Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Moses Supposes His Toeses are Anthuriums: "Enchanted Paradise" The Downey Rose Float

One of only five parade floats left in the annual Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade that is still self-built (not designed/built/created by a professional float company), the City of Downey's entry into this year's Rose Parade was entitled "Enchanted Paradise."  We were fortunate enough to be invited to the top secret location in Downey, CA to see the float as a veritable army of local volunteers glued, seeded, and flowered the float in preparation for its January 2 debut.  As you know, tiki culture is a big slice of the wacky tacky pie, so we couldn't wait to see what the citizens of Downey had designed; "pure tropical splendor" is the only way to describe this offering to the tiki gods.

An artist's rendering of the float

Every float begins as a scale model.
Along the sides of the float-staging area are models of previous float designs.

Design and fabrication of the float began in February of last year. 

The City of Downey Rose Float should really be called
The People of Downey Rose Float as no public funds are
allocated for the entry.  Every bloomin' bloom is placed by
the hands of volunteers and all monies are funded by
private donations and fundraisers.

Mary & Merle
Merle has been deeply involved in the city's parade entry for
 the last 12 years and has been the official float driver for the last eight.
The Downey float has the furthest to travel just to get to the parade route.
At no more than five miles per hour, the trek to Pasadena takes about six hours. 

Our tour guide explaining the process of applying
pulverized peas and orchids to metal frames.

Dried, crushed peas are adhered directly to the metal frames.
Orchids are hand-glued to clear, drinking straws and then
 slipped onto the arms of these "palm fronds."

A hall full of Downey residents preparing for the big day.

This picture shows the volcano portion of the float.
Its hydraulic hinges allowed the volcano to be lowered
for clearance under freeway overpasses.

Giant orchids

It was all starting to feel a bit like
Alice in Wonderland.

The smoking tiki god waiting to be dressed in bark and seeds.
Another tiki god in a state of semi-dress.
This figure was animated and played the drum during the parade.

Detail of the thatched-roof structure that shaded some of the riders.

This was but a small fraction of the bowers of flowers that were waiting
to find homes  on Enchanted Paradise.

Just a few specimens of flora waiting to be applied to the float.

I don't know about other Southern California residents, but at our house, we always watch the KTLA coverage of the parade.  There is nothing like the passive-aggressive banter of longtime commentators, Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards.  My favorite quote of the parade was when Bob said to Stephanie "There is no end to your limitations."  But I was actually a bit disappointed in KTLA's coverage.  I was so emotionally invested in the Downey Rose Float and I thought they skimmed over it a little too quickly.  Viewers didn't even get a glimpse of the working water slide!  Here are a few screen grabs of the float.

We were happy that the Downey Rose Float did win The Founders' Award for the Most Beautiful Float designed and decorated by local volunteers.  Was it a little bit wicked of us to gloat in the fact that the biggest, longest, heaviest, and probably most expensive float in the parade featuring surfing dogs went over like a lead balloon in front of the KTLA cameras - wacky tacky roots for floats that are a little less corporate and little more homespun!

Our pre-parade tour guide, Charles Phoenix, Ambassador of Americana, aboard the Downey Rose Float.
(Photo by San Buena Ventura - Conservancy via Charles Phoenix Facebook page)

My official,  Downey Rose Float Association commemorative pin

I have never spent much time in the City of Downey.  I knew that it was home to the oldest standing McDonald's.  I knew that The Carpenters got their start there.  I knew that Porto's Bakery had recently opened a new location there.  What I didn't know was how proud I would be of the people of Downey and their float after our brief interlude.  wacky tacky is predicated on the principle of community and a "do-it-yourself" work ethic.  As Bob Eubanks said, "Downey always comes through, don't they."  They sure do, Bob; they sure do.


Mr. Tiny


  1. Don't forget the brothers Alvin hail from Downey - great post, neat to see that float come alive...

  2. How could I forget Phil & Dave??!!!

  3. I had no idea that there were only 5 self-built Rose Parade floats left. How sad! But what a truly remarkable experience for you & Mary! Those Downey folks have gusto, and I admire them for it. I meant to watch the Rose Parade this year & I totally forgot.