Community NewsLetter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor: The History of the Old Town Lights on King Street

Alexandria, VA – Dear Zebra,

Nina Tisara’s question, “But whose bright idea was it?” in the February issue prompted me to respond since I knew the answer to her question.

At the time, I was the Assistant to City Manager Vola Lawson. The Old Town Business Association (OTBA) asked me to come to its meetings, and that is when I first heard of the Association’s idea of lighting the King Street trees. The businesses wanted to attract more people to their shops, galleries, and restaurants before and during the holidays. They thought making King Street more attractive and inviting would help.

If I remember correctly, Phyllis Kennedy (owner of Enchanted Florist) was President of OTBA, and David Martin (owner of Goldworks) as well as Brian Watson (owner of Bugsy’s) were active members and were enthusiastic about this project. I took this idea back to Vola, and after a bit of persuasion, she agreed to support it.

I don’t remember whose connection it was, but they invited a woman from one of the Southern cities that had lit trees (Savannah? Charleston?) to Alexandria to train the T&ES crew (Tom O’Kane was Director then). The day of the night they were going to string the trees, I met with the crew and explained how important this project was to the business community and the City Manager. Tom promised the crew that once the trees were lit, that first night, they could bring their families to see the lights from the City’s trucks.

The work night was a sight to behold – cherry pickers up and down those few blocks in the dark (so as not to disrupt daytime traffic), with crews trying to string the trees very attractively, as they had been trained. And then the lights were lit – beautiful and magical (the crew’s families came for the public reveal and the crew was SO proud of what they had done).

Because this was not a budgeted project, funds could only be found to decorate every other street tree and only for a few blocks (up to Washington Street?). Naturally, the next day, I received angry phone calls from businesses that did not have a lit tree in front of their store or restaurant. I promised them that, hopefully, we would be able to do so the following year.

It was such a success for residents, business owners, and tourists that the next year the City began to decorate all the street trees in those few blocks and eventually up beyond Washington Street. It was my honor to receive an award from OTBA that year for championing, at least within City Hall, this wonderful idea. And when we lived away from Alexandria, each year my daughter (or now my granddaughters) would send me a photo of the lit trees over the holidays.

Thanks for the memories, Nina,

Judy Hansen

ICYMI: Memories and Musings – On Bright Ideas


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