- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2000

Only moments after the holiday scene was unveiled, the first child could be seen pressed against the picture window, fogging up the glass as she peered in at the animated figures decorating their Victorian-era home for the holidays.
In neighboring windows, animatronic deer and foxes were sledding under a starry night against an artist's rendition of Rock Creek Park, while playful North Pole penguins cavorted in front of a backdrop of the Jefferson Memorial. Nearby, a talking "Beatrice the Bear" told holiday stories to her bear grandchildren that can be heard via an outside speaker.
For the second straight year, Washington's Business Improvement District (BID) has brought back the D.C. Winter Festival of Lights, which debuted last Thursday with six holiday scenes in the windows of the former Woodies building on F Street NW.
Above the display windows, the prototype of what will be 12 overhanging skylines containing more than 29,000 lights bathed the block in a holiday glow, as 18 5-foot glowing snowflakes adorned the nearby streetlamps.
It has been 16 years since F Street saw this sort of holiday display, and while the children were the most entranced, longtime D.C. residents felt it was a tradition that's been neglected far too long.
Laval Sanks has been living in the District since the mid-1960s and remembers when Woodies and the novelty stores along F Street were "the only place to go [shopping]."
He and his wife were passing through the area when he noticed the lights strung across the street and came by to gaze into the windows and remember how the area used to look.
"All the windows were decorated, but Woodies was the best," Mr. Sanks recalled.
"Now we'll come back and bring our grandchildren."
Kali Hacias moved here from Cincinnati and isn't too acquainted with Washington traditions as yet. After chancing upon the tale-telling bear display earlier last week, she decided to return with her 2-year-old daughter, Michelle.
"She really enjoys the stories," Mrs. Hacias said.
Animated window scenes first appeared in the 1930s but gradually died out in downtown Washington department stores. The F Street commercial district fell on hard times in the 1980s, and by 1995 financial difficulties forced Woodward & Lothrop to close.
Last year an estimated 1 million people came downtown to see the six display windows although few of them stayed behind to spend any money.
Since then, however, 13 new restaurants have opened in the neighborhood, as well as a variety of stores, including Barnes & Noble, ESPNZone, XandO/Cosi, Oceannaire Seafood Room and Angelo & Maxie's. Across the street from the Woodies building, the Lincoln Square building is set to open this spring, offering 30,000 more square feet of retail space.
BID organizers see the return of the holiday display as symbolic of the revitalization of the city.
Tom Wilbur, senior vice president of the John Akridge Companies and chairman of the board of Downtown D.C. BID, said, "As beautiful as [the windows] are, we really want to see some retail in the Woodies buildings. That's our Christmas wish for next year."
Doug Jemal, owner of the Woodies building, added that he is optimistic we're "finally going to see F Street come back."
Established in 1996, the Washington's Business Improvement District is a 110-block neighborhood where property owners tax themselves to raise funds to supplement services offered by the city.
BID covers an area containing approximately 825 properties and is bounded by the Mall on the south, Massachusetts Avenue on the north, the U.S. Capitol to the east and the White House to the west.
Rich Bradley, the executive director of BID, hopes the neighborhood "will become what it was for many years: the center of Washington."
Seamus Houston, director of marketing and communications for BID, said the holiday presentation was designed to reflect Washington's role as an international city and to pay respect to the diversity of its citizens.
"We wanted to make sure that it was as broad-based as possible," Mr. Houston said.
Much of the project capitalized on the success of last year's display.
Local artist Scott Brooks, who painted the holiday scene backdrops a year ago, was brought back in mid-October to oversee the design, and Mr. Jemal was enthusiastic about again using the Woodies building for the display.
But BID was determined to outdo last year.
It signed the Discovery Channel Store, the Washington-Baltimore Regional 2012 Olympic Coalition, the Martin Luther King Library and Wechsler's Auction House as sponsors.
And while the city and the property owners supported the idea of overhanging lights, there were a series of unforeseen practical considerations that had to be ironed out.
"This was the most complicated thing I've ever done," Mr. Houston confessed.
Skylines had to be placed high enough so that trucks and fire engines could safely pass underneath them, bolts had to be driven into buildings to support the lights, and power sources had to be secured to light them.
But some buildings, including the Washington and the Willard hotels, are landmarks. Drilling into the facade was forbidden.
"Everything in this project was completely thought out," said Mr. Houston.
After considering such short-term solutions as temporary poles to bear the weight of the skyline, it was necessary to consult structural engineers. They recommended that six 5-ton concrete blocks, or bollards, be constructed to serve as foundations for temporary light polls.
In addition to the skylines, a group of actors wearing holiday costumes was hired to liven up the display.
The characters, including a nutcracker, a snowman and a Christmas tree, will greet shoppers and workers in the mid-afternoons on weekends and during lunch hour and rush hour on weekdays.
But when the custom-made costumes arrived, they turned out to be much larger than the 7-foot-tall sizes that had been expected.
The Christmas tree costume was almost 15 feet tall and the actor who wore it had difficulty maneuvering under the awning at the main entrance to the former department store.
Despite the difficulties, Mr. Houston says bigger plans are in the works for next year.
How much the display costs remains something of a mystery.
"It's a gift to the city," Mr. Houston says, and "it's not polite to ask the price of a gift.

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