- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2009

LANHAM | Saws are buzzing in the cavernous warehouse where a Maryland company is fast at work making the parade floats that it has provided for presidential inaugurations since Harry S. Truman’s in 1949.

Hargrove Inc. also has been installing decor for inaugural balls since John F. Kennedy won the White House, and the company’s finesse at pulling off enormous festivities on the world stage has fostered its growth over the years.

It also will manage lighting, sound and video for the 10 official balls scheduled for President-elect Barack Obama.

“Most everything that happens around an inaugural that doesn’t happen on the Capitol steps or in the reviewing stand at the White House somehow is affected by this company,” company spokesman Marvin Bond said.

The 365,000-square-foot warehouse about 10 miles from the District is a veritable museum of decorations for past inaugurations and world events that have included economic summits and the 50th anniversary of NATO.

Crates are piled high with decorations bearing a strong political flavor — the occasional Democratic donkey here, a Republican elephant there. But the decorations aren’t limited to politics, creating a carnival-like mishmash of festive displays that include clowns and a huge King Kong, resting in several pieces until called on for the right occasion.

While Hargrove has worked on a multitude of national and international events and trade shows, U.S. presidential inaugurations have been a focus for nearly 60 years.

“People tend to count their tenure in the company by how many inaugurals they’ve done,” Mr. Bond said.

The number of employees will swell from 200 full-timers to a total of 500 workers as the Jan. 20 inauguration gets closer.

Mr. Bond describes preparations as a huge and hurried undertaking because there is a small window to get ready. Many employees will work around the clock in the days just before the festivities. The float crew will work through the night to reassemble eight floats after they are taken to the District.

The float for Delaware, the home state for Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., will be in the shape of a scrolled-out U.S. Constitution. It’s a fitting theme for the Delaware senator, who has taught constitutional law for 17 years.

Mr. Bond kept mum on the details of the Illinois float for the incoming president’s home state. He said it’s too early to say what special decorations may bedeck the floats, some of which are recycled from previous parades.

“They will be tweaked, obviously, as to what anybody in particular wants to represent their state,” Mr. Bond said.

Some presidents and vice presidents have been more involved than others in the float-decorating process.

Vice President Dick Cheney took an interest in the float for his home state of Wyoming. It included a representation of the Grand Tetons, a 1,000-gallon re-circulating fishing stream and a big buffalo obtained from a taxidermist for $6,000.

As much work as the floats require, Mr. Bond said the balls are tougher to organize. Once the inaugural committee signs off on a specific decorative look, Hargrove has to incorporate that into 10 venues each with unique specifications.

Hargrove gets its name from Earl Hargrove Jr., 80, who founded it with his father just after World War II. The company developed a reputation for specialty decorating and the parade float business.

Ownership changed hands in March to Mr. Hargrove’s daughter and son-in-law, but Mr. Hargrove still comes by to work on the inaugural floats.

“He will be out here every day, weekends included,” Mr. Bond said.

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