Noe Valley Voice November 1997

Deck the Halls...with the Same Old Christmas Trees

By Dodie Hamblen

"Awful," "shabby," and "very retro" are the words neighbors have used to describe the red-and-green tinsel Christmas trees hanging from 24th Street light poles each December. And you can expect to hear the same comments again this holiday season. It looks as if Noe Valley won't have new street decorations until Christmas 1998.

For the past four years, the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association has been trying to raise money to replace the 20-year-old decorations. "Everybody wants new decorations," says association president Robert Roddick, "but designing and getting the funds for them is major. It's more than people think."

The group's current estimate is $15,000 -- for holiday banners that would be hung along 24th Street and, for the first time, on Church Street. The banners are expected to cost individual merchants about $250, but the association is hoping to garner some grant money to cover a significant portion of the cost from larger companies and corporate donors.

Association member Tony Lyau, who is manager of the local Bank of America branch, says that in order to receive the grants, the Noe Valley Merchants Association must apply for nonprofit status. "We need to start early," says Lyau. "The documents for nonprofit status will be ready by December 31. Our plan is to have new decorations next year."

In the meantime, the group will continue to fork over $1,500 a year, for permit fees and insurance and to pay someone to put up, take down, and store the tree decorations. "It's not like it was when my dad had a business on 24th Street," says Roddick. "Back then, the merchants put the decorations up themselves."

Today's city planners have to navigate a maze of light posts, telephone poles, and utility wires above the commercial strip, he points out. The merchants also need to engage a designer or artist, and settle on a design for any new banners. "We need to know what we're doing before we start asking for money. [All we know now is] we want to focus on the festive not the religious nature of the season. And we want to do something that appeals to kids."

For the time being, Roddick's group, which now numbers 100, will cart out the tinsel trees. But the association has also endorsed an idea suggested by realtor B.J. Droubi. Droubi is encouraging shopkeepers to string white lights on their storefronts, to give the neighborhood a uniformly festive look. Walgreen's at Castro and 24th has agreed to provide strings of lights at wholesale prices.

The merchants group will also sponsor a bigger-than-ever holiday bash. On Saturday, Dec. 13, Santa Claus will arrive in Noe Valley to pose for free photos at the Bank of America at 24th and Castro. Refreshments will be served, with Starbucks providing hot chocolate. Elisa's Health Spa will have a walking Christmas tree strolling 24th Street. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer will visit Zephyr Real Estate, and the St. Philip's Church carolers will sing carols throughout the day.

Meanwhile, neighbors and shoppers will just have to put up with those scruffy old decorations for another year. Anyone wishing to make a donation toward the purchase of new decorations should contact Robert Roddick at 641-8687.