by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It was a Thursday and cloudy and cool (unlike today’s strong Santa Ana winds) when the 36th Tournament of Roses parade took place in Pasadena on New Year’s Day 1925. The Los Angeles Times proclaimed in a sub-headline that “Affluent Cities of Western Eden Recall Glorious Beginnings and Point Proudly to Envied Future.” The profuse expression of pride continued with the opening words of the article:
In her sacrosanct robes of beauty the Southland yesterday provided a spectacle and painted a vision: a spectacle so prodigious and a vision of such sheer magnificence that the voices of more than a half-million onlookers rang in acclaim.
The estimated crowd of 500,000 was said to be the largest in the history of the event. Of course, you had to be there to experience the parade in all its glory and wonder, as television coverage for millions to watch from their homes was over twenty years away. It was possible, though, for some people to buy commercially sold photos or to have snapshots sent to them from those who attended.
Today’s post to usher in 2019 features a trio of real photo postcards, one a snapshot and two professionally taken and published, and showing floats from the parade. As reported in the Santa Ana Register, there were some 200 entries and the paper recorded the winners of six prizes. The Sweepstakes winner, the most prestigious of the prizes, went to the Angelus Temple of Los Angeles, the church headed by the charismatic and controversial Pentecostal preacher, Aimee Semple McPherson (the subject of a recent post here). Runner-up in that division was the Chamber of Commerce of Glendale, “a consistent tournament winner,” and the beneficiary of substantial funding, no doubt, for the work the organization did in promoting the very rapid growth of that city.
A division of prizes awarded by the American Legion, which is celebrating its centennial after being created in 1919 following the conclusion of the Great War, the South Pasadena Legion post captured first place. For civic entries, the Glendale chamber claimed that mantle. In the hotel division, the Raymond in South Pasadena, one of the oldest and best-known of the luxury hotels, took the crown. And, of course, for the section of floats that were neither civic nor commercial, the Angelus Temple won the honor.
That float was reported to cost $4,000, which was a substantial sum then and reputedly the most expensive to day. By comparison, float costs now start at a cool quarter of a million with some going up to $500,000. The Temple’s entry “depicted the advancement of radio,” which was a canny choice of topic, given that Sister Aimee’s KFSG (for Four Square Gospel, part of the name of her church) was a potent tool for proselytizing and McPherson was a pioneer of the use of the relatively new medium of communication for religious endeavor.
There was also a scale model of the distinctive round-shaped Temple building made with pink carnations and Chinese lilies. It was also noted that the Glendale Chamber of Commerce float was “topped with three butterflies which appeared to be rising from a monstrous bank of flowers,” though the choice to use the word “monstrous” is an interesting one for something so attractive!
One of the professional photos featured here, however, was labeled as a prize winner, though this was not mentioned by the Register. It was the entry of another Chamber of Commerce, the much larger and more powerful one for the City of Los Angeles, a prime mover in the amazing growth of the city in recent decades. Not a particularly large float, especially in comparison to the “monstrous” entries of the modern day, the Chamber’s theme, however, was particularly timely in highlighting the increasing use of the dirigible or zeppelin in transportation.
The snapshot is of the Glendale chamber float with the butterflies mentioned above, though the quality of the image is not all that great as it appears to have been somewhat over-exposed and is a bit blurry. Still, the photo gives some idea of the effort and expense put into that prize-winning entry.
Finally, the other professionally taken photograph shows a more modest float that would hardly have been able to compete with the larger and more ornate entries fielded from bigger cities. But, the fact that the little Town of Temple, which was only founded a year-and-a-half prior in May 1923 by Walter P. Temple, owner of the Homestead, and associates Alhambra sheep rancher Sylvester DuPuy, Temple’s attorney George H. Woodruff, and his business manager Milton Kauffman, could afford to put together a float was pretty impressive.
As with almost all entries, the goal was not just to provide an aesthetically pleasing element to a community celebration, it was also to provide an opportunity to market and promote the product. In this case, it was a 285-acre town that was trying to develop during the boom years of the Roaring Twenties.
The large convertible sedan appears to have a white wood trellis as a sort of open-air top and on which are trailing vines. A large bouquet of flowers is at the left with other floral arrangements on the long hood of the vehicle. The car has a skirt of plant material over which is the town’s logo (a typical one for others around the country): “TEMPLE / HEART OF SAN GABRIEL / VALLEY.”
A dashing gent with his wide-brimmed white hat jauntily tilted over his right eye is at the wheel while three young ladies, sporting scarves tied around their heads, are the passengers. In all, it’s a pretty impressive entry for a brand new town.
Unfortunately for the Town of Temple, the real estate market was rife with speculation as buyers rushed to buy lots and waited for prices to rise so they could make a quick buck. Then, five months later, in May 1925, the Acquisition and Improvement Act (known as the Mattoon Act after its author, county attorney Everett Mattoon) was passed by the state legislature. Designed to rapidly build public works improvements like roads, parks, sidewalks and street lighting, the act created improvement districts with broad powers to assess property owners for the cost of the work.
One of the worst provisions, though, was that, if a property owner was unable to pay their assessment, the neighboring property owners could be compelled to pay that fee. Naturally, people rose up in anger and, in places like the Town of Temple, property sales plummeted as delinquent tax bills soared. The bill was finally repealed in 1933, the same year national Prohibition, another law that had disastrous unintended consequences was overturned, but the damage was done. For an excellent summary of the Mattoon Act, check out friend of the Homestead Hadley Meares’ essay.
Walter Temple and associates, meanwhile, took out bonds in spring 1926 to try and keep the Town of Temple, renamed Temple City two years later, and other real estate projects afloat, but the onset of the Great Depression in October 1929 made the situation untenable and Temple was ruined. He sold all his interests in Temple City in spring 1930. Still, five years before, the future probably looked bright and the town’s float in the Tournament of Roses parade was a reflection of those hopes.