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1956 Rose Parade Float Honored Riverside’s First Award as an All-American City

Exploring Riverside’s Past

The 1956 Rose Bowl Parade Float from Riverside – photo courtesy of the family of Ben Lewis

Since 1949 the National Municipal League (now National Civic League) has sponsored the All-American City Award honoring each year a number of cities who have demonstrated remarkable civic achievements. In 1954 the city of Riverside applied and made the list of 22 finalists. However, they did not win.

Building on the foundation from the previous year, the Chamber of Commerce and city officials again in 1955 assembled a presentation to demonstrate the many civic achievements of Riverside. That year Riverside was again one of the 22 finalists, but they also were chosen as one of the 11 All-American cities for 1955. The city won on the basis of showing how hundreds of citizens cooperated in bringing about a new modern system of government (council-manager plan) and advanced civic progress on many fronts. Also, the city was praised for putting together long-range plans for population growth. The eleven cities were featured in an issue of Look magazine, who co-sponsored the event.  In the issue honoring the cities, Look informed the readers about Riverside:

“Explosive growth (Riverside’s population of nearly 70,000 has doubled since 1940) threatened to blight this beautiful city of fine homes, excellent schools and varied cultural advantages. The wise citizens began examining Riverside’s problems at small committee meetings. From this came the Riverside Plan, and the study committees became action groups in which thousands of citizens participated

“Their first action was to adopt a council-manager government. Riverside promptly became one of the rare debt-free cities in the nation. The few areas of substandard housing were cleaned up; streets were paved, and lighting and sewers were extended.

“A real test came when the debt-free city asked its residents to vote themselves into debt to solve a problem which would not become pressing for another 10 years; an adequate water supply

“The same committee spirit enlarged the hospital, built five new schools, created four parks and extended essential municipal services. Before the initial drive ended, Riverside had so many projects underway that it had authorized expenditure of nearly half of the $14 million scheduled to be spent in seven years. But no financial pinch threatens. 

LOOK Magazine honors Riverside, CA

To capitalize on winning this award the Chamber of Commerce began preparations to sponsor a float in the 1956 Rose Bowl Parade. Millions of people watching the Rose Bowl Parade saw that Riverside was an All-American City.

A representative queen from each of the eleven 1955 All-American cities was invited to Riverside to ride on the Rose Bowl Parade Float. These young women were given a key to the city, entertained at various functions and housed at the Mission Inn. The highlight before the parade was said to be a New Year’s Eve party at the home of the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Ben Lewis (later mayor of Riverside). Representing Riverside was Dorothy Wilson, office secretary of the Chamber of Commerce. 

One of young visitors receiving a key to Riverside from Chamber of Commerce president, Ben Lewis – photo courtesy of the family of Ben Lewis

The other cities chosen for the award in 1955 and who sent young women to represent them were: Bloomington, Illinois; Phenix City, Alabama; St. Paul, Minnesota; Joliet, Illinois; Bellevue, Washington; Port Huron, Michigan; Savannah, Georgia; Grand Island, Nebraska; Reading, Pennsylvania and Cambridge, Ohio.

On New Year’s Day the lovely young women rode on Riverside’s float decorated with over half of a million flowers including 20,000 roses and 6000 gardenias. Riverside was granted permission to make the float 55 feet long, 15 feet longer than normally allowed.  The numerous flowers covered the body and wings of a huge eagle and a gold capitol dome which followed the All-American City theme of the float. Miss Wilson, Riverside’s representative, wore a blue gown and sat on a pedestal in the center of the float. The other ten young women wore white and were perched in the floral feathers of the eagle. 

Reporter Tom Patterson was on the scene in Pasadena and reported that the float was fifteenth in line with the Poly Band following later at spot number forty. The All-American float from Riverside won 3rd place in its class. 

The 1956 Rose Bowl Parade Float from Riverside – photo courtesy of the family of Ben Lewis

A few days after the parade the ten visiting young ladies were sent home with a farewell gift of a travel case and many memories of their stay in Riverside, the All-American City.

The ten visiting young ladies with their traveling case gifts in the courtyard of the Mission Inn. Chamber of Commerce president Ben H. Lewis in the middle. – photo courtesy of the family of Ben Lewis]

On January 12, 1956 the City of Riverside was formally awarded the All-American City award at a dinner held at the Mission Inn.  At another ceremony at city hall the blue and white Riverside All-American City flag was raised and would fly for the rest of the year.

All America City Award Dinner Program

Riverside won the All-American City Award again in 1998, one of only a few cities to have won it more than once.

And there were other Rose Bowl Parade floats in the history of the city.  On January 1, 1950, the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a float depicting Mount Rubidoux and its “Original Easter Sunrise Service.” The float was decorated by students from Riverside Polytechnic High School. A choir was seated on the float singing hymns and Fred Collins of the American Legion Post 79 stood at the front of the float sounding a trumpet. 

Riverside’s 1950 Rose Float

Then in 2018, more than sixty years since the last Riverside Rose Parade float, Riverside sponsored a float under the theme “Making a Difference” which depicted the Mission Inn honoring Duane and Kelly Roberts and the twenty-fifth year of the Festival of Lights.  The city release from that time Mayor Rusty Bailey stated: “We are returning to Pasadena to celebrate the 25th year of the Festival of Lights, and to thank Duane and Kelly Roberts for their hard work and immense generosity in creating and growing this annual festival. There is no doubt in my mind that, if Duane and Kelly Roberts had not re-opened the Mission Inn, and built it and the Festival of Lights to where they are today, we would not be seeing the same success we are enjoying as a community now.” 

Credit: KTLA
Riverside’s Rose Parade Float 2018

Riverside, California. All-American city in 1955 and 1998.  Riverside, a city which has sponsored floats in at least three Rose Bowl Parades. Riverside, a city with a rich history as one explores its past. But also, a wonderful city in which to live today as we are able to help make more history which demonstrates the wonderful culture and civic achievements we enjoy.