“States and Nations in Flowers”: The 39th Annual Tournament of Roses, Pasadena, 2 January 1928

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

An enduring tradition since 1890, though with the obvious remarkable expansion in scope and scale over those many years, the 134th edition of the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, including the 109th Rose Bowl football game, follows a practice since its inception and is held today because of New Year’s Day falling on a Sunday.

This post features, from the Museum’s collection, the New Year’s Number of the Pasadena Star-News highlighting the Tournament of 1928, which, as with this year, was held on Monday the 2nd. Befitting such a publication, especially from a newspaper, this is plenty of material about the Crown City, with it observed that the opening of the year “records for Pasadena a period of advancement which it can regard with satisfaction.”

This included the finishing of the impressive city hall and installation of offices and staff at the end of the just-completed year; the fact that development was such that the population double in a decade and it was asserted that “even greater, there is every promise, will be the development of the next decade,” the Great Depression, of course, would greatly impact that; and much else.

A statement by the city’s Chamber of Commerce; Associate Editor and Manager Lon F. Chapin’s “Pasadena: Yesterday—Today—Tomorrow” essay, which very thoroughly reviewed the community’s many facets and which is heavily illustrated with great photos; “Characteristic Pasadena Homes and Gardens” by a special contributor Jean Grant Inglis, also featuring lots of images of local residences; and essays on public schools, the California Institute of Technology (by the famed physicist Robert A. Millikan), writers and artists (by Star-news book reviewer Harold Carew, whose history of Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley was published in 1930), the Huntington Library and Art Gallery by its librarian Leslie Bliss, the Carnegie Observatory on Mt. Wilson by astronomer and its secretary Alfred Joy and the Pasadena Community Playhouse, are all of interest.

Given, however, that the focus of this post is on the Tournament, specifically the parade and the game, we’ll turn to those parts of the publication. The theme was “States and Nations in Flowers” so that floats “depicted the countries and commonwealths that bind the states as a united people” and City Editor C.F. Shoop and staff writer Linton Eccles observed,

‘Twas the Spirit and the West—nothing else. Not the spirit of Pasadena, or the Southland, or California, or even the Pacific Coast, but today’s tournament breathed the spirit of the entire West, with elaborate entries from Chicago, Portland, San Francisco and many Southern California communities.

The honored guests riding at the front of the procession included Governor C.C. Young, Lieutenant-Governor Buron Fitts, former chief deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County and who would serve as the D.A., with some controversy, from 1928-1940, and American Legion National Commander E.E. Spafford. Also riding in floats from the city and county of Los Angeles were Mayor George E. Cryer and members of the Angel City council as well as the members of the county’s board of supervisors.

There were almost 300 floats, decorated autos, horse riders and others, along with marching bands, in the 5-mile long parade and eight main divisions of entrants. For the second consecutive year, the City of Beverly Hills captured the Class A first prize for its “Kingdom of Paradise,” while the “exclusive little” City of San Marino won the award for the best themed float, “Springtime in New York State.”

Exhaustive listings and descriptions of many of the other floats followed, with Anaheim highlighting the well-known California Valencia Orange Show held there annually; the Tournament Association featuring Harriet B. Sterling as America; Whittier depicting an Italian garden; San Francisco offering a monoplane as a nod to the rapid growth of aviation in the Golden State; San Jose, host of the Fiesta de las Rosas, honoring its status of having the first state capitol in 1850; San Dimas creating a windmill and other elements of a Dutch landscape; Long Beach recreating George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River; Sierra Madre’s striking Viking ship; Pasadena’s public school system celebrating, with three conjoined floats, “California Gold,” through a mining scene, “California Power,” that is, electricity, and “California Sunshine;” and Portland, Oregon, home of the famous Rose Festival, presenting a loving cup of yellow blossoms.

Among the more exotic of the entries were those of Glendale, with its Chinese dragon (a frequent component from the Chinese-American community in such local parades as the former Fiesta de Los Angeles/Las Flores); Taft, in Kern County, replicating a Hindu temple from India; the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce setting a scene of “an old Spanish garden scene . . . with a group of young people colorfully dressed for the dance” and including a Mission-style belfry and a well to represent, romantically, of course, pre-American California; Pomona’s evocation of a Japanese tea garden; the San Diego County town of Vista highlighting Mexico through the avocado, a prominent crop for that community (and local ones like North Whittier [Hacienda] Heights and La Habra Heights—who shared a common founder, San Marino resident Edwin G. Hart) and Altadena’s representation of Arab scene as it called itself the “Mecca of the World.” Also of interest was the entry of the Sherman Indian School of Riverside, headed by the school band, and which was reported to have “noticeably brought out the progress of the Indian from his primitive state to useful handicrafts now taught him.”

