Oh Christmas tree

It was 1956, and to young Bill Woods, nothing seemed insurmountable.

Oh Christmas tree

Kirkland’s Christmas spirit begins – and continues – with residents who ‘jump in to help’

By Carrie Wood

Kirkland Reporter

It was 1956, and to young Bill Woods, nothing seemed insurmountable.

So when he made the call to a local logger to bring in Kirkland’s very first Christmas tree, he didn’t know what he’d be in for the next day.

“That morning, here comes this big flatbed truck hauling this 50 foot big tree down (Kirkland Avenue) and it’s hitting both sides of the street where the cars were parked and dragged it all the way down to the end of the street and dumps it,” recalled former mayor Woods, who, at the time, was president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, a national organization of young men less than 35 years of age who didn’t fit the criteria to be in the Chamber of Commerce.

The young men stared at the tree, now stranded on its side in the middle of Kirkland Avenue. They hadn’t thought about how they would set the tree in the ground and they certainly had no idea the tree would be so big.

So the young men huddled inside of the Surf’s Café to figure out over coffee what they were going to do. As luck would have it, a crew from Puget Sound Power sat nearby and overheard the dilemma.

“A foreman from Puget Power said, ‘Hell, we’ll drill the hole, guys,’” Woods recalled. “So they went down by the end of Kirkland Avenue with their equipment and they drilled this hole right in the center of the street.”

Later, Beard Construction hoisted the 50 foot tree into the hole. Puget Sound returned and wired the street lights to provide for electricity, and the first Christmas tree in downtown Kirkland was lit up and so the holiday spirit began.

“I think the following year the city fathers decided that a tree was a good idea and they went the legitimate route and brought a tree service in after that,” he laughed, adding, “It was typical of young guys putting together an idea without really thinking it through and having it work out because everyone jumped in to help.”

Before then, Woods said that besides individual businesses decorating their own store fronts, there wasn’t much holiday decorating done in Kirkland during Christmas time.

The Junior Chamber also started the tradition of downtown decorating in 1956. The group needed a community service project, and thought decorating was a good idea. They collected donations from merchants to pay for the decorations and a tree, and hung the decorations themselves.

The Junior Chamber continued to decorate the downtown until about 1968, when a fire destroyed the Civic Center building along with the Christmas decorations the group had stored there.

Since then, the Christmas spirit has continued by caring residents who’ve jumped in along the way to keep it alive.

For the past five years, Roof Truss Systems has carried on the tradition of decorating the downtown and has supplied the tree at Marina Park.

But this year, because of the poor economy, Roof Truss has been unable to supply the lights, said Kirkland resident Heidi Tucker who has rallied the community for help.

“Our amazing Kirkland Downtown Association has once again stepped up to the plate for us and said they couldn’t lose this tradition,” Tucker said, noting that the nonprofit organization has agreed to help pay for the lights and cherry pickers, which will cost more than $500.

Two local churches — Christ and Sacred Journey — have also jumped in and said they would pay for whatever portion the KDA does not raise.

Despite the financial troubles of the times, Roof Truss still put up the 30 foot Christmas tree on the lift station at Marina Park this year.

On Saturday night, hundreds gathered at the park and along Kirkland Avenue to see real reindeer, sip hot apple cider and watch the 30 foot tree being lit up to kick off the holiday season. Businesses along Lake Street came alive with shoppers and crowds waiting to meet Santa Claus at Kahili Coffee.

During the tree lighting event, the community amassed around the lift station to sing along with the male acapella choir Northwest Sound.

“I sang with the chorus for 10 years,” said Clyde Hill resident Jim Owens, in between singing along with the choir to a verse of “Oh Christmas Tree.”

Parents held children on their shoulders and folks in the crowd passed out candy canes and Santa hats to little ones.

Before the large tree was lit, State Rep. Larry Springer stood on the lift station and introduced the family of George Mangouras, long-time owner of George’s Place restaurant in Kirkland who has lit the tree over the years and was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. His family had come to light the tree in his honor.

“With the spirit of George watching us tonight, here we go,” Springer said, prompting the crowd to count down from 10 … nine … eight …

And carrying on with Kirkland’s Christmas spirit, many faces lit up with the night sky.

Staff Writer Kendall Watson contributed to this report.