Delray Affair Celebrates 55 Years

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Staff report

The Delray Affair is back this month with art, food and new events.

The free festival, which is hosted by the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce, will converge on Atlantic Avenue from April 7-9.

The event spans across 10 downtown blocks and features over 500 exhibitors including artists, crafters, and food vendors from across the country.

Chamber officials estimate the event has an economic impact of approximately $5 million per year. It is estimated the event has produced a $50 million impact for the area over its history.

“We’re so excited that many community partners have come together for the 55th Anniversary of Delray Affair,” said Karen Granger, President & CEO of the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce. “This year there will be special events produced by our friends at Old School Square, the Downtown Development Authority, and the Historical Society to add unique historical and contemporary activities.”

This year, you can go “Delray After Dark.” As booths close, the downtown stays open. Walk on the Avenue, not just along it, and pop in the local galleries, retail shops and restaurants as the booths shut down. If you plan on shopping you can earn an “I ♥ Downtown Delray Beach” commemorative sticker, which is available with purchase at any downtown retail store and/or salon all weekend. In addition, many restaurants have created their own weekend menu specials and happy hour menus so check out http://www.DelrayAffairAfterDark.com to see what venues are participating.

You can also help support the chamber by participating in the “Donating a Dollar” campaign. Look for volunteers wearing “Donate a Dollar” shirts for more information.

An old tradition is making its way back to the festival this year, gladiolas. The Delray Affair began as the Gladiola Festival. To celebrate and showcase how the event began, the Delray Beach Historical Society will have a 20-foot-booth downtown that features an exhibit of images and memorabilia from the 19040s and 1950s Gladiola festivals, parades, farmers and queens.

There will also be an opportunity to meet some of the Gladiola Queens from that era, pioneering individuals who participated in some of the first festivals and friends from our local horticultural and farming community.

The exhibit is part of the Delray Beach Historical Society’s campaign to “Make Delray Beach the Glad Growing Capital of the World Again!”

Even before gladiolas peppered Delray during the Gladiola Festival, they were staples in Palm Beach County. The Gladiola Festival started as the county’s feature attraction where it had an eight year run.

According to records, after the depression and World War II, Delray residents wanted to have a big even to celebrate and promote the gladiolus farming business.

From 1947 through 1953, the festival welcomed movie stars like Vera Ellen to West Atlantic Avenue. It was a modern day fair, with special exhibits and farm animals. Local builders brought miniature homes to showcase their projected developments, cars were given away, and there were even regatta races on Lake Ida. The Gladiolus Festival Parade was the biggest event in town, with lavish, flower covered floats and the crowning of Gladioli Queens.

The event focused on the bright colored flowering plants from Africa. The gladiolus growing business began in 1939. The 1940s and 1950s were the heyday for farming. Located between Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, there were at least 11 nurseries growing 14 varieties of gladioli, making Palm Beach County the leading source for the popular flowers.

By 1950, Delray producers were shipping out 2 million gladiola bundles and paying $500,000 in annual wages. Delray Beach became the leading grower of Gladiolus flowers in the country, with more than 13 Gladiolus growers, contributing to a more than a $1 million-a-year industry.  An area totaling 1,600 acres was under cultivation, producing varieties such as the salmon-colored Picardy, the magenta Paul Rubens, the delicate pink Rose Van Lima, the Morning Kiss and the Snow Princess.

The current Delray Affair has evolved. Development in the city’s western reaches, combined with a shift in farming from flowers to vegetables, turned the Gladioli Festival into a small Agricultural Expo.

In 1962, community leaders organized a committee that wanted to expand it to include arts and crafts. “The Delray Affair” was chosen as the name of the bigger event. The committee was money-minded, too. By scheduling the festival later in the year, they could effectively extend the tourist season by tempting snowbirds to postpone their homeward migration until after Easter, and extend the tradition of commerce, frivolity and flowers, culture.

Now, the society has a vision to have the perennial flower growing in everyone’s back yard. The Delray Beach Historical Society will be selling Gladiolus bulbs in their booth to help raise money for their educational programs. The mission of the Delray Beach Historical Society is to preserve and grow the city’s archives; and to educate, share and celebrate Delray’s rich history and heritage, leaving a strong legacy for future generations.