Rose Float Builders Overcoming Parade of Challenges

First published in the Oct. 1 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

On a Saturday morning, the conversation between South Pasadena Tournament of Roses volunteers revolves around pampas grass for the float. Specifically, where to find it.
One volunteer points out that some is growing outside a Wells Fargo bank. Another says it’s growing near the train station. Can they take that? Is it city property?

“We like to call ourselves self- scavengers,” decoration chair Janet Benjamin said. “Especially this year — any way we can save money, we’re trying to.”
The South Pasadena association’s float typically has a budget of about $31,000. It usually comes in under budget, but circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic have caused an unforeseen increase in costs and it’s estimated this year that the crew will be roughly $10,000 over budget.
The cost of flowers, especially roses, has risen exponentially. Benjamin estimates that a bunch of roses that once cost $14 to $18 has risen to as much as $24. The association has a relationship with a grower in Ecuador, but with logistical issues involving airlines and boats, it’s unclear if the roses will even arrive fresh and in time.

Photo by Haley Sawyer / The Review
David Martinez uses chicken wire to mold the Rose Parade float for the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association.

“There’s a lot of things in the background that it’s all questionable,” Benjamin said. “Everything is up in the air.”
Lumber prices soared during the pandemic but are now leveling out. Steel, which is essential in building the frame of the float — titled “Sky’s the Limit” — has also become costly.
Joss Rogers, construction chair, said the price of some steel, such as pencil rod, has stayed consistent because it’s manufactured in the United States. Box steel, for example, has become more expensive.
“A lot of the steel that is manufactured kind of on-demand, the cost has gone way up because the raw materials that we get to make that steel have gone up,” Rogers said. “Every time I place an order, I notice a slight change. So, every couple of weeks when I placed the order for steel, I have to get a quote because I don’t know what to expect.”
The association has reached out to nearby manufacturers for steel donations. But residents don’t have to own a business to get involved with the cause.
There are materials in South Pasadena’s backyard that can be collected and donated by residents. Pampas grass is in demand, as are liquidambar pods — nicknamed “pokey balls” — for decoration on the float.
Checking the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Facebook page is the best way to stay updated on what the crew is looking for. Volunteers are also welcome to come to the site behind the War Memorial Building on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:30-9:30 p.m. or on Saturday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
All abilities are welcome, and on-site training will be offered, whether it’s in florals or construction.
“It’s a little bit more intimidating for volunteers to show up and pick up a welder,” Rogers said. “I am always surprised by people when they realize that they can come here and learn some skills that they never otherwise would get exposed to.”
Volunteering or donating material is a chance to be a part of the oldest self-built float in the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. The parade produced by the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association reached 37 million individual television viewers nationally in 2019, according to the Nielsen Co.
“Every year when that float shows up and gets all the attention that it gets,” Rogers said, “it’s the one kind of, like, public exposure of our town. An opportunity for us to stand on a world stage and kind of tell people who we are.”