Orange became a boom town during World War II and when peace came, many people stayed. When Christmas came in 1946, the Orange Junior Chamber of Commerce decided organize a community parade to celebrate.
The group was also known as the Jaycees and they made a tradition of the parade for more than half a century. The Orange Kiwanis kept the tradition going a few years ago when the Jaycees canceled the event.
The 72nd annual parade (canceled last year because of the Covid pandemic) will be Friday beginning at 6 p.m.
Through the years, the parade has been held in the daytime and at night. Sometimes other events have been held in conjunction with the parade. Photos from the Heritage House collection show a night festival on Fifth Street and Division after a parade.
Showing that everything old is new again, the city of Orange is sponsoring a family gathering at almost the same spot this year after the parade. Food trucks will set up and the movie “Elf” will be shown on an outdoor screen.
In 1953, the parade had real reindeers pulling Santa’s sleigh. Lutcher Stark II, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 71, converted home movies to YouTube. The movies by his father, Homer Stark, include footage of the 1953 Christmas parade showing the reindeer.
The home movie was shot from First Presbyterian Church on Green Avenue. The church grounds have been a popular place for families to gather for the parade. The church has served the parade crowds for the past couple of decades by having an open house and serving cookies, hot chocolate, coffee, and popcorn.
Through the years, hundreds of kids have climbed, or been placed, on top of the granite posts of the fence in front of the church. The Stark home movie gives a glimpse of some.
The population of the city of Orange in 1950 was 21,174 with a county population of 40,567, meaning more than half of the county’s population lived within the city’s boundaries. Populations in 1940 had been 7,472 for the city and 17,382 for the county.
The Orange Leader from November 27, 1953, reported the parade started at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 28. Don Carr was the parade marshal. The paper promoted the live reindeer in the story. The parade route started at Fifth and Division, near where the 2021 parade will start.
The parade route in 1953 went north on Fifth to Front, then to Fourth and up to Green Avenue. It circled back down Fifth and then went west on Seventh Street back up to Green, then west on Green to end at the railroad tracks at the Southern Pacific Depot.
In 1960, after MacArthur Shopping Center opened, the parade route moved with bands, floats, and cars staging at the shopping center before going east on MacArthur and Green to end downtown.
The 1953 Stark home movie shows cottages still along the south side of Green Avenue. They were soon demolished for businesses. One of the mansions that once lined Green Avenue is seen on the north side of Green.
The three-story columned mansion was built lumberman J.W. Link, who also served as mayor. After he moved to Houston, the family of Carrie Lutcher Brown bought the mansion. After her death, the family donated it to Presbyterian Church, which used it for Sunday school and day school classes. A tall fire escape slide had been installed in front of the house.
The Homer Stark family included his wife, Becky Havens Stark, and daughters Rebecca, Ramona, and Rebel, plus Lutcher II. Many people can be seen wearing coats and hats, but some shed their coats as the day warmed. A girls marching group, likely the Bengal Guards from Stark High School, have white short-sleeve shirts and black skirts on.
The Leader reported that merchants entering floats or decorated cars in the 1953 parade included Staudt’s Jewelry, Taylor’s Supply, Orange Supply, Levine’s, Toyland, Goodyear Store, Green’s, Smith’s Pianos, McLamore Motors, Border Motor, Gasow Motor, Brookshire Motor, Hempel Motor, and Morrow’s Home Supply.
Fraternal and civic groups participating included Zuanna Auxiliary, Jaycees, Curtis School PTA, Eagles Lodge, American Legion, VFW, Disabled American Veterans, Woodbine Rebekahs, Woodmen and Patriarch Militant, Canton 27, and Orange Business and Professional Women Club.
Orange Christmas Parade – 1953
Written by Margaret Toal