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Washington Voices

Lilac Festival float still a diamond in the rough

Michael Moore, designer of the Lilac Festival float, poses for a photo Monday with a model of what the completed float will look like. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Michael Moore, designer of the Lilac Festival float, poses for a photo Monday with a model of what the completed float will look like. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Moore has been designing parade float for 38 years

It doesn’t look like much.

A few sheets of plywood, the steel skeleton of a diamond jutting up in the front, a white plastic lawn chair perched on the back. But by May 18, the bare bones of this year’s Lilac Festival float will be transformed into a thing of shimmering beauty.

For 38 years float designer Michael Moore has been the brains behind the beauty. “I grew up in Spokane and always looked forward to the Lilac parade,” he said.

On a recent Saturday, the float barn in downtown Spokane swarmed with activity. The staccato sound of hammering, and the whine of welding echoed as volunteers worked to ready the float for its debut.

From his first sketch on a bar napkin three decades ago, to this year’s diamond anniversary float, Moore delights in the creation of these movable pieces of art.

Each year he works with the Lilac Festival president to design a float that fits with a theme of the president’s choosing.

The process begins in June when Moore meets with the incoming president. His goal is simple. “I want to create something that pleases the president and that the crew and I feel good about.”

Since this is the 75th anniversary of the parade, the diamond motif proved to be an obvious and glamorous choice. With a color scheme of gold, copper and purple, this year’s float seems royally inspired.

While Moore is the designer, a dedicated construction crew of a half dozen volunteers put the muscle to his magic.

Richard Logerwell, the festival’s vice president of float, leads the “float toads.” Logerwell got involved with the Lilac Festival five years ago at his wife’s urging. Now he spends most Saturdays in the float barn. “It’s kind of addictive,” he said.

The building is a treasure trove of Lilac Festival memorabilia. A huge stuffed salmon hangs from a wooden railing, the majestic head of an eagle perches nearby, and a glittering gold Clocktower replica rests in a corner.

These pieces of parades past prompted memories for Moore. His worst float idea? Using real lilac trees in a garden-themed float. “They were terrible to work with!” he said.

His favorite float? The Lilac Luau, featuring a three-dimensional Hawaiian boy reclining on his back, sipping a drink from a coconut shell.

As vice president of float, Logerwell has the honor of driving the parade route. “We make two loops,” he said. “The Lilac Royalty rides the first loop and the float crew rides the second loop. Last year the girls stood up and gave us a standing ovation when we drove past.”

Moore has also driven the float. “I ran out of gas one year up by the Coliseum,” he said. “This was back before cellphones.” He pulled over by the side of the road and waited for rescue.

The hallmarks of a Moore float involve moving pieces. From a prancing carousel horse one year, to this year’s pièce de résistance, a jewel-studded crown revolving around the point of a large purple diamond.

Lighting is another important feature, especially for a nighttime parade. Logerwell found inspiration for this year’s lighting at a Spokane Valley restaurant. White Christmas lights nestled in to coppery tinsel will provide additional glamour to the diamond anniversary float.

Logerwell said the float budget averages $2,000 to $3,000 each year, and the construction consumes thousands of volunteer hours. Work begins in October, and from January through May float toads are in the building at least two Saturdays a month.

Once May arrives, Moore, a kindergarten teacher by day, said, “We’re here every night until we’re done.”

But it’s truly a labor of love for those involved. Said Moore, “Your week’s not complete without Saturday in the float barn.”