Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mystery History -- Solved!


I'm calling a tie on this one: (1) Trish for her 11:29 a.m. Tuesday guess "can't remember her name...ugh, brain fail. But behind her, welding work being done on the queen/court float for the parade" and (2) Roberta for her 11:37 p.m. Wednesday guess "Isabel Coleman?"

In the photo above, Isabella Coleman stands in front of the steel framework for San Diego's 1965 Rose Parade float titled "World Peace."

Here's the finished float in the parade:


It was one of the final works of the veteran float designer whose career spanned 60 years.

Isabella Coleman was a visionary who was single-handedly responsible for changing the look of the Rose Parade.

In the early days of the Tournament of Roses, before the turn of the century, the parade featured horse-drawn wagons with a few roses and other flowers woven or tied to them.

Along came "Izzy," who in 1909 created the technique of gluing individual flower petals -- thousands of them -- on a single entry.

She later pioneered many of the techniques for animation and elaborate detail that float designers still use today; and she was the first to pitch ideas for floats to corporate sponsors that would fund the work.

Here she is in 1915 with some of her awards for float design:


During the Great Depression, when her banker husband was out of work, it was her float designs that kept the family, er, afloat.

For each float she drew dozens of sketches, then hired commercial artists to create renderings. She stored the sketches and renderings under rugs in her home to keep them flat and save space.

The drawing of her 1936 float for Standard Oil of California was before its time:


Here's Izzy next to her 1960 Occidental Insurance float under construction.


Detail of the same float, later on:


All told, she designed more than 250 award-winning Rose Parade floats over the course of her career.

The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History has an ongoing exhibition titled "Holidays on Display" that features Isabella's work.


Five years after she retired, the Tournament of Roses honored her by adding a new float award: the Isabella Coleman Trophy for best presentation of color and color harmony through floral use.

She remains the most respected float designer in history.

For you local history buffs, her father was C.V. Sturdevant, a Pasadena realtor and developer.

Excerpt from one of my favorite books in the Centennial Room at Pasadena Central Library, "Pasadena: Historical and Personal" by J.W. Wood:

So it would seem that despite the "late disturbance" the town was altogether in desperate straits. The Board of Trade Directors, then as now, met now and decided that "something should be done" to promote progress, etc. Due attention must be given to the fact that the "Colony" had outgrown its swaddling clothes, and had become a regularly incorporated "City" of the sixth class, which, under California laws, meant that it was managed by a Board of Trustees, with a Chairman whose duties corresponded with those of Mayor and City Council under a more expanded system.

One of the things that counted after the boom wreck had been cleared away, was the efforts made to improve the street by cleaning up, sprinkling them and in cases, paving them. Scarcity of water, at times, scarcity of money, always, retarded street sprinkling and the dust was frequently intolerable. The wide awake real estate agent realized the drawbacks in these conditions and urged their correction.

I remember particularly the endeavors in the direction made by such agents as C. V. Sturdevant in the Los Robles, Galena and other streets in the northeast section. Sturdevant labored for two or three years to bring about better street conditions and saw them completed at last.


Many thanks to the Tournament of Roses Association and the Smithsonian Institution.

7 comments:

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I thought last week was my favorite Mystery History but I'm thinking this is it. I'd heard the name "Isabel Coleman" but never knew the connections. The switch to gluing flowers really did change things (as well as the use of those pointy little water containers)

congratulations to both Trish and Roberta

pasadenapio said...

Liz, whenever I look at prior Mystery History posts, I can never find one singular favorite. They're all labors of love.

Here's the first, and here's the big reveal about the first.

My big reveals have expanded over time!

Petrea said...

This is a piece of Pasadena History I knew nothing about. I enjoyed this one immensely.

pasadenapio said...

Petrea, it's as much fun for me to research as it is for you and others to read!

pasadenapio said...

I meant not just this one, but all of my Mystery History posts!

Sometimes Martha Camacho, research librarian extraordinaire, provides assistance (though I didn't need any with this particular one) Plus she and I share the same first name, so obviously she's highly intelligent, stylish and funny.

Petrea said...

I have a new subject to research. Perhaps I'll find a way to bug her about it.

Anne said...

Many thanks to you for your post on Isabella Coleman. I stumbled across this while doing research on my Aunt Izzy. You have some pictures here that I have never seen. She created graceful, original floats that stirred the imagination. More recently, floats have been more about animation and are less fanciful, I think. They look like they are out of a corporate design studio, rather than the art that Izzy produce. Every year as a child living in N. California, we would get a list from her of floats that she or her son, David Coleman had designed. Visiting her house as a child was magic- she had a closet full of princess dresses that had been worn on previous floats, and albums containing sketches to completed designs for floats that I could look at for hours. Thanks for the lovely write-up on her.