There was so much for Karin Hannon to learn about the 1700- block ofAddison’s famous holiday lights. Like how the lights can’t be bought at a typical store. They have to be special-ordered from a Kansas City company that makes brighter, more energy-efficient LED lights that get distributed nationally.
Hannon took over the coordination effort this year, after Jeff Brydzinski, who had long held planning duties, moved away from the neighborhood. With new lights up for the first time in about two years, they’re shinier than what recent visitors to the famous Rittenhouse streets might be used to.
“It’s such a difference when you put on those new lights and they’re all the same,” Hannon said. “Because we were almost a year behind it was even more beautiful.”
She planned to rally the neighborhood to replace the old lights in the spring, but quickly learned that wouldn’t work. The replacement works best when the leaves are gone. So the lights had to be delayed for several months until a couple of weeks ago.
The tradition goes back eight years. Brydzinski had seen some residents go all-out for holiday cheer on the block and thought about how beautiful a fully lit 1700 Addison could be. He organized a fundraising effort and that first year drew about $4,000, enough for the lights and a lift. Neighbors volunteered, stringing up the lights for several hours on a fall day and then throwing a de facto block party at night. And the tradition continued, year after year.
In 2014, the Huffington Post hailed the tiny side street as “arguably the prettiest street in the entire Northeast.” Unlike other holiday light displays across Philadelphia, such as Greeby Street Christmas in the Northeast and the Miracle on 13th Street in South Philly, the 1700 Addison lights are illuminated year round, making it a destination for proposals (many residents keep champagne in their houses to aid couples with toasts) and even a wedding:
A cab driver once expressed how much he and his fiance enjoyed the lights and had a connection to one of the residents. They got married in the center of the street, with one family offering their home for a reception and Brydzinski taking the photos.
“I wound up building a house almost double the size in Northern Liberties. I almost just stayed in this smaller house to live on that street,” Brydzinski said. “There’s nothing like living on that street.”
When Hannon moved to the neighborhood with her family from New York about three years ago, the lights were part of the reason they settled on the house. Almost all of the 42 households on the block and a couple more around the corner participate. Hannon never thought she’d be the one coordinating efforts to put the lights up.
But when Brydzinski moved out, he requested somebody take over the leadership duties. Weeks passed. Silence.
“I love it so much I didn’t want the lights to stop,” Hannon said. “That’s why I kind of stepped up.”
She set a date for Nov. 11. Everyone on the block pooled money together for the lights and a Genie lift, and gathered ladders and other supplies. Hannon ordered the LED lights from a Kansas City company. A total of about 15,000 lights are needed for the street.
Problem was, the leaves still clung to the trees, courtesy of Philly’s warm fall. The night before, temperatures dropped into the 20s, erasing the weeks of warmth.
“All the leaves had fallen,” she said. “It was the most insane thing.”
They worked from about 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The renovation day did have its casualties. Two couples came by for engagements while they were stringing up the lights.
“At one point they had asked if we could move the lift while this was going on,” Hannon said. “We’re like, ‘are you kidding me? We’ve been working on this all day. And here’s a toast. But we’re not moving the lift.’”