Living

A look back at the old Orange Bowl Parade in downtown Miami

In this 1998 file photo, the Miami Herald float moves down Biscayne Boulevard with paper boys in the annual Orange Bowl Parade.
In this 1998 file photo, the Miami Herald float moves down Biscayne Boulevard with paper boys in the annual Orange Bowl Parade.

For decades, every New Year’s Eve, downtown Miami came alive with lighted floats bands and celebrities.

Thousands of people lined Biscayne Boulevard to watch the Orange Bowl Parade. It was the only major nighttime parade in the country, and it was broadcast nationally.

Changing times eventually killed the parade. But the memories of those magical nights remain. You may have been in the parade as a high school student. Or maybe you watched it as a kid. So, join us as we dip into the Miami Herald archives for a look at the King Orange Jamboree.

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In this file photo, entertainers perform in front of a bank float in downtown Miami. ROBERTO KOLTUN EL NUEVO HERALD

Published March 12, 2002:

One of South Florida’s most cherished and enduring traditions is gone.

The Orange Bowl Parade turned the final corner Monday, 62 years of lights and music, swagger and laughter extinguished by financial anemia, general malaise and changing times.

The Orange Bowl Committee voted 120-1 — and with great regret — to abolish the New Year’s Eve revelry that once glorified South Florida, but now seemed tired and threadbare. Money that subsidized the parade will be used to attract national championship college football games.

“It was with a very heavy heart that we came to this decision,” Al Cueto, committee president, said. “But you start seeing certain evidence that the people in your community are not supporting the parade. We can no longer afford to have a low class parade.”

The event’s fate was sealed in 1997 when it lost its national TV contract and hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate support. Soon, floats seemed to lose their luster, and residents and tourists seemed to lose interest.

A spectacle that once attracted 500,000 people to Miami’s Biscayne Boulevard could not lure even half that number. Cueto said the last parade, swamped by bad weather, lost more than $200,000.

Except for three years during World War II, the parade rolled through downtown Miami every New Year’s Eve since 1936. Now, something might be found to take its place, Cueto said, but the Orange Bowl parade as we know it is over.

“I think it’s a shame that we’re in this position,” Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said.

Mourners included many thousands of children, and many thousands of former children.

“It’s sad. It’s a shame,” said Edward Zurawski, 78, of Hialeah, who cheered and applauded during more than 20 parades. “We always took the kids to it. It was such a fine community thing.”

But he and his wife, Mary, noticed the deterioration.

“It was just the same old stuff, over and over again,” Zurawski said. “Last year, I said, ‘You know, Mary, I think I saw this before.’ This year, I knew I had seen it before.”

Still, he and others remembered the past glory and the sense of wonder once produced by the parade. Bob Hope was a grand marshal, and so was Muhammad Ali, Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Gleason.

Millions of TV viewers tuned in every year. Many were snowbound, and they saw palm trees, and a gentle breeze, and people in shorts on New Year’s Eve.

“You can’t buy that kind of publicity,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, whose brothers marched in the parade with their school bands. “People turn around and start booking their vacations.”

Cueto said the demise of the parade, which could hurt tourism to some extent, also could help tourism.

The reason: Money that subsidized the parade can nourish the campaign to continue hosting college football’s national championship game every four years.

Committee leaders said last year’s championship game played at the Orange Bowl contributed $185 million to the economy, and at least that much will be produced by the next national championship game here in 2005.

In 2006, that game is open to bids, and the Orange Bowl could lose it to Orlando or Jacksonville if those cities make more lucrative offers.

Said Diaz, “I think the problem here is the championship series.”

So, in the end, Cueto said, the committee had four options:

It could continue sponsoring the parade as it was — and lose money. It could attempt to revitalize the parade with a transfusion of cash. It could cancel the parade without finding a substitute. It could cancel the parade and seek an alternative event.

The committee chose the fourth option, he said, though considerable uncertainty surrounds any replacement event. He refused to identify the lone dissenter in the 120-1 vote.

Cueto and Diaz said that something resembling the Calle Ocho street festival might work, but there might not be enough time to plan an event like that for this year.

The Orange Bowl Committee also voted recently to cancel a women’s basketball tournament, held a week before the parade as part of the Orange Bowl Festival. Committee leaders cited waning interest.

