- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

Two hundred employees of Hargrove Inc. are putting the finishing touches on decorations and floats for the 55th Presidential Inauguration in a converted Volkswagen parts building in Lanham.

It is something Hargrove has been doing for more than 50 years.

Established after World War II by the father-and-son team of Earl Hargrove Sr. and Earl Hargrove Jr., the company began decorating for presidential inaugurations in 1949.

“My father was a window dresser in the 1920s and ‘30s, and when TV became popular in the ‘40s he began to do outdoor decorating and parade floats,” said Earl Hargrove Jr., the company’s president.

Asked how his father managed to land a contract for Hargrove’s first inaugural parade, for President Truman, Mr. Hargrove said he guessed his father was the only one with enough gumption to go for it.

Preparing for the Jan. 20 event every four years is not easy.

Mr. Hargrove and a group of designers begin formulating ideas for the inauguration in late November. In early December, Mr. Hargrove presents ideas and capabilities to the Inaugural Committee.

The committee, which did not return several calls, did not want to make the inaugural especially festive this year because of the war in Iraq. Instead, it chose to focus on American traditions and symbols, Mr. Hargrove said.

This year, Hargrove will provide all the decorations for nine official inaugural balls, three candlelight dinners and six parade floats. Workers will use 500 gallons of paint, 20,000 yards of fabric, 600 rolls of carpet, 25,000 feet of lumber and 15,000 flowers to bring the theme, “Celebrating Freedom — Honoring Service,” to life.

A 45-foot-long float to honor President Bush will carry the Crawford High School band, which will perform among longhorns, rail fencing and other symbols of Texas.

A popular float from four years ago depicting Wyoming, complete with a stuffed buffalo and an 1862 Conestoga wagon, will be used to honor Vice President Dick Cheney.

“It’s a very special float; we were asked to use it again because it’s so spectacular,” Hargrove spokesman Marvin Bond said.

Hargrove Inc. will employ 40 extra carpenters, painters, construction workers and mechanics to prepare for the inauguration.

In the days leading up to the big event, an additional 400 to 450 people at the venues will be setting up.

“By the time it’s all over, everyone in the company will have done something they don’t normally do,” Mr. Bond said.

Despite Hargrove’s reputation as a parade company, it generates only 5 percent of its business from parade floats.

Most of the company’s revenue comes from the 175 exhibits and trade shows it organizes each year.

“We’re not in the parade business, we’re in the special events business,” Mr. Hargrove said.

Hargrove was in charge of decorations for the World War II Memorial dedication in May and NATO’s 50th Anniversary Summit.

“A lot of times people doing the summit meetings and so forth are the same people doing the inaugural, so they have a firsthand experience of what the company can do,” Mr. Bond said.

“We work in these venues all the time so we know the different ceiling heights, stage heights, fire codes, et cetera.”

Hargrove is a general service contractor for trade shows and special events.

The company designs, builds, installs and manages all the elements from sound to carpet.

The Center for Association and Leadership has used Hargrove Inc. for 20 years for various trade shows, large meetings, and the 200 education programs and conferences it presents a year.

“They have an extremely high level of customer service. They know the client so well they become part of your staff,” said Susan Sarfati, the center’s president and chief executive.

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