How Long Beach Loved a Parade

Gerrie Schipske

For many years, the City of Long Beach entered a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena. The floats, always made of fresh flowers, were funded largely from the chamber of commerce. Until the advent of television, the parade was advertised on the front pages of most major newspapers across the United States. Long Beach used the parade as a way to advertise that it was a city by the sea with oil assets and a large thriving port.

The parade began in 1888 when the Pasadena Valley Hunt Club sponsored the first parade. It grew into a Rose parade and continued without interruption until 1941 when it was halted by WWII. It resumed in 1946.

The parades in the early 1900s featured the automobile. In 1909, the chamber of commerce provided 4 blue and gold pennants for every Long Beach driver of an automobile entering the parade.

In the 1920s and 30s, the city racked up numerous prizes; winning the sweepstakes, civic bodies and theme awards. Each win resulted in a coveted trophy.

Its 1915 entry launched the “Queen” theme that would be used on many Long Beach floats. In 1923, Long Beach entered a unique float – a replica of an oil derrick atop a hill, Signal Hill. It featured colored lights that showed the derrick in operation.

The municipal band and Wilson High School band were also frequent entries in the parade and activities which followed.

Each parade report numerous injuries (mostly women fainting from the crowds) and other problems. In 1928, Frank Arbuckle, a 35-year-old Australian war veteran and resident of Long Beach was stabbed by a 74 year old man who did not take kindly to Arbuckle publicly scolding him for not removing his hat when the American flag passed by during the parade.

In 1930s, newspapers described Long Beach as a “perennial winner” of awards for its floats.

Rising out of the rubble of the 1933 earthquake, Long Beach entered its “Queen of the Beaches” float in 1934 and took home the grand sweepstakes trophy. In 1938, it repeated the queen theme and won the theme prize for its “queen of fantasy” float.

With a substantial Japanese population in and around Long Beach, it was not surprising that in 1936, Long Beach beauty, Lili Arwaka, rode the flowered float and represented Long Beach in the parade.

When the parade resumed after its five year halt in 1946, Long Beach promptly won the sweepstakes award for its 750,000 flowered replica of the air carrier Shangri-La.  Following the parade, the award was officially presented to the City in a ceremony attended by over 5000 people in the Municipal Auditorium. The Long Beach Women’s Symphony performed.

In 1947, the city used the parade to show off its breakwater and the three types of ships that were protected by it in the harbor – military, commercial and cruise line.

Long Beach always entered its own “beauty queen” whom residents closely followed. In 1950, an outraged citizen wrote the Press-Telegram demanding to know why the Long Beach Queen on the float was getting a divorce. The newspaper editor responded that there weren’t any rules against married women, but that the rules could be changed.


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