There were smaller communities which participated were Downey and its city band; Venice, which highlighted “its own seafront aspirations;” San Pedro, which depicted a gondola (though that, obviously, seemed more appropriate for Venice!); Compton and its marching band; and the Town of Temple (renamed Temple City later in 1928 and which celebrates its centennial in 2023), which “showed peaches from Delaware, by way of South Santa Anita school [now Longden School]—large baskets of them in heather and rose settings.” It was added that the school’s harmonica band “showed that the community also could supply its own music.”

There was a division devoted to auto-decorated entries, along with hotels and service clubs. The St. Catherine Hotel on Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, provided “an elaborately decorated automobile, showing several young girls grouped under a big floral parasol,” while the much more ornate and larger Huntington Hotel in Pasadena offered a Japanese bridge with lanterns and cherry trees “emphasizing the oriental note.”

Another prominent local hostelry, South Pasadena’s Hotel Raymond presented its version of Egypt featuring Cleopatra “attended by slaves, all in traditional costume.” Two other well-known Crown City hotels, the Vista del Arroyo (now the home of the federal Court of Appeals), which depicted a coach of the era of French “Sun King” Louis XIV, and the Hotel Maryland, which offered a naval destroyer.

The Davis-Baker Company was hired a short time later in 1928 to manage the Temple Townsite Company’s holdings in what was renamed, also that year, Temple City.

The fifth division comprised religious and educational entries, including the aforementioned ones from Taft and the Pasadena schools. The Salvation Army entered its float based on a hymn, “Tell Me the Old, Old Story,” and showing a house wit a mother reading from the Bible to her children. The Alhambra Community Sing organization had its theme as a transoceanic aircraft, representing the new innovations in flight across the ocean, while the American Green Cross Society (founded in 1923 in Los Angeles as the American Reforestation Association), dedicating to “saving forests” and which later in 1928 dedicated a monument in Glendale that is now in a canyon near the Brand Library and Art Center, had its float depict the before and after of forest fires.

Fraternal orders were well-represented with the Loyal Order of Moose creating entries connected its work with orphans, featuring a fictional “Mooseheart, City of Childhood” as well as a “Heart of the World.” The Knights of Pythias emphasized its concept of “F.C. and B.,” meaning, friendship, charity, and benevolence. The Improved Order of Red Men (which still exists with that name) had a float, the features of which “appropriately were in line with an Indian subject—a brave paddling his canoe through a forest-bordered stream.”

The Pasadena Elks and Junior Elks offered another Washington-related concept, with the “Father of His Country” shown in uniform on a pedestal next to a female Liberty figure, as well as a enormous set of antlers among “a riot of heather and pink and white carnations.” A separate portion of the division involved eight troops of Boy Scouts from Arcadia, Monrovia, Monterey Park and Pasadena, with harmonica and “juvenile” bands in attendance.

Business organizations comprised the sixth division, with the Pasadena Clearing House Association offering a large floral heart on a platform and “girl archers aimed arrows at smaller hearts fixed in front of the float.” The local merchants’ association depicted “a trio of girls gazing into a crystal as into the New Year,” while the Advertising Club portrayed “the two hemispheres joined by the ribbon of ‘Truth.'” The Crown City’s auto dealers celebrated “The Spirit of the New Year,” under a canopy of ferns and flowers and the realty board displayed “a lovely Southern California home in nature setting” with two children frolicking in a floral arbor.

Western Auto Supply Company, which won a special mention award, contributed a float “typifying frontier days in Utah and showing contrasted groups of Indians and pioneers with their covered wagon,” in a stereotypical scene that, almost certainly, portrayed the heroism of the latter and the threat of the former. Richfield Oil Company had another airplane, though “is big spread of wings [were] arousing much favorable comment.”

West Coast Theaters, Inc. had an entry with a half-dozen young women “in an Egyptian setting covered by a canopy,” while the Chicago Civic Opera Company contributed a float that highlighted “Sappho,” from an opera by Charles Gounod and “Aida,” from the famed piece by Giuseppe Verdi. Unusual entries were from the Pasadena Racing Pigeon Club and its floral loft from which homing pigeons were released and the Gainsborough Heath subdivision in San Marino, which featured an “English home” representative of some of the architecture in that tony tract.

The final division was devoted to equestrians, which were headed by the band of the Pacific Electric Railway and which included Shetland pony, saddle horses, saddle ponies and others. Among the women who rode saddle horses were a pair of descendants of early Californios: Cecilia Olivares Parriott, who was a descendant of the Machado family of the Rancho La Ballona, the Feliz family of the Rancho Los Feliz and of the Chávez family of Chavez Ravine, and Laurita Lugo, from the prominent family of Rancho San Antonio and who also had ancestors in the Ballesteros, Valdez and Figueroa families.

