A rendering of the Rose Parade float for the city of San Gabriel. (Charles Meier, Paradiso…)
Long before the city of Los Angeles was officially incorporated, a Spanish priest and the Gabrielino-Tongva Indians came together to build Mission San Gabriel in 1771. A decade later, L.A.'s original settlers made the trek to Olvera Street from the mission -- a journey that allowed San Gabriel to lay claim as the birthplace of the Los Angeles region.
As the city launches a yearlong celebration of its centennial, longtime community leaders are hoping to remind both newer residents and non-locals of that history.
To start, San Gabriel will enter a float in the Rose Parade for the first time in 41 years.
"This area was a tourist draw," said San Gabriel Mayor Kevin B. Sawkins, examining a vintage postcard from 1906. "When visitors came here, they went to Catalina, the beach and then they came here to see the mission."
But as people moved west and Los Angeles grew, this less than 5-square-mile city faded into the background. Many today barely notice it as they drive through the San Gabriel Valley from one city into another -- seamlessly connected by large commercial thoroughfares lined with noodle shops, foreign banks and taquerias.
The float, which will cost an estimated $155,000 and is being funded by donations from local businesses and residents, captures the city's historic roots as well as its evolution.
The design features the city's iconic Spanish-style entryway, a large mission bell and two oxen pulling a bountiful cart of grapes, harking back to the days when the mission was known to produce wine.
The "Celebrating Our Journey" float is being built by Charles Meier of Paradiso Parade Floats.
Folk dancers from Folklor Pasion Mexicana de Los Angeles will perform alongside the float. Though the backdrop is traditional, six float passengers will reflect an increasingly diverse city where more than 60% of residents identify themselves as Asian and 25% as Latino, according to U.S. Census data from 2010.
Sawkins will be joined by Gabrielino-Tongva San Gabriel Chief Anthony Morales, Father Bruce Wellems, the mission's spiritual leader, and Camila Lopez, whose bloodlines trace back to the Gabrielino Indians who lived and worked at the mission. Gabrielino High School seniors Jacqueline Chai and Kelly Ngo, representing the youth and future of the city, were selected based on personal biographies and community involvement.
Committee members had considered other float themes but turned down designs such as a lunar-festival-style dragon and a fiesta-themed float.
"It's about sharing our history and really reflecting back on the establishments of the community," said Sawkins, co-chair of the centennial committee. "It's about moving forward with our history together."
San Gabriel has had about 40 float entries since its first in 1913, sponsored by the mission. Since 1972, the last year the city had a float in the parade, many efforts to build a float had fallen through, said Mary Cammarano, president of the San Gabriel Historical Assn. and a former mayor.
"We're the birthplace of the L.A. region, and we're proud of this fact," Cammarano said. "This will refresh everyone's memory."
The Rose Parade, in its 124th year, falls on Tuesday, Jan. 1. It will host more than 40 floats and various groups under the theme: "Oh, the Places You'll Go!"