The Madeleine Brand Show

The Madeleine Brand Show is a daily, two-hour program that looks at news and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by Madeleine Brand

Rose Parade 2012: Wave hello to one float and goodbye to another

by Shereen Marisol Meraji | The Madeleine Brand Show

The city of West Covina's 2010 rose float was a tribute to the Tuskegee airmen. The float was designed by Charisma Floats. Two of the portraits from the side of the float were acquired by the Smithsonian. Katie Rodriguez

Pasadena Rose Parade volunteers are working long hours this week to put finishing touches on their elaborate floats. Forty-five floats will make their way down Colorado Boulevard January 2. Many of the float sponsors have been with the parade for years, but there's a handful of newcomers in the rosebud-studded crowd and a few float sponsors that won't be returning in 2012.

This is the story of a new arrival to the parade and one that will be sitting out this year's Tournament of Roses because of the economy.

L.A. County’s Natural History Museum sponsored a float in the Tournament of Roses for the first time this year. The museum partnered with the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau to create the "Jurassic Spectacle."

The float features a parade of dinosaurs stalking away from a replica of the original 1913 Museum: a Triceratops, a T-Rex, and a Mamenchisaurus — all standing a couple of stories high.

The float aims to call attention to the museum’s new Dinosaur Hall and its upcoming centennial anniversary.

The museum’s marketing director Julia Rivera says everything on the float is to scale.

"Our head of Paleontology, Dr. Luis Chiappe, he’s also the lead curator of the new dinosaur hall, he really had to put his blessing on all of this," Rivera said.

The Rose Palace in South Pasadena, where dinosaur float decoration is in full-effect, is a wild collage of people, industrial strength blenders, flower petals and dried legumes. Volunteers Phillip and Kathy Wood sat together in the shadow of the T-Rex cutting dried flower petals. Kathy Wood says she feels like she’s in Jurassic Park and when asked where the petals might go, she shrugs, and says “well they’re kind of red, so we think they may be blood.”

Blood, sweat, tears and cold hard cash go into making Rose Parade floats like the one for the Natural History Museum. The floats cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to construct and decorate. But the city of L.A’s Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Natural History Museum say their float was funded by private money — not taxpayer dollars.

Another float sponsor that relies on donations was not so lucky this year. West Covina’s deputy city manager, Chris Freeland says donations have been down and the economy is to blame. They will have no float this year for the first time in more than a decade.

“Most of our donations were coming from businesses locally in West Covina,” Freeland said, “whether it be auto dealers, whether it be the local candy store. To make a $10,000 or even a $1,000 donation toward a float is just really tough for them and we understand that and that’s why we had to make that tough choice.”

It was a “tough choice” to not have a float this year because the municipality has been in the parade since the late '90s and because it was the main client for a small float builder called Charisma Floats. Charisma Floats went out of business, as a result. Three full-time employees lost their jobs as did nearly two dozen seasonal workers.

Former Charisma Float owner, Katie Rodriguez, says this year has been difficult. She started working on Rose Parade floats as a volunteer for Charisma in 1987, when she was in elementary school. After volunteering and then working for the company, she bought it with her husband, Matt, three years ago.

“Today, I was just talking to some friends and they’re like, what do you want to do for New Year's Eve and I’m like, ‘Honestly, I have no idea.'" Rodriguez said. "I’ve never not done floats, it’s really hard to see the grand stands go up and the flags go down Colorado Boulevard, and the city get ready for the parade and feel like, wow, this year, I’m not part of it.”

Katie and Matt Rodriguez met building Rose Parade floats and they’re not giving up a trade they love. The couple is starting another float building company and hope to participate in the 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade. Who knows, their first client could be an old one, the city of West Covina.

New Year, new possibilities.

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