It is Monday, the day before New Year's Eve, and everything is coming up roses. The 2020 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. Today, Yours Truly would like take a look at the 131 year strong event and its unique place in Southern California. Sit back and deeply inhale the sweet scent as we take a rose petal strewn trip down memory lane.
In 1890, the members of the Valley Hunt Club, led by Charles Frederick Holder, sponsored the very first Tournament of Roses. Inspired by the abundance of flowers in the middle of winter inspired the club to add a parade before the competition component, where entrants would adorn carriages with colorful flora. Professor Charles Holder announced at a club meeting,
In New York, people are buried in snow,.... Here our flower are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let's hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise (tournmentofroses.com; date accessed Dec. 30, 2019).
|One of the first Rose Parade floats|
The paradise of Prof. Holder was the idyllic Southern California of flowers blooming all-year-round and ripe oranges ready to be eaten straight off the tree. This was the image that civic boosters promoted in order to lure Mid-westerners and East Coast native to the West Coast with pictures of Mediterranean-style resort living and 365 days of sunshine. Interestingly, this beloved annual tradition had aristocratic origins.
The Valley Hunt Club, still based in Pasadena on Orange Grove Avenue, came together in 1888 around a group of affluent recent arrivals from the East Coast. Prof. Holder, a naturalist and a principal club founder, moved from Massachusetts to find relief from tuberculosis (kcet.org; Dec. 28, 2011; date accessed Dec. 30, 2019). Many of the club's original members, like Prof. Holder, were affluent East Coast natives; Pasadena's earliest residents (Ibid; June 16, 2012)--middle-class transplants from the Midwest--were noticeably absent from the club's membership rolls. What was Pasadena's attraction.
Officially, Pasadena was born, incorporated on June 19, 1886 (Ibid). The city is located ten miles northeast of Downtown Los Angeles, at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. However, the city traces its roots to the 1875 founding of the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association, an agricultural cooperative created out of Rancho San Pasqual (Ibid). A colony of Indiana orange growers flourished and its success nourished the growth of a settlement on the east side, centered around the intersection Colorado and Fair Oaks Boulevards. The name of the city is derived the Ojibwa (Chippwa) word for of the valley--Pasadena's nickname was Crown of the Valley (Ibid).
The garden-like locale and warm Mediterranean climate was a powerful magnet for upscale tourists and health-seekers from the East Coasts, especially during the winter. Many of the tourist later came back to stay for good, including Lucretia Garfield (firstladies.org; date accessed Dec. 30, 2019), the widow of 20th President James Garfield and the sons of abolitionist John Brown.
|Early examples of Arts and Crafts architecture in Pasadena|
One of best-known residents, Thaddeus Lowe, retired to Pasadena in 1890 after a vibrant career as a scientist and chief aeronaut of the Union Army's Balloon Corps (washingtonpost.com; June 11, 2011; date accessed Dec. 30, 2019) during the Civil War. In the years that followed, Mr. Lowe would enhance Pasadena's role as a resort destination with his Mount Lowe Railway, that ferried visitors high about the plains of Pasadena to the crest of the San Gabriel Mountans (kcet.org; June 16, 2012).
Many of the newly arrived residents brought with them the conventions of patrician East Coast, giving the newly incorporated city a cultivated veneer. The Valley Hunt Club organized rabbit and fox hunts in the Arroyo Seco in the English tradition and social events (Ibid). One of the club's annual events was the Tournament of Roses, morphing into the New Year's Day Rose Parade (Ibid).
|Members of the Valley Hunt Club c.1889|
Photo courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection
Professor Charles Holder and fellow member Frances F. Rowland first proposed the Tournament of Roses in 1889 as a way to advertise the joys of living in Pasadena to friends back east. That year, the city really needed all the promotion it could get. The early 1880s brought a large influx of new residents but by 1888, boom turned to bust as plummeting property values sent many newcomers looking elsewhere. Prof. Holder and Mr. Rowland were inspired by the battle of the flowers at the Nice Carnival, thinking that a similar exhibition in Pasadena would highlight the city's Mediterranean-like environment and maybe encourage a new cycle of health and leisure seekers (Ibid; Jan. 2012). Be that as it may, even the best laid plans have a way of going array. Although the weather refused to cooperate, Rose Parade viewers were treated to an image of sunny Southern California.
|Collector citrus labels|
Showcasing the moderate weather was on of the goals of the parade's founders. The Tournament of Roses was designed as a wintertime diversion for friends and family still stuck on the snowy East Coast and Midwest. The day's events were: A parade of carriages in the morning followed by athletic events in the afternoon. Eventually a football game, the Rose Bowl, replaced the New Year's feats of strength. The Tournament of Roses also played a critical role in shaping the story of Southern California.
In 1890, the first year of the tournament, Los Angeles' population of 50,395 (Ibid). Regional boosters and real agents were able to sell the narrative of a sun drenched idyll to people back East. Their successful promotion campaign grew the population to 1.2 million by 1930--about a 2,500 percent increase over a forty year period (Ibid).
Abundant blooms were not the only selling point, the citrus groves played a key role in promoting Southern California to the rest of the country. Southern California tourism, real estate and business interests used the humble orange to promote the region as an "agrarian paradise" (Ibid). The labels, now collectors' items, depicted images of "tranquil settings and reinforced the region's reputation for sunny skies" (Ibid).
In the years that followed, the Tournament of Roses gained popularity and the floats got more elaborate. As it grew from a private event to a civic festival, the tournament organizers opened up participation to more people from different social strata. By 1895, the tournament outgrew the Valley Hunt Club and the annual costs of mounting the event strained its finances. Although it continues to remain actively involved, the club turned over responsibility for the annual event in November 1895 to the Tournament of Roses Association (Ibid: Dec. 28, 2011).
|The 2020 Tournament of Roses grand marshals|
Here is hoping your 2020 brings you plenty of sweet smelling roses and no thorns. Happy New Year to one and all. Next week, it is back to our regular program.