Rose Parade

The Trader Joe’s float makes it’s way down the street next to Phoenix Decorating Company in Irwindale while they test it’s maneuverability, mechanical elements, and perform safety drills. (Chris Mortenson/Staff Photographer)

Thomas Larsen calls serving as a volunteer Rose Parade float test rider “beautiful.” 

“It’s so fun being part of something so beautiful,” said Larsen, who has also helped adorn floats at Phoenix Decorating Company in Irwindale for 14 years. 

“I have been watching since I was a kid. When I was younger, I wish this would’ve been my career building floats.”

Larsen is just one of many volunteers participating in the Jan. 2, 2023, Tournament of Roses Rose Parade. Phoenix Decorating Company collaborates with organizations such as the Kiwanis International Rose Float Club and Petal Pushers to decorate the many floats at its 110,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. The company has been building Rose Parade floats since 1985 and is considered the largest authentic all-floral float construction company in the United States. To date, it has helped construct 865 floats.  

“We don’t just build floats; we build experiences,” said Chris Lofthouse, president and CEO of Phoenix Decorating Company. “I want our clients to take as much pride in our floats as we do in building them.”

The process takes about a year to complete. Two months after a Rose Parade, Phoenix Decorating Company strips the float design and cleans off excess material so that only the chassis is exposed. After the design is approved by the client for the next parade, 3D construction begins in June and lasts three to four months. Fresh flowers and other materials that were ordered six to eight months prior arrive at the facility the week of the parade in December. Volunteers then assemble the items like a paint by color onto the floats. 

“It is so important for the design process to be emotionally connected to the client and to the float,” Lofthouse said. “It’s also our responsibility to get the float through the parade.”

Floats are tested twice for mechanical and road inspections along Ornelas Street just outside of Phoenix Decorating Company between June and November. The road inspection test also includes a fire drill where volunteer riders have 45 seconds to vacate the float. 

“We run a safety test to ensure everything is in order,” said Chuck Hayes, sponsor relations for Phoenix Decorating Company. “It’s like a mini parade on the street.”  

For the 2023 Rose Parade, Phoenix Decorating Company’s clients include the city of Alhambra “Together We Rise,” City of Hope “Expanding Hope,” Elks USA “Investing in Our Communities,” Kiwanis International “Catching the Wave of Service,” Lions International “Bridging the World Through Service,” Lutherans Hour Ministries “A New Day with Jesus,” Mutual of Omaha “Protecting the Wild,” Odd Fellows and Rebekahs “Hope for Peace,” Queen’s Float “Royal Court,” Rose Bowl Legacy “Rose Bowl: America’s Stadium 100,” Rotary International “Serving with Imagination and Hope,” Shriners Children’s Hospital “Back in the Game,” Western Asset “Welcome to the Jungle,” Enjoy Illinois: "Illinois. The Middle of Everything” and Trader Joe’s “Onward!”

“These inspections are a signal that we’re getting really close (to the parade) and the floats are coming together,” said Mark Leavens, secretary for the Tournament of Roses. “It’s a really exciting time of year to see the float designs that we’ve been looking at for several months come to fruition.” 

Hayes said the combined volunteer hours for the month of December is about 345,000 or equivalent to 60 to 100 people per float.

“Volunteers come back year after year after to create memories,” Hayes said. “There’s a passion from the organizations and general public to come from miles away for this experience. It’s bigger than just us as a company to build it; it’s part of the tradition.” 

Folks can also volunteer to drive a float, while situated deep inside on a small seat. Drivers also rely on an observer, who sits in front of the float and looks through a small screen, to guide them along the route through a communicated headset. Gary Stovel has been a driver for the Shriners Children’s Hospital float and has been with the Rose Parade for about 20 years. Stovel got his start as a driver when he and his children decorated a McDonald’s float through his employer, Golden State Foods.

“I was asked if I wanted to drive a float,” Stovel said. “This is the highlight of the year, and we all look forward to doing this.”

The day before the parade, floats are judged for five minutes. Afterward, they are brought to the staging area along Orange Grove Boulevard to ride the 5.2-mile route at 2.5 mph. This year’s 134th Rose Parade will be held at 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 2.

“There’s no describing what kind of pride I have being able to stand at the corner and watch a year of what we created go by,” Lofthouse said. “The Rose Parade is my life.”

134th Rose Parade

WHERE: The Rose Parade travels five miles down Colorado Boulevard

WHEN: 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 2

COST: Visit website