By Arnold Adler
DOWNEY — The Downey Rose Float Association was back to its trophy-winning ways in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena Jan. 2.
The Downey float, put together by association members and volunteers, won the Leishman Trophy for Best Floral Design by a non-Commercial Entry.
The parade’s theme was “Turning the Corner,” said Kelly Roberts, chief float builder and 44-year member of the association. He was not sure if the theme, proposed by the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee, was literal or philosophical.
There is a well-known corner on Colorado Boulevard, which is most of the parade route. But it also could mean a return after the parade was canceled in 2021.
The association is waiting for the committee in announce the theme of the 2024 parade, expected in February.
“When we get the theme, we will see what we can do,” said Association President Jeremy Clifton, who has headed the nonprofit civic group for four years.
“We will submit two proposals [in February] and hope the committee selects one,” Roberts said.
This year’s Downey float was dubbed “Be Inspired” and depicted bees gathering nectar from flowers for their ”honeycomb,” which extended across much of the float.
“The concept was proposed by Jason Fedfox, who has designed many past float trophy winners,” said Danielle Storey, chairman of the association’s Decoration Committee.
Storey said the 2023 float contained about 16,000 red roses and approximately 4,000 blue hydgrenia, orchids and apples, oranges, lemons and other dried fruits which made up the “honeycomb.”
Storey said the materials were not too hard to obtain but the cost has increased.
Cost of the materials was about $35,000, Storey said, adding that funding came from Downey merchants and fundraisers staged by the association.
That includes operating food stands at the Downey Chamber of Commerce Day in May and the summer concerts at Furman Park, concluding with the Miss Downey Pageant in November at the Downey Civic Theater.
This year’s Miss Downey, Sarah Sarofeem, and her court rode on the float in the parade.
Once a theme is announced and a design concept approved, work begins on the new float. The busiest time was Dec. 26-31 when an average of 100 people a day put finishing touches on the float, generally installing flowers, Storey said.
Her family has three generation of association members, including her father, Ray Erwin; and her son, Zack.
Membership is open to all, she noted. Those interested may email Clifton at email@example.com.
Storey and Clifton spoke Jan. 6 while the float was on display behind the Downey Civic Theater. Also present were Erwin and a number of people who came to view the float.
Also there was Mike Negrete, the association’s float driver for 17 years, to take the float back to its home.
He noted that the float, built on a four-wheel vehicle frame, can travel about 10 miles an hour. It took six hours to drive the float from its home base on the county-owned southern campus of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center to Pasadena.
For many years, the float has been constructed in a building at 13030 Erickson Ave. The association building is just north of Gardendale Avenue west of Rivers Avenue on the city’s far southwest corner.
The city has recently leased a portion of land from the county, which plans to build a soccer stadium. The county plans to redevelop the mostly vacant southern campus but has agreed not to touch the association’s workplace, city officials have said.