As for the football game at the Rose Bowl, the well-known sprinter Charles W. Paddock, who lived for a time at Pasadena and attended Los Angeles Poly High and then the University of Southern California. A veteran of the First World War, Paddock competed in the 1920, 1924 ad 1928 Olympic games, winning a gold medal in the 100-meter dash and a silver medal in the 200-meter race in the first of these at Antwerp, Belgium, and another 200-meter silver at Paris at the second. He began working for the Star-News while at USC and married the daughter of the paper’s publisher, but was killed in 1943 in a plane crash in Alaska while serving in the Marines as a captain and aide to Commanding General of the Department of the Pacific William P. Upshur.

Paddock wrote that “Stanford University at last came into her own in Pasadena’s East-West game” by holding off the University of Pittsburgh, 7-6. Calling the contest “a great defensive game” and “easily the best every played in the Rose Bowl,” the sportswriter added that “each team knew exactly what the other was about to do.” Stanford, undefeated the prior year and poised to win the Rose Bowl in 1927 against Alabama, was stunned by a late-game blocked punt followed a tying touchdown. There was a crowd of 65,000 in what Paddock observed as ‘a grand day even for California; cool in the shade and hot in the sun.”

In the 1928 game, Pitt’s captain and halfback “Gibby” Welch was held in check by the Stanford squad, while fullback “Biff” Hoffman of the latter team was its hero as he “was able to charge through the Pitt line time ad again for substantial gains” and was “the driving power behind the Cardinal team.” The diminutive halfback, Frank Wilton, who was the ill-fated punter the previous year, had another major miscue in the contest, as, in the third quarter, he fumbled and Jimmy Hagan of Pitt scooped up the loose ball and ran in for the score, though the point-after attempt failed. Redemption soon followed, however, as Wilton picked up a fumble from one of his teammates at the three-yard line and scampered into the end zone. With Hoffman’s conversion, Stanford eked out its victory.

Also of note in the publication was a “Brief History of the Tournament of Roses Association” by its secretary and manager Harlan W. Hall. He noted that Charles Frederick Holder and Francis F. Rowland (no known relation to the Rowlands of Rancho La Puente) were credited with the idea of the event and that the Valley Hunt Club, of which both were members, enthusiastically embraced the concept. It was added,

The Tournament of Roses was founded because the people of Pasadena were largely from the East and as eaterners [sic] appreciated the wonder of flowers in mid-winter. The idea was to celebrate with flowers their joy over the climate and environs in which they lived.

Naturally, the first tournament in 1889 “was a small affair” and “there was, of course, no thought of elaborate floral floats” as was the case nearly four decades later (much less 134!) For its first eight years, the event was managed by the club, but the festival “had grown to such proportions that it threatened to become bigger than the parent club,” so the Association was established.

While “the pageant grew greater and better,” Hall added that “the climax came with the introduction of the annual sports classic—the East and West football contest,” which supplanted the field events, the chariot races and other activities of earlier events. As was commonly understood, the gridiron tussle “is the nearest approximation to [a] national football championship there is” and was considered “the only occasion when the best teams of different sections of the United States meet upon the gridiron to settle football supremacy.”

As for the parade and its floats, some 5,000 persons worked on getting the festival ready and some floats had as many as 100,000 cut blooms on them, with the projected cost was somewhere in the vicinity of $100,000 for staging the event. Participants in the procession were around 2,000 in number with about 750,000 spectators and Hall added that the Association bought and then bequeathed to the city Tournament Park, a 20-acre site where the football game was played until the completion of the Rose Bowl.

That venue, finished in time for the 1922 contest, seated more than 52,000, but, with increasing demand, temporary bleachers were placed at the south end to increase capacity to 75,000 “making it one of the largest stadiums in the West, or in fact in the United States.” Hall went on to note that the Rose Bowl was built in the Arroyo Seco because of the 12 acres needed for the edifice with more land for parking with this latter also being significantly expanded in the mecca of the auto. The City was continuously improving the area as “part of the Arroyo Seco Natural Park.”

Hall, after paying tribute to those who’d served in the Association and also making reference to the fact that “the first National Broadcast [radio] hookup in which a western event was broadcast throughout the East was the 1927 Parade and football game,” with up to 30 million persons listening in, stated that “the Pasadena Tournament of Roses has undoubtedly brought to California more publicity than any single regularly scheduled event.”

He further suggested that “there is probably scarcely a theatre in the world that, at one time or another, or perhaps each year, does not show at last a portion of the great Floral Parade.” Finally, he closed with:

Nothing can better present the claims of the California climate to the attention than the knowledge that when the greater portion of the United States is cold and inclement, it is possible and enjoyable to hold an open air floral celebration in this favored section.

Naturally, a publication of this kind could not be generated without significant advertising from local businesses and a few examples are included here, along with a couple of scans of a 1928 souvenir postcard folder

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