The men’s basketball tournament has not been canceled, and the Junior Orange Bowl Parade — an independent event — will still take place.

Hilarie Bass, chairwoman of the Orange Bowl Parade, said a subcommittee will meet with government, corporate and civic leaders during the next 90 days to discuss possible replacements for the Orange Bowl Parade.

“It could be that it’s a different kind of parade,” she said. “It could be that we recommend that it’s something that doesn’t look like a parade at all.

“Our goal is to come up with a communitywide event that will be interactive and reflective of our community’s diversity.”

The issue of diversity also was raised by Cueto, who said the parade’s marching bands were comprised mostly of students from the Midwest and “don’t have the face of the community.”

Committee leaders said they could not afford to bring bands from Latin America and the Caribbean to the parade.

But Mike Gonzalez, a member of the Orange Bowl Staging Committee that coordinates the marching bands, said recent efforts were made to diversify the lineup.

He cited the inclusion last year of predominantly black bands from Bethune-Cookman College and Hallandale High School. He expressed anger over Monday’s development.

“There’s no reason for them to do it,” he said. “If they put the effort into it, I’m sure they could find corporate sponsors. “After seven decades, just to summarily dismiss it, I think, is unconscionable. The parade is the only thing left of the Orange Bowl Festival that really belongs to the people.”

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In this 1996 file photo, the King Orange balloon makes its way down Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami during the annual Orange Bowl Parade. ROBERT KOLTUN EL NUEVO HERALD

Published Jan. 1, 1984:

Despite the dampness, despite a blustery north wind, well- bundled spectators turned out Saturday evening in downtown Miami to gape at elaborately detailed floats and sway with the rich bass cadences of a high-stepping parade that manages to shine no matter what.

The King Orange Jamboree Parade marked the 50th Orange Bowl Festival with the accustomed flair for spectacle, though the pageant played only to an estimated 250,000 — half the expected crowd.

From any elevated vantage point, the parade route seemed to be lined with hats: stocking hats, cowboy hats, bowlers, wool caps, knitted caps, sweatshirt hoods, fur-trimmed hoods.

Beneath the hats and hoods, faces warmed as parade-goers applauded the glittering floats and clapped to the music.

A giant mechanical reveler, representing the spirit of festivals past, present and to come, munched on a lambchop in the center of Sun Banks’ “Fantasy of Festivals” float. Musclemen in bikinis conveyed Miami Beach’s invitation to “fun in the sun.” The city of Bradenton on the Gulf Coast paraded a model ship half the size of a 16th-Century galleon.

And Grand Marshal Jackie Gleason, sporting a pencil-thin moustache, whizzed by in a giant papier mache Rolls, his wife, Marilyn, waving beside him.

The theme of the parade was “The Golden Years,” and each of the 32 floats evoked themes from previous parades.

Shortly before the 7:30 p.m. start of the parade, the temperature in downtown Miami was 56 degrees. But with an 18 mile-an-hour wind from the north, it felt something like 40 degrees.

It was by no means a record low, but it created “what passes for a pretty cool evening in Miami,” said meteorologist Allen Cummings.

Miami Police spokesman Mike Stewart, whose department estimated the parade crowd at 250,000, blamed the weather for the smaller turnout.

On the normally jammed sidewalks along the parade route there were stretches of 100 feet of clear space. “Usually it’s real deep in people here,” said Miami Police Officer Dave Carter, patrolling Flagler Street on his 10th parade assignment.

The spectators seemed to have cold weather on their minds. When the Mahi Shrine Temple Oriental Band played Winter Wonderland, the crowd cheered.

The Miami Beach musclemen riveted the attention of two Massachusetts school girls. Margaret Morin, 14, and Lisa Russell, 16, jumped to their feet and grabbed hold of each other as the float bearing the men in blue bikinis passed before them.

“Oh, my God,” said Margaret. “He’s so-o-o-o gorgeous.”

One man seemed to spot the girls and flexed a bicep. With screams that turned into sighs, they melted into their seats.

Realtor Janice Siler, who has been coming to the parades for 20 years, shrugged off the gloomy weather. “I don’t care if it’s cold, I have my chairs on the sidewalk and I’m going to sit right here,” she said.

Siler came well-provisioned, “I have chicken and deviled eggs, Coca-Cola and some stronger drinks.”

