Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tragedy at the Tournament of Roses Parade

City of Pasadena officials inspect the wreckage of a grandstand
that collapsed during the Rose Parade on Jan. 1, 1926.
Jan. 1, 1926 was the deadliest day in the history of the Tournament of Roses. More than a dozen people were killed in a trio of tragic incidents on the route of the Rose Parade that year, the worst of which was the collapse of a shoddily-built grandstand constructed to view the procession.

A crowd of several hundred thousand people had gathered along the 5-and-a-half mile parade route on New Year’s Day morning prior to the football game that pitted the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Washington Huskies.

Several temporary grandstands had been constructed to accommodate the crowd and approximately 350 people were on the elevated structure erected at the southeast corner of Colorado and Madison as the parade passed at 11 a.m.

According to newspaper reports there was first a loud crack then the entire grandstand dropped slightly. The front end of the bleachers then rapidly began moving forward several feet.

"This was followed instantly by the total collapse of supporting beams and braces and the stand crashed to the ground, a tangled mass of men, women and children, broken timbers and bright colored decorations," reported the Pasadena Morning Sun.

Members of a Robert's Golden State Band were standing nearby after having been ejected from the parade for not being authorized to perform. They immediately began working to pull survivors from the wreckage.

The crowd on Colorado Street in
Pasadena after the 1926 parade.
Eight people were killed instantly and three more perished later from their injuries. News reports said 135 people, mostly women and children, were hospitalized due to their injuries while about 100 others were given first aid treatment at the scene.

The collapse was attributed to a host of structural flaws including poor-grade lumber, bad workmanship and a complete absence of cross bracing. Moreover, there had been almost no oversight during the design and construction by the city or tournament officials - both of whom later denied any responsibility for the accident.

Pasadena's deputy building and safety inspector, Charles B. Bucknall, and building contractor Paul F. Mahoney were both charged with manslaughter. Bucknall was acquitted and Mahoney convicted to ten years in prison. He served one year but was freed when the charges against him were dropped after a new trial was ordered.

The disaster spurred the City of Pasadena to install strict regulations for the design, construction and inspection of grandstands. The new standards required the use of that steel-reinforced frames for the structures.

The incident wasn't the only tragedy that morning. Susan M. Bowen, the wife of a prominent local real estate developer, died when she fell from a roof of a two story commercial building along the parade route on Colorado Boulevard. Her fall also killed a parade spectator on the street below.

The final fatality that day was Pasadena equestrian police officer John Fox who was working crowd control along on the parade route. As the procession approached the crowd pressed in and the officer's horse was spooked. Fox was thrown to the ground and trampled by the animal. He died from spinal injuries.