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Rose Parade float features Carmel Mission


Published: December 31, 2010

THE MAJESTIC Carmel Mission Basilica — one of California’s most historic buildings — will be replicated in flowers and seeds for the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.

With a float named “Sueños de California” (“Dreams of California”), the city of Sierra Madre’s Rose Float Association hopes to win judges’ hearts and wow crowds with one of its most ambitious endeavors in the near century the town has been participating in the Rose Parade.

Tapping into the 2011 parade theme of “Building Dreams, Friendships and Memories,” award-winning float designer Charles Meier, a Pasadena native, created a piece that “highlights California’s Latino heritage by remembering the pioneers who built our Golden State,” according to the association, which receives all its funding from private donors.

Meier’s design calls for a burro at the front of the float drawing a produce-laden cart to market, while fluttering monarch butterflies alight on the San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo Mission. Women gather around a fountain in a courtyard of blooming bougainvillea, saguaro, prickly pear and citrus.

In a feat of animation, the burro’s head nods, the cart’s wheels turn, the butterflies’ wings flap, and the fountain circulates hundreds of gallons of water. According to SMRFA, folk dancers in colorful dresses will perform alongside the float as it travels the Rose Parade’s 5.5-mile route on Jan. 1.

During its 94 years of parade participation, the all-volunteer group has constructed 79 floats, and this year’s is one of its largest, at 33 feet tall, 55 feet long and 22 feet wide. With the help of Meier, the association has won awards for its floats for the past five years.

In this year’s effort, roses in jewel tones will carpet its base, and dendrobium, mokara and phalaenopsis orchids will simulate the Mission’s bougainvillea. The gardens will feature live succulents, orchids, leucadendron, sansevieria, ginger and protea, while the facade of the adobe structure will be replicated in rolled oats, cinnamon and sesame seeds. Beans, lentils and peas — applied one at a time — will make up more than 100 detailed Mexican tiles.

Float building began in November, when the nonprofit hosted a one-day Construction Blitz inviting return volunteers and newcomers to help assemble its structure, from bending and welding pencil steel in the shape of palm fronds, vines and trees, to covering the float in foam to prepare it for the flowers.

In mid-December, the SMRFA hosted a Deco Blitz, bringing helpers together to decorate the Mission spires in oatmeal, cinnamon and seeds, create palm-tree bark and bougainvillea vines, intricately detail monarch butterfly wings with orange lentils, rice and strawflowers, and undertake other tasks. Organizers hoped to complete at least 35 percent of the work before Christmas.

And the day after Christmas, they launched into Deco Week — a full-tilt effort to get the float finished in time for the first round of judging Thursday and final judging Friday afternoon. Their masterpiece is set to be dedicated at 5 p.m. New Year’s Eve, and at 8 the next morning, the float bearing its three-story Mission of flowers will begin the two-hour journey at Green Street and Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena.

“In the last five years, Sierra Madre has received five consecutive awards,” according to the group. “The association is steadily building a reputation for fine craftsmanship and outstanding floral design.”

Meier, in his early 30s, has been responsible for several of those award-winning efforts, beginning with his first design for Sierra Madre in 2006. During a 2008 interview with Bill Coburn of, he commented, “One of the things I find so delightful about the Rose Parade is that it’s a display of extravagant beauty for no good reason at all. And I think that’s something that people need; it’s something that I need ... Fish swim because that’s how they’re made, and I seem to design floats because that’s how I’m made.” In fact, Meier has designed floats since he was a kid, and his first design to become reality was selected by South Pasadena for the 1992 Rose Parade, when he was a teenager.