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Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1957 Rose Bowl Parade Float: A Tribute to the Valley of the Sun

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation | Oct 14, 2019

In 1956, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design a float for the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. The eye-catching geometric float was inspired by the Arizona sunshine, and was awarded first place in its category.

In 1956, the Phoenix Junior Chamber of Commerce commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design a float for the 1957 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. Wright was tasked with creating something that fit that year’s theme of “famous firsts.” In his design, formally titled “Valley of the Sun,” Wright depicted Phoenix as “First in Sunshine.”

The only drawing of the float on record includes a plan with front and side elevations. Wright’s design for the float has a unique triangular base and incorporates vibrant hues of yellow, blue, orange, green, and red, as well as a bright yellow sphere to represent the sun. The design has rays extending from the sun, likely a nod to the Arizona state flag.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s original drawing of the 1957 “Valley of the Sun” Rose Bowl Parade float.

According to a 2006 article about the float in the Arizona Republic, Wright agreed to design the float at no cost after an 11-member committee from the Phoenix Junior Chamber of Commerce approached him at Taliesin West. A 1957 Arizona Republic article says the float cost a total of $6,000 to build, and was paid for by the city and donations from local Arizona businesses.

The finished float appears to differ significantly from Wright’s original drawing, so it’s unclear if he saw the project through or if he passed it off to an apprentice to complete. The completed float had a geometric design and was made up entirely of bright yellow marigolds, rather than a variety of colors. However, it did maintain the triangular base and large sphere from the original design.

Dressed in all white ensembles, Miss Arizona and four others rode on the float and waved to the crowds of people lining the parade route. Charles Rockwell, chairman of the Rose Bowl Parade float committee, wrote Wright in 1956 thanking him for the design.

The float went on to win first place in the Class A3 category, a category reserved for cities outside of California with a population between 50,000-150,000.

Photo courtesy of Becky Turner

See more treasures from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation’s collections at the Private Collections Tour at Taliesin West.