When it was over – when the engines that powered South Pasadena’s float in Wednesday’s 131st Tournament of Roses Parade were finally turned off just after 11 a.m. at Victory Park in Pasadena – Diane Giles was able to exhale.
She was not the only one.
“We made it!’’ Giles, a member of the South Pas Tournament of Roses Committee (SPTOR) construction crew, said with a laugh and big, relieved smile.
This was about three hours after the South Pas float had set off, in perfect weather, on its 5.5-mile journey along Colorado Boulevard before an estimated 500,000 spectators, plus an international TV audience of millions more.
“It’s amazing,’’ Giles said. “Seeing (the South Pas float evolve) from literally just a few pieces of metal to this. All the people who worked on it, spending hours and hours, it’s just amazing.”
Giles was one of “over 1,000 people” who had a hand in building this year’s South Pas float, from design to decoration to construction, starting a full year ago, according to Courtney Dunlap, who is ending her two-year term as SPTOR president.
The theme of this year’s float was “Victory At Last,” honoring the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote for the first time.
The South Pas float pulled off a victory of its own, too — winning the Mayor Award for “most outstanding float from a participating city” for a second straight year. Tournament of Roses judges had visited the float’s construction site at the War Memorial Building on Tuesday morning, literally just minutes after the last flowers were added and the final, finishing touches were applied.
“We got it done just under the wire,” James Jontz, a member of the construction crew, said Wednesday.
Added Andrew Hunter, another construction crew member: “It was interesting to see (the float) develop over time, especially the last two days, when it comes alive with all the flowers.”
Indeed, all that last-minute prep work — capping months of labor by those many South Pas hands — left everybody equal parts exhausted and elated.
“I’m looking forward to getting home to bed,” said Jontz, who estimated he got a combined six hours of sleep over the previous three nights, pulling an all-nighter on one of them.
Dunlap, who has volunteered in some capacity for 20 years, was another who worked marathon stretches in recent days to get the float ready for its big spotlight.
“Every year the tiredness doesn’t compare to the joy and honor I experience to be the president of such a great organization in my hometown,’’ Dunlap said.
Lisa Henderson, a local architect who worked the past seven years on the decorating committee and this year added construction duties to her workload, is a marathon runner who likened the prep work that goes into building the float to training for those 26.2-mile races.
Both Giles and Henderson also served as “spotters” on the left and right sides of the float’s cramped cockpit, helping driver Steve Fillingham navigate as he peered through a tiny front window.
“It’s kind of in a weird way like training for a marathon,” Henderson said of all the prep. “It takes a lot of commitment, and so much of it had to be done in the last few days.”
But the finished product that rolled along Colorado Boulevard surely reflected all that hard work, all that commitment and all that love.
One of two floats in the parade that commemorated the centenary of the 19th Amendment, the South Pas entry’s centerpiece was a giant, feathered paper mache purple hat, in the style and color that women wore back in 1920 as they marched off to vote in a presidential election that would send Warren Harding to the White House.
The hat featured a ribboned button with the words “Voting Rights For Women’’ -— a slogan that suffragists of the day used as they fought the uphill battle for a voice in their own country.
“They endured so much,” Rep. Judy Chu, who rode in the Chinese American Heritage Foundation’s float, 18 places ahead of the South Pas float, told the Review.
At the rear of the South Pas float was a giant ballot box marked “1920 Presidential Election,” with a couple of jumbo-sized ballots sticking out of the top. There was also a huge button on a scroll toward the front of the float reading, “Your Voice, Your Vote,” along with the slogan “Victory At Last” on the front bumper. And on the tailgate, another slogan reading, “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!”
(Just how long a way was demonstrated very early in Wednesday’s festivities, with the flyover of a U.S. Air Force B2 Stealth bomber … piloted by Lt. Col. Nicola Polidor, the first female pilot to handle those duties.)
And, of course, the South Pas float featured flowers. About 14,000 of them in all, including hydrangeas, lilies, mums, carnations, daisies and roses — 26 varieties of roses. Each flower was affixed to the float individually in its own water-filled vial, each placed at the last minute to ensure a fresh and vibrant look.
Completing the 1920s theme was music — ragtime composer Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.”
In all, Dunlap estimated the float cost about $100,000 to build, all of it privately raised, much from the annual Dec. 29 “Crunch Time” party at the War Memorial. South Pas has been constructing and decorating its own floats since 1893, making it the oldest self-built float in the parade.
Beyond the float, there was a distinct South Pas flavor to the whole day’s festivities -— the theme of which was, “The Power of Hope.”
Laura Farber, a South Pas resident, was this year’s president of the Tournament of Roses Association, the first Latina to hold that distinction. She chose that “Power of Hope” theme.
“What I love about this theme is that it’s so positive and that it brings the community together at a time when we’re very divided as a country and as a world,” Farber said.
In addition, Cole Fox, a senior at South Pas High School, was one of seven young women to serve on the parade’s “Royal Court,” with a float of their own.
“Being a member of this court means the world to me,’’ Fox told the Review back in October, when she was chosen from among 25 finalists for the honor. “I get to represent South Pasadena, my favorite city in the whole world.’’
This year’s parade also highlighted diversity, with three Latina grand marshals: Showbiz legend Rita Moreno, Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez and actress Gina Torres, along with the East L.A. rock band Los Lobos; Dodgers Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin; actress Sonia Manzano (“Maria” on “Sesame Street); and astronaut Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina in space.
In all, there were some 90 parade entries — including floats, marching bands, equestrian displays and other acts. They came from all around the globe, including Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, El Salvador and Denmark. There was also a float from the Sikh American Float Foundation.
It all came off pretty much without a glitch. Pasadena Police reported just five arrests around the parade, and only one float — representing the UPS Store — broke down and had to be towed along the route.
That was a contrast to last year, when the Chinese American Heritage Foundation’s float caught fire — delaying matters to such a degree that the South Pas float and other entries lined up behind the smoking float were not featured on television.
There was no such bad luck for the South Pas entry this year. This year, all the world got to see “Victory At Last” … the culmination of a year of hard work and dedication by thousands of South Pas volunteers.
“It’s a sense of relief and accomplishment,” said Fillingham.
More photos of the 131st Tournament of Roses Parade can be found in our 2020 Tournament of Roses Parade Photo Gallery.