During these days between Christmas and the New Year, thousands of people line up on Raymond Avenue in Pasadena to tour the Rose Palace parade float barn -- and unwittingly to witness what may be the end of an era.
The Rose Palace, a city-owned facility, is the only place in Pasadena where floats are still built. It may prove to be the last. A confluence of factors -- from a rise in the rent on the building to its location in the midst of a city redevelopment zone -- is forcing parade organizers to consider relocating construction of floats out of the Rose Palace. And that, in turn, has raised this once unthinkable prospect:
Soon, no Rose Parade floats may be built in Pasadena.
To longtime parade fans, such a possibility might seem like Switzerland without clockmakers. But it is in keeping with the changing relationship between Pasadena and the Tournament of Roses, the not-for-profit organization that puts on the parade and Rose Bowl.
Once so close that Pasadena City Council members were generally granted Tournament of Roses membership, relations, while cordial, are now more formal and distant.
Contacts between Pasadena and the parade that made it famous are governed by a 72-page master agreement that treats the city as landlord and the parade as tenant. Unlike competing New Year's festivals in Miami and New Orleans, the Tournament of Roses receives no public subsidy to tie it to its hometown.
Already, more than half of the parade floats are built in tournament-owned barns in Duarte and Azusa. And nearly two-thirds of the tournament's volunteers -- the white-suiters who are famous parade-day ambassadors for the city -- live outside Pasadena, according to its roster.
This fall, the future of the Rose Palace facility has emerged as the latest sign of separation. According to public documents, the city will soon raise the rent from $87,600 to $209,315 annually. City officials say the increase reflects market rates; parade officials say such a steep hike could eventually leave them little choice but to end their Rose Palace lease and find another place for building floats. Given rising property values in Pasadena, finding large and affordable warehouse space would be difficult.
"Would we like to stay in Pasadena? Absolutely. But clearly in the long run, we're being priced out of this place," said Scott Jenkins, a lawyer who represents the tournament and also is a high-ranking volunteer member. "From my personal perspective, I think the city is trying to give us incentive to move on."
Jenkins said the city and the tournament continue to cooperate closely in handling security and operations of the parade. But financially and legally, "the relationship is more arm's length than it was before."
For much of its history, the Rose Parade was largely run by the city fathers, who were eager to attract residents and visitors by showing off the warm winter weather. As a matter of self-interest, city leaders were more willing to join the tournament, pay its membership dues and volunteer time during the holidays for the glory of Pasadena.
With such overlap between city and parade officials, the relationship was informal. The bylaws of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Assn. say only that the parade operations should be headquartered "at any place within the State of California."
But in the second half of the 20th century, the tournament's membership remained mostly white and conservative, even as Pasadena became more diverse. A decade ago, after a furor over the selection of a descendant of Christopher Columbus as grand marshal for the 1992 parade, local activists and a young mayor criticized the tournament's lack of racial diversity and scrutinized its relationship with City Hall.
In 1994, under pressure, the tournament made two fundamental changes. It altered its leadership structure to allow women and members of minority groups a shorter path to its executive committee. And it entered into a detailed master agreement with the city government.
The agreement established a schedule of rents that the tournament would pay for use of city-owned facilities, from the Rose Palace and the Rose Bowl to the tournament headquarters on Orange Grove. It spelled out a variety of other fees, totaling more than $1 million annually, to cover the costs of the parade. It also required that annual operating profits be shared with the city. And, to the annoyance of some tournament rank-and-file members who must scramble for extra tickets, the document granted the city extensive ticket rights for both the parade (2,100 seats) and the game (1,200).
Since its adoption eight years ago, the agreement has drawn bitter, if private, criticism from some tournament volunteers, who complain that city political leaders are more interested in collecting money and tickets than in the health of the parade.