For 64 years, a little neighborhood in central Tucson has been dazzling people with gorgeous, often large-scale, displays of Christmas lights. The Winterhaven Festival of Lights also serves as a fundraiser for the Tucson Community Food Bank. Last year, more than $20,000 and 33,000 pounds of food were donated by festivalgoers. On Sunday, Dec. 22, the Stanley E. Brown family will celebrate their 49th anniversary participating in the festival as Winterhaven residents with a two-hour concert on their front lawn with Jovert, Tucson High Magnet School's steel drum group under the direction of Khris Dodge; and performer Jodi Netzer with a Butoh dance performance and a dance party. We spoke to Shirley Brown about the family's special anniversary.
What is the history of Winterhaven?
Winterhaven started in the late 1940s. A gentleman came out from back East and wanted an area to live in where there were a lot of trees. He started decorating and from that point on it just started. It is not a requirement. A lot of people do, but you don't have to. But if you're going to be the only dark house on the street, it's a little embarrassing! We all get together, all the neighbors. We have a lot of elderly in here, although we've had a lot of new families move in. If they need help to put their lights up, or any suggestions, those of us who have been around for a quite a long time will be happy to help out.
How long does it take to prepare?
We usually start around Thanksgiving time, depending on how elaborate we're going to be. It's taken us probably a week, a week and a half, to put up all the lights around our house. We have cut down quite a bit since my husband and I are now on the older side. We do have family here in town that help us out. Two of our sons, they come over and help with all the lighting and things like that.
How does the award ceremony work?
The residents of this area can vote for the grand prize. In other words, the person they feel that has gone out of their way to do something spectacular. There are several homes around here where people have certainly done that. In the past, when the kids were available, we've won the grand prize 14 times. We put big displays on our front lawn and around the front door.
How long have you worked with the Tucson Community Food Bank?
Well over 10 years. At least 15 to 20 years.
What have been the subjects of some of your displays over the years?
We've had a farm, a barn. We've had a cathedral. I mean, massive size! We had a real tractor on our front lawn. We did an all Native American display, and we had a real teepee on our front lawn. That was gorgeous. We were the ones who started the "Aliens" Christmas display several years ago. There's a fellow down the street who last year had the Winterhaven Zoo. That was an outstanding display because he had all different kinds of animals down there. Not real animals, of course! There was another one up here where a fellow had a water display, fountains all over with music synced up. There are a lot of displays around here that are outstanding. This year there's a fellow who loves metalwork, and he's created candy canes, and that's called Candy Cane Lane. There's large, maybe 6-foot candy canes all down that street and around the corner. He's also displaying a nativity scene. That's another of the outstanding displays this year that I've seen. I haven't seen all of them this year, though. We take one section at a time and walk around each evening.