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Tearing down Rose Parade floats is sad, smelly and takes weeks

File: Details of a float participating in the 127th Rose Parade in Pasadena on Jan. 1, 2016.
File: Details of a float participating in the 127th Rose Parade in Pasadena on Jan. 1, 2016.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

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It happens every year: the lights come down. The good gifts get used, the bad ones get returned. Christmas trees linger in the street. And floats used in the Tournament of Roses parade can't stay on display forever.

After they run their route and go on display in Northeast Pasadena, the floats go back to where they were made. For Phoenix Decorating Company, one of the largest float makers in Pasadena, that means about a dozen of them end up in a giant warehouse on Raymond Avenue — just down the street from KPCC's studios.

Just weeks before, the warehouse was packed with volunteers. Now the building is quiet. It's a giant room with empty, motionless floats crammed together inside.

"As you can see, it's very tight parking," said Chuck Hayes, who works in sponsor relations at Phoenix. 

The deconstruction process is meticulous — at Phoenix, flowers are removed one-by-one from each float. All possible living material is extracted and turned to mulch by a local recycling company. Eventually a smell permeates the warehouse: wilting flowers, oranges. Hayes says you get used to it.

Building a float out of a living thing means that, by definition, it's going to die. Hayes says it's always a bittersweet time for him. He remembers the first year he worked, back in 2006. "I was looking at all the great elements that we had created — all the attention to detail. Hours. Thousands of hours of patience and getting it right. And then all of the sudden the welding torch comes out."

When the teardown is complete, Phoenix will begin preparations for next year.