For many years, students have constructed rose floats in an open-air lab, competing against professionals for recognition at the Rose Parade.
That’s about to change.
Fit for a team with 58 awards, construction will soon begin on a new Rose Float lab to facilitate the collaboration of students from Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The Cal Poly Universities’ float will continue to inspire success and innovation – but with facilities that offer new amenities.
The Rose Float Lab and Design Complex groundbreaking was celebrated on Nov. 21 on the east end of campus.
The lab, across from Building 45, will include a 5,700-square-foot building that will house an electronics shop, hydraulic shop and a large bay for float construction. The third-acre complex will also include a large outdoor courtyard and picnic area for design work, float building and student gatherings, as well as 5,000 square feet of storage space – a significant upgrade from the current facility.
“This is such a momentous occasion for Cal Poly Pomona,” President Soraya M. Coley said at the groundbreaking. “It carries on the wonderful tradition we have every year that we have a student-built float that is in the Rose Parade. Now we will have a facility that will help the students and continue to produce these outstanding, award-winning floats.”
The current facility, which is 159 yards away from the new lab, is cherished and taught students to do more with less, said Rose Float Director Janetta McDowell (’97, Liberal Studies). That’s how past teams garnered dozens of awards, including the 2018 Past President Award for most outstanding innovation in the use of floral and non-floral materials.
However, McDowell said students would appreciate having an enclosed facility and adequate shelter from the elements.
“It’s really an exciting time for the Rose Float family because for so long they have been working in conditions that are pretty rigorous. When it rains, it rains in the lab, so it will be good just to have them in a more comfortable Rose Float and safer lab environment,” said McDowell, who volunteered on the float as a student.Rose Float
The university received a $1 million lead gift from Rose Float alumnus Butch Lindley (‘67, Agronomy) and his wife, Vivien, to build the new lab. Together, they want to honor two Rose Float alumni, Don Miller (‘52, Horticulture) and Ron Simons (‘64, Agronomy; ’69, Food Marketing & Agribusiness Management), who are credited as key contributors to the Cal Poly Universities’ float’s early beginnings.
Miller, who died in 2004, had a vision for what seemed impossible. As a student in 1948, he pitched the idea of entering the Rose Parade, even though he had no budget or organization, and the big event was less than 100 days away. Nevertheless, on Jan. 1, 1949, the Cal Poly Universities made their debut with “A Rocking Horse,” the only student-designed and built float in the Rose Parade.
Simons, long known as “Mr. Cal Poly Pomona,” has been a leading supporter of the Rose Float program since his arrival as a student in 1959. (He was the astronaut on the 1962 float, “Man on the Moon.”) He remained a tireless supporter of the program throughout his long career on campus as an administrator.
“The Rose Float has given us life-learning experiences that helped us be successful,” Simons said. “What Rose Float students have in common is tenacity. When you think you’re down and there’s no other way of getting something done, you just keep plugging away, and it gets done.”