by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The Tournament of Roses has come a very long way from its origins in 1890 as a way for the Valley Hunt Club of Pasadena to promote the city and region with a winter festival that, usually, is held in the sunshine and warmth that was a direct contrast to the east (and the contrast is especially stark this winter with record snowfall in parts of the East Coast and record warm temperatures and virtually no precipitation here.)
The signature event was a parade in downtown Pasadena that featured horse-drawn carriages and other vehicles decorated with profusions of roses and other fresh flowers and which came before the actual “tournament,” which consisted of games like foot races, polo contests, and chariot races, among others.
After a Tournament of Roses Association was created within several years to assume management of the events from the club, the focus turned away from the tournament games and towards the parade and a component added in 1902 and which then became standard in 1916, the first bowl game in college football.
Over the years, the parade became more elaborate, with marching bands and larger floats on motorized vehicles, while the game also grew in stature and attendance, especially when the Rose Bowl stadium was completed in time for the 1923 contest. Walter P. Temple, for example, was a pass holder for Rose Bowl football games and the Homestead collection has a couple of those passes.
Also in the museum’s holdings are a number of photographs of the parade. Some of the earlier ones from the 1890s to about 1910 were featured in a series of posts last year, so today’s post includes four snapshots taken at the 1924 parade.
Then, as now, cities entered floats in the parade, so there are a couple of examples highlighted here, both representative of the exuberant growth that exploded in greater Los Angeles during the first half of the 1920s.
One was from Pomona, a city that was in the heart of the so-called “Citrus Belt” that ran along the foothills of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain chain from Pasadena out to Redlands. Established in 1875 by an association that kept its funds in the Temple and Workman bank, the failure of which (along with much of the entire local economy) stalled its development until a full flowering (!) in the Boom of the 1880s, Pomona was perhaps at the height of its prosperity during the 1920s.
The other town represented was Glendale, one of the dozens of 1880s boom towns that sprung up when it was platted in 1887. The town was incorporated in 1906 and grew rapidly through annexation and population. During the boom years of the 1920s, Glendale was often touted (as many towns and cities were) as the fastest growing city in America and its expansion was impressive. In 1920, the population was just under 14,000 souls, but that number went up over five times to just north of 62,000 persons. Its adjacency to Los Angeles and its vibrant downtown business and manufacturing sectors made Glendale a highly desirable place during the decade.
Another float that is very representative of greater Los Angeles in the mid-1920s was one connected to Valencia oranges. The first commercial orange grove in California was established in Los Angeles in 1841 by William Wolfskill, a contemporary and friend of William Workman, and the industry expanded significantly by the 1870s, after floods and drought decimated the cattle industry, the region’s economic backbone.
The 1880s boom contributed another major boost to the production of oranges and lemons and the invention of the refrigerated boxcar by Edwin T. Earl, later owner of the Los Angeles Express newspaper, expanded the industry dramatically by allowing for more efficient shipping of the fruit. Promotion of citrus at the 1893 world’s fair in Chicago put the orange (the lemon “bitterly” lagged behind) out to the broader American public as the preeminent symbol of the region.
By the 1920s, however, the hyperactive growth of greater Los Angeles meant that suburban tracts became more valuable for real estate development than for citrus growing. Slowly, orange and lemon trees were razed to make room for housing tracts, roads and highways, shopping centers and schools. Still, citrus was still a significant element in the local economy, including for tourism, including streetcar and bus tours of the groves with their fragrant blossoms and luscious brightly-colored fruit.
Finally, the fourth image shown here is the float of the University of Washington, one of the schools competing in the Rose Bowl football game. In the fall season of 1923, the Huskies were impressive gargantuans of the gridiron, compiling a stellar 10-1 record. This included six shutouts, including a 22-0 blanking of USC, and a stingy defense that only allowed 44 points for the season. The only blemish on the Husky scorecard was a 9-0 loss to Pacific Coast Conference champion Cal, but it was Washington that was selected to be the Rose Bowl representative against Navy.
The Midshipmen were 5-1-2 during the 1923 campaign, losing only to Penn State and getting locked up into ties with Princeton and Navy’s rival, Army, where the annual game between the two military schools was a scoreless battle during the Thanksgiving holiday. While, on the face of it, Washington might have looked to be the better squad, Navy was the Huskies’ match as the two squads battled to a 14-14 tie. Of course, there wasn’t overtime in those days!
As we enter another New Year, it is the tradition of some 700,000 persons to attend the Tournament of Roses parade, millions more to watch it on television, and thousands to work as paid staff and volunteers to mount the spectacle. The event was grown exponentially over the many decades and it is fun to compare these photos of floats from nearly a century ago with their modern counterparts.