl Parade and any and all other decision-makers to prevent this float from being in the parade as it was seen as an abuse of the reputation of the North American Indian.
In 2012, several hundred Occupy protesters marched along Colorado Boulevard during the 123rd Tournament of Roses Parade in a prearranged demonstration.
In 2014, a gay Los Angeles couple exchanged wedding vows atop a flower-covered float trundling through Pasadena, drawing more protests. The float was sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
So much has changed since that first Rose Parade in 1890. Coverage of the parade and the Rose Bowl Game used to be carried coast to coast only on the radio, but now millions all over the world are able to view both events on television. In recent years, the onset of the internet and streaming media has enabled millions more to watch the events on demand – when they want to, where they want to.
The parade and the Rose Bowl game have also become highly commercialized, with millions of dollars in advertising circulating across all media. But the underlying motive that encouraged the first planners of the Tournament of Roses to hold that first parade has remained.
This part of the West Coast remains warm and fruitful and flowery this time of year, and millions of eyes still turn to Pasadena on New Year’s Day.