Anyone who lives or works in the Pasadena area knows that New Year’s Day is all about roses—the annual Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl Game, to be precise. Visitors flock into town to enjoy the festivities (and the famous winter sunshine), teenagers deploy sleeping bags along Colorado Blvd. to stake out the best curbside viewing, marching bands start tuning up, and football fans get ready to cheer on their teams. Here at The Huntington, docents and staff are kept extra busy on the last few days of the year, welcoming out-of-town visitors and giving guided tours. Many of those same employees and volunteers will be among the crowd in the grandstands on Jan. 1, enjoying the floral spectacle as the 125th Tournament of Roses Parade gets under way.
But The Huntington doesn’t always take a mere spectator’s role in the Rose Parade. In 1969, The Huntington had its own flower-decked likeness in the parade, sponsored by the city of San Marino in honor of the 50th anniversary of the institution’s founding. The float included floral depictions of Pinkie and Blue Boy, an imposing replica of the Library facade, and perhaps the most unusual manuscript facsimile ever undertaken. According to the Huntington annual report of that year, the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was reproduced “on such a mammoth scale and with such precision (in colored seed!) that any true adepts at Middle English paleography could easily have read the manuscript.” Not surprisingly, the float won the Grand Marshal’s Trophy that year.
This year, 24 floats will receive awards for special merit, and one of the three individuals chosen to serve as a judge is James Folsom, The Huntington’s Telleen/Jorgensen Director of the Botanical Gardens. Folsom shares the judging duties with two other experts: event producer Cheryl Cecchetto and floral designer René van Rems. Their diverse backgrounds and professional skills will complement each other as the three-member panel evaluates each entry based on criteria such as creative design, floral craftsmanship, artistic merit, computerized animation, thematic interpretation, floral and color presentation, and dramatic impact.
Folsom isn’t the first Huntington expert to be selected as a Rose Parade judge. Clair Martin, curator emeritus of the Rose Garden, helped choose the winning floats for the 1999 parade. Jessica Smith, The Huntington’s Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art, served as a judge in 2008.
“I grew up on the East Coast watching the parade on television every year, and it was a real thrill to have had the opportunity to see all the floats up close—and on both sides,” says Smith. “The labor and attention to detail that goes into the floats is absolutely staggering. My fellow judges and I had such a good time, we were advocating for life-time appointments.”
Judges have two opportunities to view the floats at the facilities where the flower-covered vehicles are fabricated and decorated. The second viewing is on the morning of New Year’s Eve, when all the botanical materials have been applied and the animatronic components can be demonstrated. Later that night, the floats will be moved in convoys to the parade formation area where they will line up in readiness to roll down Colorado Blvd. bright and early on New Year’s Day.
Which floats will take top honors this year? We won’t have to wait much longer to find out. But one thing is certain: the really big winners on Jan. 1 will be everyone who loves a good old fashioned parade.
For a sneak peek at some of the 2014 Rose Parade floats—and a chance to pick a few favorites of your own—check out the artists’ renderings on these float builders’ websites:
Phoenix Decorating Company
Fiesta Parade Floats
Cal Poly Universities (Pomona and San Luis Obispo)
Burbank Tournament of Roses Association
Downey Rose Float Association
La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association
Sierra Madre Rose Float Association
South Pasadena Tournament of Roses
Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator at The Huntington.