The Miracle of 37th Street

A Festival of Lights


EDITOR'S NOTE: Since the following article was written a few years back, there have been changes in the 37th Street neighborhoods of Austin. For a while, home sale brought a number of residents to the area. A few homeowners who were not as ambitious as others to participate in the annual lighting festival were not pleased with the over-crowded traffic conditions and throngs of pedestrians that t=urned their neighborhood into a holiday spectacle.  A few opted to build in the suburbs and turned their property into rental home and/or apartments that were often rented to university students who were not financially able to keep up the fabulous light displays. The good news is that there has been an effort to restore the neighborhood to its former level of popularity. while there has been some success, the neighborhoods are still not as fabulously decorated as they were in their former days. Each year there is hope and anticipation the popular area will recover, and perhaps current efforts to achieve that goal will be fulfilled.


It's just a stone's throw away from the University of Texas campus, just off the drag (Guadalupe Street) in Austin,  an older residential neighborhood full of holiday cheer, the kind of place that attracts thousands every day throughout the holiday season, instilling gladness of the heart and warm thoughts for the special season.


For a block of Austin's 37th Street each year, enthusiastic residents let loose the gates of restraint and go all out to decorate their houses and yards and even the street with one of the most dynamic community Christmas light displays in the Lone Star State.  And this year is no exception.


It's been going on now for more than 20 years and started when one of the neighborhood residents hung a row of lights across a tree in the front yard and started adding to the display every year. It has grown to be one of the more dramatic examples of lighting creativity in the world, with residents sticking lights in every tree, across roof lines to the houses next door. Cars and curb lines and sidewalks and figurines have been lighted. Even pets and the residents themselves have been known to adorn themselves with twinkling lights to stand in the yard as thousands walk by to appreciate their creative minds and the handiwork of their desperate efforts to become the most decorated block in Texas.


You might get the impression this fantastic display is the handiwork of a neighborhood committee or organizing body that helps in the annual planning of the block-long display - but you would be wrong. It's every man, woman and child to themselves on this street, and the end result is a neighborhood that puts their where-with-all into a dramatic event that is talked about all year long.


Good Morning America has featured the lighted neighborhood in a past episode. Magazine and newspaper writers and photographers have traveled great distances to capture the displays on film. UT students often stroll the neighborhood to savor the festive season, and Austinites and other visitors flock there every year to take in what can truly be called one of the most amazing neighborhood displays in America.


If you plan a visit, there's a few things you should keep in mind. Because of the extreme popularity of the display, visitors are encouraged to park elsewhere (on nearby Guadalupe Street, for example) and walk the neighborhood. Traffic has been and continues to be a problem on 37th Street during the holidays. And the large amount of pedestrians every year complicate the traffic problem to the point that Austin police often set up at the end of the block to direct seasonal traffic.


As with most good things come a few bad. In the past, police have had to close the street to all traffic, though that problem seems to have corrected itself now that passerbys have learned the one-way traffic routine. Another unpleasant aspect for neighborhood residents is that opportunistic individuals have attempted to commercialize the experience by selling hot chocolate and lighted sculptures on the street. Residents say they want the spectacle to remain pure and natural - a true expression of the holidays. Regardless, the display is indeed a wonderful event to experience, if you don't mind the traffic.


Getting There

If you are coming by way of I-35, exit at 38th Street and go west. Once you hit Speedway, you might want to start looking for a parking space (remember--no left turn onto Speedway). Try turning on to Cedar (first left after Speedway). If you are coming by way of MoPac, exit at 35th Street and go east. 35th becomes 38th. Once you get to Guadalupe, you might try turning right, getting onto a side street, and looking for a parking space.