Merry Christmas! I hope you all have been having a wonderful holiday! As my gift to you, I present you with this 1960s view of Christmas Island.
In September 1941, Olympia resident Leonard Huber started working on a lighted Christmas display in hopes of winning a contest. The contest was later cancelled, but Huber completed the display at his Eastside Hill home and lit it up Sunday, December 21st, only two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Over 5,000 people came by his house at the corner of Fairview Street and 11th Avenue that Sunday, and even more came through Monday morning. According to Huber, many people fell to their knees at the Nativity display complete with angels, shepherds, wisemen, and a church.
For the war years, the display remained dark, but it returned in December 1946, attracting more than 10,000 visitors in its first week before a fire caused by an overheated stove destroyed most of the display. Huber rebuilt it, and 1947 brought more than 45,000 visitors. Olympia’s one on-duty police officer took it upon himself to direct the holiday display traffic.
For the next three years, Huber relied on outside sources for funding the popular display, and the local police were proactive in safely routing the traffic generated. However, by 1950 neighbors and city leaders had enough and the display was moved to Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park. Throughout the 1950s, “Huber’s Sacred Scenes” would be displayed at the Duwamish Drive-In Theatre and at a North Seattle cemetery.
But in 1959, Huber’s display made a grand return to its hometown as the new Christmas Island. Funded by local businesses and assembled by the Army Corps of Engineers, Christmas island was a near-300-foot barge boasting a one-ton, 16-foot stainless steel cross in addition to a nativity scene and nearly 20,000 lights.
Christmas Island floated on Capitol Lake for only three years before burning down while in storage. Local organizations raised money to replace the display, but without the Army’s support, 1964’s Christmas Island was located on a solitary dock.
Christmas Island eventually returned to its floating state and lit up Capitol Lake every Christmas season until 1982 (with the exception of a stint in Boston Harbor in the mid-1970s).
In the 1980s, Huber was involved in an ownership lawsuit with the Island’s support organization and Christmas Island was moved to a stormwater pond behind the South Sound Mall Sears until the mid-90s. For the next few years, the Huber family displayed portions of the Island at Huber’s Gasthaus, an special event space.
The Olympia Metro Church displayed Christmas Island from 1998-2008, when the display was again put into storage.
In 2012, the Maytown Assembly of God brought Christmas Island out of storage and displayed most of it on church grounds. The church, located at 2920 Tierney St SW in Olympia, continues to host the display every year.
Drop by and see it if you have the chance! Merry Christmas!