Pasadena on parade

On Jan. 1, the spotlight shines on the Rose Bowl and parade, but there's lots to see and do the rest of the year.

On New Year's Day, everything in Pasadena will be coming up roses - and daisies and orchids and gardenias and lilies and tulips. More flowers - and more different kinds - than most of us have ever seen before. At least 5 million vibrant blossoms in all, flown in from around the world to be hot-glued into elaborate tableaux on more than 50 elaborate parade floats.

This is Pasadena's day to show off for the world - about a million spectators line the 5-1/2-mile parade route, and an estimated 350 million people in 80 countries watch on television.

The Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade - to give the aromatic extravaganza its full and official name - is a tradition that's been around since 1890. (Football didn't enter the picture until 12 years later.)

In this city of about 140,000 people, located 15 minutes north of downtown Los Angeles, the "rose parade" - as everyone outside of Pasadena refers to it - spans three days, not one. The night before the parade, hundreds of hearty souls - lugging sleeping bags, lawn chairs, water bottles, and plenty of edibles - camp on curbsides to snag the best viewing spots when the floral masterpieces pull into view at 8 the next morning.

On New Year's afternoon and until 4:45 p.m. on Jan. 2, about 130,000 people pay $4 to get within sniffing distance of all the parade entries and watch the mechanical marvels - such as a flowery depiction of a working roller coaster - being demonstrated.

Insiders advise that you tie on your most comfortable shoes (the showcase route is 2-1/2 miles long), show up before noon on Tuesday (9 or 10 a.m. is better), and plan to spend two to four hours admiring the imagination and technical expertise that went into these creations.

As enthralling as Pasadena's annual blowout is, there's much more to the city than roses - although you'll find some beautiful ones (still attached to their bushes) at The Huntington.

Locals like to call The Huntington's 150 acres of gardens, four art galleries, and library that houses rare books "an oasis of art and culture." It's a peaceful place where you can easily spend a day - or two.

Start by admiring an illuminated manuscript of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" from 1410 and a Gutenberg Bible from 1455. Then make your way through the art galleries - it's interesting to see the originals of Gainsborough's much-reproduced "The Blue Boy" and Lawrence's "Pinkie".

End by strolling through 15 separate gardens that feature more than 14,000 kinds of plants. When you're "walked out," Rose Garden Tea Room is the spot to relax and catch your breath.

For anyone fascinated by architecture, Pasadena is "bungalow heaven." No fewer than three neighborhoods are filled with hundreds of historic cottages constructed during the Arts and Crafts period.

Probably the best-known is The Gamble House, built in 1908, by famous architect brothers Charles and Henry Greene. The house is a symphony of wood - painstakingly hand-rubbed teak, maple, oak, mahogany, and cedar - and intriguing colored glass.

It's open only 12 hours weekly - Thursday-Sunday, noon until 3 p.m. - so arrive before 1:30, or you may not get in.

As long as you're eyeballing architecture, don't overlook the local mansions that have found favor with Hollywood filmmakers.

Upscale Pasadena homes that have played starring roles include the Carrington mansion in "Dynasty," Bruce Wayne's mansion in "Batman," and "The Father of the Bride" house. Castle Green, built in 1898, has taken center stage in at least four flicks.

But what Pasadena is known for among Californians - especially Los Angelinos - is shopping. Whether you're in the mood for trendy boutiques, elegant antiques, or funky gifts for friends, head for Old Pasadena, South Lake Avenue, Pasadena Antique Center, and Green Street Antique Row - and remember to check the limit on your credit card.

Hop on and off free ARTS buses that daily ply Colorado Boulevard and Green Street, depositing you anywhere from the Norton Simon Museum to the Pasadena Playhouse District, the city's center for art, books, and entertainment. Use the buses, too, to restaurant-hop, sampling the fare at a few of the 500 eateries in the area.

After the floats have driven off into the sunset, the lawn chairs been taken home, and the flowers composted, Pasadena is a quieter, less-glitzy city - but one with ample charms to captivate visitors.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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