Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mystery History -- Solved

With apologies for the morbidity:

Mike Salazar wins with his Wednesday 6:30 p.m. guess "This is the collapsed bleachers at Rose Parade. Forget the year - 1926 or so."

In the photo above, City of Pasadena public safety personnel look over the rubble left behind after a grandstand collapsed during the Rose Parade on Jan. 1, 1926. Eight spectators died.

It was a terrible tragedy that, thanks to resulting regulations for careful construction and inspection of grandstands, has not happened again. It was also an early experience in hands-on disaster management for Pasadena public safety personnel.

Excerpt from an Associated Press report:

Pasadena, with its hundreds of thousands of guests for the thirty seventh annual Tournament of Roses pageant, was thrown from a scene of joyous enthusiasm into a turbulent tragedy when a grandstand seating 350 men, women and children collapsed as the floral parade was passing and 135 more women and children were injured and taken to hospitals while about 100 others were given first aid treatment.
An investigation determined that the collapse was caused by many structural flaws, including poor-grade lumber, poor workmanship and no cross bracing.

The contractor responsible for the grandstand was convicted of manslaughter but prosecutors dropped the charges when a new trial was ordered a year later.

Esotouric gives occasional scene-of-the-crime tours of Pasadena that include the very spot where the collapse happened. (They also include the bungalow where Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan lived and other locations with creepy histories.)

This seems like an odd transition but...

...on a happier note:

Fay Lanphier was the Rose Queen. She had been crowned Miss California in 1924 and Miss America in 1925.

Col. L.J. Mygatt was the grand marshal. He had commanded the U. S. Army Air Corps Balloon School in France during World War I and then the Balloon School at Ross Field in Arcadia.

Later that day, the first local radio broadcast of the Rose Bowl Game featured sportswriter and former Olympian Charlie Paddock doing the color commentary. Alabama beat Washington by just one point -- 20 to 19. Now that's a game!

Now it's one day shy of 84 years later. The 2010 New Year's Day events are tomorrow!

And as it was in 1926, crews from the Street Maintenance and Integrated Waste Management Division of the Public Works Department will remove tons of litter and other materials and leave the 11 miles (5.5 miles, up one side of the street and down the other) of the parade route squeaky clean. They do magnificent work that continues all through the night!

Thankfully they won't have to remove any collapsed grandstands.

Many thanks to Los Angeles Public Library, Tournament of Roses Association and eBay for use of the photos.


Michael Coppess said...

Where do we sign up for balloon school? Happy new year Ann!

Petrea said...

Enthralling, as always. I love these historical posts. Got to take that Esotouric tour of Pasadena.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I'd never heard this tale of woe. Shocking! Happy New Year PIO
congratulations Mike

altadenahiker said...

Yikes. And right in the middle of the Jazz Age.

Thal Armathura said...

Ann, at the end of this post is an article written by Sid Gally in the PSN about the 1926 Black Rose Parade. There were two tragedies on the morning of this parade and one of them was connected to my neighborhood Normandie Heights. Clarence Bowen, prominent Pasadena real estate developer and developer of Normandie Heights, did not attend the 1926, but his wife did, standing on a roof of a two story commercial building along the parade route on Colorado Boulevard. For some unexplained reason, Mrs. Bowen fell from the roof, the impact killing her and a parade spectator below. It's possible Mrs. Bowen committed suicide, inadvertently taking another life with her. Mr. Bowen married his second wife a few months later. For the history of Normandie Heights and Mr. Bowen go to

Article Last Updated: 12/11/2005 11:07 PM

Tragedy at 1926 parade
Collapse of grandstand resulted in 8 fatalities
Sid Gally Correspondent
Pasadena Star-News

PASADENA - The grandstand at the southeast corner of Colorado and Madison
collapsed at 11 a.m. in the morning on Jan. 1, 1926, while the Rose Parade
was under way.
Eight people were reportedly killed or died later of injuries and scores
were injured. A revolution in the way grandstands were designed, built and
inspected ensued.
Architect Bill Ellinger made available a scrapbook of clippings from the
Pasadena Morning Sun that tell the tale of the disaster.
Eyewitnesses reported the grandstand dropped slightly and the front end
moved rapidly forward several feet. The Sun reported:
"This was followed instantly by the total collapse of supporting beams and
braces and the stand crashed to the ground, a tangled mass of men, women
and children, broken timbers and bright colored decorations.
"As the second drop occurred, women screamed, men shouted in alarm and the
shrill, terrified cries of children filled the air above the sound of the
Investigations started rapidly. Qualified engineers made studies. City
officials blamed each other. The Tournament of Roses denied any
The grandstand was built with used lumber, with as few as one nail at some
connections. Nails were not driven in fully so their heads would be
exposed for easy removal. Bracing was not adequate.
The chief building inspector of the city was a plumbing inspector who
admitted that the department was actually managed by a clerk, Miss Doris