Staging parade takes many hands — and a lot of foam 

Several truckloads of Styrofoam have been carved, painted, covered with glitter and decorated on 26 floats that will caravan to Chinatown for Saturday’s Chinese New Year Parade.

The lunar new year began Feb. 14 — it’s the year of the courageous tiger — and this weekend is the spectacular conclusion of sponsored celebrations in Chinatown with a procession of dragon dancers, confetti and, of course, floats.

The mastermind behind almost all the designs — which cost about $10,000 to $24,000 a float — has been working with a crew of about 30 in a warehouse at Pier 27 for a month.

“I just walk around Chinatown, get inspired by little things, and then blow them up in my head,” said Dave Thomas, who has been building and sketching designs for them for the past 15 years.

Each one has at least $1,000 worth of foam that this year came from a port that was being demolished outside The City. They all have at least one sculpture that’s usually more than 8 feet tall and is draped with tinsel, sparkles, metallic paper and paint.

Almost all of them started with Thomas’ imagination and take anywhere from 200 to 350 hours to complete, from pencil and paper to float, he said.

“Half the foam goes straight to the Dumpster when it’s carved,” Thomas said. “Then we donate some. The rest we end up throwing away.”

The team that has been meticulously cutting, shaving and painting the past month has created a passionate relationship with the work and with each other, referring to Thomas as “teacher” and “Mr. Thomas.”

“He has taught me so much,” said Yu Mei Hou, an artist who moved from China nearly 12 years ago and has been sculpting lunar new year floats ever since.

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com


Decorating frenzy

Workers putting together the floats go through a lot of raw materials.

Generators: 30
Floodlights to illuminate floats: 350
Decorative paper: 1,700 yards
Glitter: 200 pounds
Paint: 15 gallons of yellow paint, 90 other colors
Styrofoam: At least three complete semi-truck loads, $25,000
Tires purchased: 18
Trash bins filled as of Thursday: 8

Source: Float designers

What to know about Year of the Tiger parade Saturday in The City

Starting time: 5:15 p.m.
Starting point: Market and Second streets
Estimated viewers: 3 million (on TV and in person)
TV: KTVU (Ch. 2), KTSF (Ch. 26)
Cost of bleacher seat: $30
Location: Kearny Street between Pine and Post streets
Length of parade: About 2 hours
Ending point: Kearny and Jackson streets

Source: Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Festival and Parade


Bring a coat and an umbrella

Saturday’s forecast calls for cool temperatures with rain possible.

Temperature: Upper 50s
Wind: 5 to 15 mph
Rain: 40 percent chance of showers that should taper off by 5 p.m.

Source: National Weather Service

About The Author

Kamala Kelkar

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