Since 1964, the drab warehouse at 835 S. Raymond Avenue has served as one of several float-decorating venues for the annual Tournament of Roses Parade. From 1969-70, it also rang with the guitars of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and other bands.
Though neither aesthetically nor acoustically impressive, in one year the Rose Palace presented an impressive roster of musical acts that also included the Byrds, Joe Cocker, the Grateful Dead, Alice Cooper, Santana, the Spencer Davis Group, and the Steve Miller Band.
Concerts began in March 1969, with the approval of Pasadena Mayor C. Bernard Cooper, who told the Pasadena Star-News: “This music is not my cup of tea, but apparently it is the tea that a lot of youngsters like. We are providing something they not only enjoy but something that keeps them from doing a lot of things they might otherwise do.”
Local teenagers approved. “There weren’t any places in Pasadena where you could see live music in those days,” remembered Belinda Rachman, who was in junior high at the time and rode her bike to the Rose Palace to see Led Zeppelin in May 1969. ”All the kids went—Blair High School, South Pasadena High School. It was a hangout. The cool thing about the Rose Palace was it let everybody in. It was all ages, and they didn’t charge much, so anybody could go.”
Led Zeppelin’s two shows, on May 2 and 3, 1969, drew huge crowds. As the L.A. Times noted in the days leading up to the shows, “A host of stars purchased tickets for the event, including Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman and Laurence Harvey.” Roughly 4,000 people attended each show, including future KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer.
“People drove psychedelically painted vehicles from the wildest sections of Hollywood,” recalled Ralph Hulett and Jerry Prochnicky in their 2005 book Whole Lotta Led: Our Flight With Led Zeppelin. “There were cars with fluorescent rainbows, stars and comets, and MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR plastered on them […] Individuals with painted faces wandered about, handing out sticks of incense. At the side of the building was a strange wide-eyed woman in a scarf and buckskin shirt.”
The venue had a short life, however. While city directors were initially pleased with the revenue the Rose Palace generated, drugs and crowd control soon became a problem. After receiving complaints from nearby residents and commercial property owners about “damage to properties […] narcotics, and obscene behavior,” city directors banned rock concerts at the Rose Palace on May 5, 1970.
Though its existence was brief, memories of the Rose Palace’s concert days live on at an unofficial Facebook page. According to local lore, Eddie Van Halen later purchased the Rose Palace’s house amplifier, a 100-watt Marshall Super Lead Plexi. “Over the years, he used many other early Super Leads,” notes Gear Secrets of the Guitar Legends: How to Sound Like Your Favorite Players, “but this particular Marshall head was always his favorite.”
Author’s note: For those interested in viewing float construction, the Rose Palace is open to the public December 29-31: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and January 1: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Admission: $10. Bootleg audio of the Grateful Dead at the Rose Palace in March 1969 can be found at the Internet Archive.