Downtown St. Augustine is lit up during annual Nights of Lights
By Marella Flynn | firstname.lastname@example.org
Thousands of tiny white lights have been illuminating the Nation’s Oldest City during the holiday season for the past 14 years.
“Did you know there use to be two movie theaters in the center of town? [They] only cost $1,” Flagler Assistant Professor Nicholas Panepinto said. Full of interesting St. Augustine tidbits, he is a proud former Saint. He was describing the historical downtown scenery before the tradition of Nights of Lights started.
Panepinto explained how the town center was fading after the closing of the two movie theaters, and the committees that help preserve the town were looking for a way to “revitalize” downtown. The Nights of Lights radiates throughout the downtown, creating a magical and romantic atmosphere for locals and tourists alike. “It gave people a reason to go to the heart of the city,” Panepinto said.
The masterminds behind the inaugural Nights of Lights were Bill Lennon and Len Weeks. “Let me give you the standard answer I use when talking about the first Nights of Lights,” former mayor Weeks said over a phone interview. “It was (former City Commissioner) Bill Lennon’s idea and I took it and ran with it.”
Actively involved with several town committees, Weeks wanted to bring people to St. Augustine during the slowest, darkest time of the year. He explained that a town in Virginia had been doing a light show, except they used color lights and animated trains. When Lennon and Weeks mentioned to the town committees about using a similar concept, they were hesitant.
“I knew the concept was a good idea, but not appropriate for historical St. Augustine,” said Weeks. Quite the visionary, Weeks knew he wanted white lights, but instead of the animated trains, he wanted to outline the unique structural design of the historical buildings and area. “It really helps to show the true architecture of the buildings,” he said.
Before Nights of Lights could begin, Weeks had to accomplish three things. He needed to convince town officials and committees that this would be beneficial to the town, to raise money, and ultimately hang up all the lights. It was not an easy task. “I believed in it,” he said.
Weeks had to thoroughly prove to the town it would promote tourism and not cheapen the city. After he was approved, he had to raise money for the lights and electricity. He personally went door-to-door to businesses and raised pledges of support to decorate their buildings.
Money in hand, it was time to hang the lights. “I actually went out there myself and for 4 to 6 weeks, I hung lights,” Weeks reminisced. The Bridge of Lions, the Lightner Museum, and the historical bayfront were all adorned with lights.
Several years ago, Flagler College’s Alumni Relations staff started using Nights of Lights as a way to reunite alumni and bring in their families and friends. Kathy O’Keefe, director of Alumni Relations, works every year to create a warm, holiday ambiance at the Markland House for the alumni and their loved ones. “Alums love the old house and the ones who have never seen it enjoy getting a chance to visit.”
The even, which happens the same evening that the lights are lit-up, has been growing every year, and this year attracted about 300 to 400 people.
The Nights of Light began Nov. 17 and will conclude at the end of January 2008.