In mid-January, when much of the country is digging out from under a second or third snowstorm, the historic Southern California city of Pasadena and its 935 Tournament of Roses volunteers and staff are already well into preparations for the 2014 Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game. Devoting 80,000-plus volunteer work hours each year, this fanatically dedicated group pulls a spectacle out of its collective hat each second day of January.

Imagine organizing more than 300 riders and horses, 22 marching bands from all over the world, a queen and her court, and a grand marshal, who joins an elite group that includes Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, Sandra Day O’Connor, Kermit the Frog and Shirley Temple. And, of course, the ne plus ultra, the spectacularly imaginative all-flower floats.

Float construction begins right after the previous parade ends, with entries by invitation and application. An idea and design is submitted to the organization and, if passed through committee, is sent along to one of an approved list of float builders. Average cost is $200,000, although many run more. First, a framework of steel and chicken wire is constructed, and then sprayed with a polyvinyl material and painted in the colors of flowers to be placed on the float. Meticulous care is given to the construction of the float to ensure the safety of not only those riding on the float, but of the hundreds of thousands of viewers lining the arduous 5 ½-mile parade route.

One by one, volunteers glue flowers, leaves, seeds and bark onto the frame, with the most fragile of flowers placed in individual vials of water. All in all, the floats require 600 tons of steel, 5,000 gallons of glue and 18 million flowers. This is a ‘green’ operation with almost every flower being reused to make potpourri—a practice in place for the last 20 years, long before ‘green’ became widespread.

The president of the Tournament of Roses (TOR) oversees all this hustle and bustle from the magnificent Tournament headquarters housed in the Wrigley Mansion. Donated by the widow of William Wrigley following her death in 1958, the stately Italian Renaissance mansion is open to the public. The second floor of the mansion is dedicated to the history of past Rose Bowl Parades and Games, while the gardens contain more than 1,500 rose varieties. The Wrigley family loved to watch the Rose Parade unfold right in front of their home, in a location known for years as Millionaire’s Row.

It is the responsibility and delight of the TOR president to select the theme and grand Marshal for the parade. One of the most popular choices in recent times was Captain Chesley Sullenberger III, better known as ‘Sully,’ the ‘Hero of the Hudson.’ Prior to the Rose Bowl game, his motivational talk in the locker room of both opposing teams was said to have made a powerful impact on each of the players. “You could have heard a pin drop,” several of them said.

Which brings me to the game…the ‘granddaddy of them all.’ The first game in 1902 saw the University of Michigan rout Stanford University 49-0. The score was so lopsided, the crowd so overly excited, they abandoned football until 1916. Ask any collegiate football fan and they’ll tell you it’s been going strong ever since.

Ask any Southern Californian, and they’ll tell you that the only place to stay in Pasadena is The Langham Huntington. For more than 100 years, it has hosted discriminating travelers, reflecting the history and flair that distinguishes the Rose Parade phenomenon. Recipient of numerous accolades and awards, it is top-notch in every category, taking particular pride in its 11,000-square-foot spa of wellness. California cuisine in The Royce by Chef David Feau, eclectic wine selections and innovative cocktails in The Tap Room complement the tapas menu, and comfort dining on The Terrace will make you not want to leave this beautiful 23-acre property nestled beneath the San Gabriel Mountain foothills.

And, of course, there are the rose gardens…everything indeed is coming up roses in Pasadena.

Native St. Louisan, Judy Crowell, has been a Ladue News travel writer for years, traveling the world but preferring to chronicle the sublime beauty of America, “from sea to shining sea”.

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