A 2008 Look Back at How & Why The Series Started
"Culture and Commerce at its best!" That was one of the most intriguing comments printed in a newsletter following the 1990 5th Annual 'Candlelight Walk' in Armory Square that drew an estimated 4,500 visitors. That evening featured a performance by the Empire State Ballet Company, 'Open House' festivities produced by businesses that remained open through 11:00pm, and some 300 luminaries providing safe passage for people winding through the streets to savor all the activity meant for their enjoyment.
The concept for such an event was born five years before, created and supported by the Downtown Committee, the Updowntowners, and the newly organized Armory Square Association. The Candlelight performance was staged in a gravel parking lot, today occupied by the Center Armory complex of fine and casual restaurants, unique retail stores, an upscale hair salon and 35 resident owned condos.
It seems that Armory Square's early visionaries knew what they were doing when they embarked on this venture of bringing the arts to the center of this urban historic district.
A photo from a Candlelight performance in the 1980's, located where Center Armory now stands.
As Center Armory was being developed, the annual Candlelight evening in 1995 moved to the front facade of The MOST with "surrounding buildings used as a kind of stage in the round." The performance was by "Open Hand Theater" and again, the event was promoted as a truly magical night. With its theme of "Masks," all Armory Square businesses were urged to participate either through retail displays or by dressing personnel in some fanciful way.
Continued successes of this one night summer event and additional grant monies prompted organizers to develop a Series of Candlelight evenings that eventually moved staging to the corner of Clinton and W. Jefferson Streets with sight lines for audience seating not only on the MOST's front lawn but also in the closed streets circling the area. Though this arrangement accommodated more people, the concentration was no longer in the heart of the Square and the 'commerce' perceived by earlier promoters was slipping away.
In 2004, two Candlelight Committee members approached the Armory Square Board and the Downtown Committee with a bold idea. Why not relocate the stage again to a more central corner, one that could be angled so as to provide sight lines up W. Jefferson and up Franklin all the way passed the park to W. Fayette? Additionally, along with street luminaries and tree lights in the park, why not have candlelit tables where audience could be seated to enjoy menus by participating restaurants? And those wishing to have a picnic supper could continue to do so. Plenty of space for lawn chairs as usual. The measure was approved, the Series was expanded and has been heavily attended ever since.
Most important in this history of Candlelight is the fact that the event, like others, was created for the sole purpose of benefiting all of Armory Square. In the beginning, the Association had some 49- member businesses with a core volunteer group of 6 to 8 people. Today, membership has not only grown, but is much more inclusive as big businesses continue to develop here. A program such as the Candlelight Series begs participation by everyone to succeed in providing a healthy environment for the entire neighborhood.