FORT WAYNE — The Broadway Corridor celebrates the lighting of a towering Christmas tree every holiday season, but this year watched the tree lifted and illuminated twice.
The 40-foot Colorado blue spruce stands in front of the Shine & Hardin law offices at 2810 Beaver Ave., at Broadway. The lights went on Nov. 22, wind felled the tree on Nov. 27, and it was anchored and glowing again by the evening of Nov. 29.
Attorney Steve Shine, who has made the event happen for 15 years, watched the 2019 light go up twice. “It’s all about the neighborhoods,” he said, as crews worked beneath his second-floor office window overlooking the plaza. “It’s about the fact that there are seven very important neighborhoods that are up and down the Broadway Corridor. Some of them have been designated as historical neighborhoods. There’s a lot of pride in the 07 ZIP code so to speak, and we want to add to that feeling of spirit and camaraderie in the holiday season.”
Mudrack Tree Services, which had delivered the tree for its initial placement, was on hand to lift the tree into place a second time.
The wind that toppled the tree that Wednesday was part of a front that lashed the Midwest, overturned trucks on highways, and forced several holiday activities to be canceled or to have wind exposure curtailed.
Shine said the silver living in the incident was that no one was injured and there was no damage where the tree was resting on its side. Crews said even the tree itself had little damage.
By late Friday, the tree was in place and its 30,000 multicolored lights glowing once again.
Christmas on Broadway is regarded as an unofficial kick-off to the community’s Christmas celebration.
Broadway and most of the side roads around Shine & Hardin were packed with cars and throngs of pedestrians walking toward Broadway Plaza, long before the festivities’ official start time.
This year’s lighting was the 15th, as Shine and law partner Tom Hardin described in a news release: “We are so proud of this family-oriented event, which, 15 years ago, started off as a neighborhood gathering with a mere 150 attendees to what has become a symbol of the beginning of Fort Wayne’s holiday season, with thousands of people gathering on the Broadway plaza and thousands more watching on television.”
U.S. Sen. Todd Young officially flipped the switch that illuminated the tree at about 6 p.m. The senior senator follows a tradition of local dignitaries who’ve lit the tree, including Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry.
As the boisterous crowd gathered around the tree prior to its illumination, loudspeakers blared familiar Christmas carols and vendors sold folks steaming cups of hot chocolate for $1 to keep the night’s chilly air at bay.
Rhonda and Jerome Stallworth were just two of the massive crowd camped along the Broadway sidewalk, the pair ensconced in collapsible lawn chairs they’d brought from home just for the occasion. It was the first time the Fort Wayne couple had seen the tree lighting, and they had been camped out on Broadway, waiting since about 5:15 p.m., they said. “My daughter has seen this before,” Rhonda said, “and she said it was definitely something we should see.”
A phalanx of Fort Wayne Police Department cruisers blocked Broadway near the plaza, allowing crowds to gather around the tree and mill in the middle of Broadway, waiting for the big moment.
About 6 p.m., Shine took to a microphone, and announced to the crowd that the ceremony was about to begin. He led a countdown from 10 that had the massive crowd counting along.
Loud cheers erupted as he reached zero, and Young flipped the switch, officially kicking off Fort Wayne’s decoration season, and bathing the plaza in twinkling Christmas lights.
Local couple Mike and Mary Lewis said they were impressed with the ceremony, and that the reasons they decided to come were multifaceted.
“It’s our first time here,” said Mary Lewis. “And we’re just enjoying the lighting of the tree, the Christmas music, and all the smiling kids.”
Not long after the tree lit up, fireworks erupted from the roof of the Shine & Hardin offices, illuminating the night sky, and showering sky-borne sparks above the crowd and along the top of the giant holiday tree.
Evan and Sonja Grotemat donated the Broadway Plaza tree. Sponsors of the event included Shine & Hardin, ABC-WPTA Channel 21, and radio station 107.3 WRSW-FM.
Fort Wayne resident R.J. Sutphin came with his wife to the Broadway event for his first time, and said he was happy to have come.
“This was my first time here,” said Sutphin, a homicide detective with the Fort Wayne Police Department. “I was very surprised at the extent of the show. The fireworks were a nice touch.”
(Garth Snow of IN|FW Newspapers contributed to this report.)