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Rose Parade wows its crowds under clear skies

After temperatures drop to near freezing overnight, sunrise brings some relief to parade-watchers in Pasadena. 'It's the coldest night I've ever had in all the years I've done this,' one Rose Parade veteran says.

January 02, 2011|By Gale Holland, Shan Li and Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times

Pasadena's ode to whimsy and imagination unfurled its petals under cold, clear skies, with floral floats featuring a skim-boarding bulldog, a girl and her teddy bear riding a rocket into space and a little pig outsmarting the Big Bad Wolf by building his home with Quikrete.

The theme for Saturday's 122nd Rose Parade, "Building Dreams, Friendships & Memories," put few constraints on float designers' creativity. There were fairy tale castles, underwater fantasies, elaborate treehouses — great pieces of heavy machinery dressed up in flowers and seeds.

Rose Parade band: In the Jan. 2 Section A article on the Rose Parade, a caption accompanying a photo of the All-Birdville Marching Band identified the band's Texas hometown as Birdville. The band comprises students from three high schools in the Birdville Independent School District. The administrative offices of the district are in Haltom City, Texas. There is no town called Birdville. —

"I've watched it on TV for years, but I never dreamed it would be this amazing," said Don McDowell, a Discover card employee from Phoenix.

McDowell had won an essay contest to ride on his company's float, an animatronic state fair with a dunk tank, roller coaster and pie-eating contest, in which McDowell, white napkin tucked in his collar, was preparing dutifully to indulge.

Temperatures near freezing — the overnight low in Pasadena was 39 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, not a record, but still plenty cold — did not keep thousands of people from the annual pilgrimage to camp out on the sidewalks lining Colorado Boulevard. They huddled together under heaps of blankets and sleeping bags, warming their hands over small fires and space heaters, giving the venerable event the look of a refugee camp.

"We're high-class hobos right now," quipped Kathleen Bendick, 20, as she hunkered over a makeshift table waiting for the parade to start, passing the time by playing the card game Apples to Apples.

This year's chill was hard even for parade veterans. Todd Denerson, 34, a firefighter from Glendora, has learned all the tricks in his 12 years of camping out: advanced scouting for a plum locale (next to the Tournament House on Orange Grove Boulevard, where the floats start their journey), amenities like a flat-screen TV and DVD player — and plenty of blankets.

"It's the coldest night I've ever had in all the years I've done this," he said.

The family's Yorkshire terrier, Rocky, spent the night tucked into Denerson's firefighter jacket. Only his head peeked out from under Denerson's chin.

Parade organizers and float builders feared that the stormiest start to a Southern California winter in more than a century would make Saturday's event the 11th wet one in Rose Parade history, but potential rain passed far to the north.

A sharp crescent moon rose before dawn to herald a clear day.

Sponsored by American Honda, this year's parade featured 47 floats, 22 bands and 22 equestrian entries rolling down Colorado Boulevard beneath the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains. Paula Deen, chef, restaurateur, TV personality and author, was grand marshal, riding in the back of a 1923 Rolls-Royce.

Dole's Hawaiian-themed "Living Well in Paradise" float took the sweepstakes prize, unseating Rain Bird Corp., which had won the top prize for the last three years.

The Sierra Madre Float Assn.'s depiction of mission-era California won the Governor's Trophy for best depiction of life in California — then broke down. It had to be towed along the parade route.

For many families, the event has become a multi-generational ritual.

Becky Williams, 65, said she first attended at the age of 4 and once watched the parade seated on a plank suspended between two ladders that her mother set up on Colorado Boulevard for the children.

Ten years ago, after her mother had a stroke, Williams took her to the parade, pushing her in a wheelchair at 3 a.m. to tour the floats. Williams' mother died a few months later, and that night among the floats is one of Williams' most cherished memories.

This year, Williams returned with her grown son, Gary De George, and his children.

"We have to carry on the tradition," De George said, adding that the best part of the ritual when he was a child was running the streets the night before with a mob of kids, an experience his own children, ages 9, 6 and 4, re-created Friday night.

"They like this better than Disneyland," De George said.

Other enthusiasts volunteered for a different kind of experience altogether.

Mark Van Dam of Moorpark enlisted himself and his family to scoop up the poop behind the horses of the Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard. Together with his wife, Ute, and two teenage sons, Van Dam walked between the horses and the West Coast Composite Marine Band, stopping sporadically to pose as people in the crowd snapped photos of them.

"We've been waiting a few blocks for the first poop," said Hunter.

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