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In this 2000 file photo, Gary the Gorilla is guided down Miami’s Biscayne Boulevard. ANDY NEWMAN AP


Connie Schooley, 38, huddled under a canvas parka and blanket. “This is about the most gutsy thing I ever did — being out here in the cold,” she said. “I hate it.”

The wind stirred chivalry in Alan Young, 22, who took off his toasty-warm gray coat, ran up to a float and wrapped it around a skimpily clad woman. “Man, she must be freezing,” said Young when he returned to the curb.

Henry Casabo, a Fort Lauderdale policeman, sat with his wife, son and sister-in-law on a sleeping bag spread out on the ground. Though they looked cold, tradition was foremost in their minds.

“When you’re a native of Florida, you have to come to the Orange Bowl Parade — especially on the 50th anniversary,” Casabo said. “The whole thing is so neat with everyone getting together. The Miami spirit is great.”

For pretzel-hawker Cynthia Woods, the cold was a boon. Warming her hands over a hibachi, she said she was selling her salty wares at a rate of one every three minutes. “I’m selling the right thing,” she said.

Steve Sanner had no such good fortune. Sanner was trying to sell ice cream, and a little-known brand at that. People were not lining up on Biscayne Boulevard Saturday night for a taste of Tarfuto Gelato.

“Haagen-Dazs backed out,” Sanner said. “I think they made the right move.”

While Sanner and Woods were selling to the crowd, street dweller Rodney Brown was collecting from it. What spectators discarded or lost, Brown, wearing a sweat shirt on his head, piled into his shopping cart. “There’s rings, radios, lots of cans,” he said.

Hurricane Orange Bowl fever gripped a good many of the spectators. Paul Kynerd, 24, a student at Syracuse University in New York, paraded red and black hurricane warning flags through the stands on Biscayne Boulevard. He had paid $32 for the flags.

“This is great,” Kynerd said. “The cold doesn’t bother me at all. It was 21 degrees in Syracuse when I left.”

Even sedate Southeast Bank executives were infected by Orange Bowl excitement. But they showed it in their own somewhat restrained manner by wearing orange hats with their pinstripe suits.

“You won’t see many bankers wearing these hats during business hours,” said Southeast senior vice president Joe Cooney.

Predictably, Hurricanes Coach Howard Schnellenberger was greeted with wild cheering along the parade route, while any manifestation of things Nebraskan was booed.

The Nebraskans in the crowd were good sports, however.

Marilyn and Bob Messler of Hastings, Neb., cheered as their two sons, Scott and Curtis, marched by with the Nebraska Cornhusker band.

“This parade is fantastic,” said Marilyn Messler. “It’s the only nightime parade. To see a parade under the lights makes it just tremendous. The pageantry is wonderful.”

Vernon and Maxine Halverson of Vermillion, S.D., were also cheering. “I’ve never been in Florida,” said Maxine Halverson. “It’s much nicer here than in South Dakota. I’ve never seen anything like this parade.”

As a rule, Miamians did the most complaining about the cold.

Busily taking pictures, Urvinber Kohli, a turbaned visitor from New Delhi, India, did not dwell on the weather and considered himself lucky to have caught the parade.

“It was just by chance that it was going on when I got here — your bowling,” he said.

Kohli found the Orange Bowl parade very different from what he was accustomed to back home. “This is more colorful, more gay, whereas the parades back home show the military strength of India.”

Michilime Wulfstadt, a Parisian transplanted to Miami Beach, watched the parade live for the first time and ventured that it would play well in her hometown.

“You should take this parade to Paris,” she said. “I tell you, oh, the French people would flip. They would faint. You know?”

It all appeared to be a seamless spectacle to those watching on the bleachers and sidewalks, but the parade committee knew different.

“I don’t know how we did it,” sighed staging committee member David Rowen as the parade came to an end.

“The Burdines float broke down. We were as much as a minute and 40 seconds behind for while.”

Dan McNamara, who orchestrates the parades and the Orange Bowl Classic halftime shows, explained how a last-minute switch kept television audiences from watching the frantic repair of the limping float.

“We had to put a commercial in,” McNamara said. As he spoke, an assitant arrived and presented MacNamara with a slip of paper. A puzzled McNamara took the paper. “What’s this?” he asked. “That,” said the assistant, “is your parade permit.”

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