I wouldn’t be here to write this if there wasn’t a Rose Bowl.
Check this – not quite true.
I wouldn’t be here writing this if some enterprising Pasadenans hadn’t taken advantage of a national college football craze in the early 20th century and decided to hold an annual New Year’s grilling contest right here in town. of the Crown, even before there was a Rose Bowl to play it.
By enterprising, I mean “interested in making money”.
The wealthy people of the Valley Hunt Club who started the Tournament of Roses in the late 19th century already had their money, as did their descendants who still belong to the Valley Hunt.
Tournament of Roses volunteers were increasingly of the bourgeois type, entrepreneurs who came to Pasadena to serve the relatively elderly Midwesterners and Easterners who lived in the mansions on South Orange Grove Boulevard near their club.
The parade began in 1890, and on January 1, 1902, the Tournament East-West football game was established as an added incentive to bring tourists to Southern California during our beautiful winters. Michigan so beat Stanford – 49-0 – in the city lot, now known as Tournament Park, across East California Boulevard from what is now Caltech, that the game went into hibernation for 13 years.
But the chariot and ostrich races that during those years served as a sporting accompaniment to the parade of flowered floats… well, let’s just say that chariot racing did not create a national sports fashion.
So, in 1916, the tradition of a college football game here every New Year’s Day returned. Irrelevant pairing: Washington State, Brown. Seven thousand people took part.
However, the following January 1, there was indeed a very interesting pairing: the Oregon Webfoots and the University of Pennsylvania Quakers. Twenty-six thousand people attended.
One of them was my grandfather, 17-year-old Elmer Wilson, who had hitchhiked across the country from East McKeesport, Pennsylvania to attend. It wasn’t that Elmer – we seven grandkids weren’t allowed to call him grandpa – was Ivy League himself. There is some doubt as to whether he graduated from high school. What he was looking for was an excuse, any excuse, to give up working in the steel mill.
So he stuck out his thumb, he got here, and, reader, he stayed. Not only that – he continued to attend (what would become) every Rose Bowl game for over 60 years. Probably longer, but I remember him throwing spare tickets at me just before the lackluster Washington-Michigan game kicked off in 1978 from his area atop Wilson Hill, the site of his boozy picnic. pre-game on the golf course, telling myself that I could keep everything I have above face value. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the market wouldn’t support that, and that I actually had to sell them at a discount and put a few bucks on my side to make it whole.)
Elmer was certainly the only one who saw every Rose Bowl game during this broadcast, as he was selected to be the tournament representative for the post-Pearl Harbor game on January 1, 1942, played in Durham, North Carolina. North, for fear of a Japanese bombardment of the stadium and its large crowd. He took the train back to the East, playing high-stakes cards every way, no doubt making big wins, as he was essentially a professional gambler.
Yeah, Elmer didn’t just come to Pasadena. He joined the Tournament, rising through the ranks of the White Suiter to become its president in 1955.
It was just 32 years after the stadium named the Rose Bowl was built by a Pasadena Star-News reporter to accommodate the ever-growing crowds that came to the big game and more.
And here we are celebrating the centennial of the Rose Bowl. Do I think the stadium still has 100 years left in it? In fact, I know it, against all odds. I am sensitive, of course, to the hype. There is the family thing. Also, I grew up on the eastern edge of the Arroyo Seco above the bowl and lived for over 30 years on the western edge. The Rose Bowl is literally in my neighborhood. It’s not just the home of a hallowed college football game for me. It hosted giant fireworks shows, the Rolling Stones and the joy of sitting under the north lip of the bowl with my AYSO aged daughter during the 1999 World Cup which Brandi Chastain won with a kick foot that forever changed women’s sport.
Just a few months ago I was on the stadium pitch for some reason with my friend Bruno, who is French. The turf was striped not as a grill but for football. There were three soccer balls in the middle. You have to hit the balls when there is a Frenchman over there. So I did. Even though I was wearing desert boots. One over Bruno’s head. A right to him. And the third, I stubbed my toe so hard I could barely walk for a week. So it’s also kind of a neighborhood exercise for me.
I’ve been a reporter and then an editor in Pasadena for the past 36 years, covering the Rose Bowl as similar stadiums across the country — the Cotton, the Orange — turned to dust. Outdated, domeless, bad shape for a modern Colosseum. Still, the RB persevered. Through smart management and marketing, yes. But also by significant investments in luxury boxes, seats, general support. It left Pasadena taxpayers like me with $200 million in debt.
Competition from SoFi and other fairly young Southern California stadiums is fierce. But old age has its advantages. In a sprawling region that can seem ahistorical, valuing only the new, Pasadena has learned to market the old. Its bungalows, from the cottage to the Gamble House. Its historic downtown, Old Pasadena. So old can be good. In Taylor Swift’s absence, stadium management turned to Phoebe Bridgers, hosting concerts on the park-like grounds of the surrounding Brookside Golf Course.
On its 100th anniversary, the Rose Bowl is in a predicament, like any other centenarian. Yet he has such good bones. External circumstances will change, from the national landscape of college football to preferences for glitz in a rock concert hall. But when you’ve kept it in good condition, you don’t kick your story. Hey, this is the spot where Cal’s Roy “Wrong Way” Riegels almost scored an own goal in the Rose Bowl Game in 1929. You can’t buy or build a story like that. It takes time. My neighborhood stadium has a lot more. More stories to tell. The grandfather of all.
Larry Wilson, editor of the Pasadena Star-News for 12 years, is on the editorial board of the Southern California News Group.