Every year on January 1, the City of Downey is represented on television screens around the world when the Downey Rose Float rolls down Colorado Boulevard.
Downey’s annual addition to the Tournament of Roses Parade is the result of a combination of months of planning and hours upon hours of volunteerism on a community-wide scale.
Yet before construction begins and flowers and seeds are put into place, there is one man who is often responsible for the look and design of Downey’s float.
That man is Thom Neighbors.
Neighbors has been at the start of nearly every Downey float. When reflecting on his longtime involvement with the city’s float, he jokes, “Blame it all on Jason [Redfox].”
“My partner and I used to have a company building floats for the Rose Parade. Early on, Jason came up to watch float construction,” said Neighbors. “We’ve been friends ever since, and he invited me to make a few designs for Downey 15 years ago or so.”
The process of designing the float varies from year to year, depending on the theme of the parade and the amount of collaboration between the ideas of Neighbors and Redfox.
“Sometimes I’ll come up with a concept, and on that particular occasion it will be 85 to 90 percent my idea with the input of the Downey folks,” said Neighbors. “Other years, Jason might make a model and in that case it’s 90 percent Jason’s idea.”
Once Neighbors provides the Downey Rose Float Association with his design and rendering, it is up to the association to bring it into reality and decide what flowers, seeds and other materials to use. Neighbors still enjoys visiting the float during construction.
“I’m the nosey type, I like to see the progress,” said Neighbors. “It’s in their hands at that point, and good hands at that.”
Neighbors says he’s particularly excited about the upcoming float for the 2018 parade, which he said was difficult to design. He says he went through five or six different drafts before settling on the final result.
“The theme is teamwork, and I think the float demonstrates that in a rather unique fashion,” said Neighbors. “The overall float is different than something Downey has ever done in the past, at least since my involvement.”
According to Downey Rose Float Association construction chairman Kelley Roberts, next year’s float is about volunteerism. Coming off a successful year that featured a working roller coaster, part of what makes the upcoming float different (and challenging) is the inclusion of a rotating globe set to coordinate with the actual axis of the Earth on January 1.
The globe and its difficulties is an excellent representation of how Downey Rose Float and Neighbors bring out the best in one another.
“He challenges us, and we challenge him,” said Roberts.