When it began in 2008, San Jose's Rose, White & Blue Parade was a relatively small affair that included 250 participants and 3,000 onlookers.
Now in its fifth year, lead organizer Larry Clark said 1,000 people will be part of Wednesday's old-fashioned Fourth of July parade, complete with marching bands, vintage cars, politicians, dance groups and children riding bikes. He's hoping last year's estimated 20,000 spectators will grow to 22,000 this year -- maybe even 25,000.
And if Clark really has his way, future crowds might someday rival Santa Clara County's famous rose parades of the last century, when a reported quarter-million residents from around the valley packed the once-popular parade route along the Alameda to marvel at elaborate rose-covered floats. Those floats once were on par with Pasadena's Tournament of Roses Parade.
"There are smaller neighborhood Fourth of July parades in San Jose, and I don't want to discredit them," said Clark. "But the vision here is that we could create something really big, something we could all be proud of -- as well as an opportunity to celebrate the country's birthday," he said.
This year's parade will feature 135 decorated cars and 13 floats. But instead of real roses -- considered too costly now -- bright-colored plastic sheeting trimmed to resemble flowers does the trick.
And instead of celebrating the arrival of May in the Valley of Heart's Delight, as residents did when San
For the first time -- much to the delight of the Friends of the San Jose Rose Garden -- this year's parade route will wind along Dana Avenue next to the city's award-winning Municipal Rose Garden, which opened in 1932 and today is overseen by 3,000 volunteers who nurture 4,000 rose bushes.
"Our goal is to get people to the garden and expose them to the roses, so we're thrilled they changed the route this year,'' said Terry Reilly, co-founder of the group.
Instead of marching in the parade carrying their gardening shears, as they have done in the past, he said the group's volunteers plan to enjoy the sight from the garden.
The notion of a rose-themed parade was popular at the turn of the 20th Century in a valley known for its agricultural industry, where the temperate weather had spawned numerous floral societies.
A 2010 book written by Clark's daughters, Shannon and Allison Clark, called "Roses on Parade'' (BR Printers, $24.95) traces the history of the original rose-themed parades held along the Alameda. According to the authors, the first took place in 1896, six years after Pasadena's first flower-bedecked horses and carriages appeared in a parade there.
The next San Jose rose parade occurred in May 1901, in honor of President William McKinley's visit to San Jose, just four months before his assassination.
Yet, what was supposed to be a lasting tradition continued only sporadically through 1910. The parades were resumed in 1926, when what was known as the Rose Carnival was renamed the Fiesta de Las Rosas. It continued until the early 1930s.
At its peak, the authors say, San Jose's rose parade boasted 87 floats, 10 bands, 200 mounted riders and a variety of decorated cars. Some 250,000 spectators were attracted to this "Grand Floral Parade," which started at the Mission Santa Clara, and marched down the Alameda. The last Fiesta de Las Rosas parade took place in 1969, until Clark resurrected the tradition in 2008, when he was president of the Alameda Business Association, which sponsors the event.
"It's the best display of Americana in a big city," said San Jose City Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, who again will ride in a convertible in the parade, in the heart of his district. "Whether it's kids in red wagons, or kids selling lemonade, or people dressed in patriotic colors, the community looks forward to this every year."
For Clark, 60, who helps find financing for companies to buy high-tech equipment and works from a building he owns at 919 the Alameda, planning for the parade -- which takes up to a year -- is a labor of love.
The parade costs $35,000 to produce, he said, mostly because of the traffic and police patrol-related costs along the 1.7-mile route that begins on Dana Avenue, continues to University Avenue, winds over to Morse Street and ends on the Alameda. Except for about $7,000 donated by the city of San Jose, the rest of the money is raised from businesses that pay for advertisements appearing in the parade program.
To folks like Jimmy Hanson, it's worth every penny.
"We wouldn't miss it," said the 46-year-old retired U.S. Army colonel who will again attend with his wife and two young children. "It's all about family tradition."
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.
The fifth annual San Jose Rose, White & Blue Parade begins at 10 a.m. at the Lincoln High School parking lot on Dana Avenue, and ends on the Alameda near Shasta Avenue. A picnic and festival start at 11:30 a.m. on the Alameda.