In 1928, F.B. Nightingale the manager of the Lighting Department of the General Electric Supply Corporation of Los Angeles, erected a 35-foot wooden star at his home on Marengo Avenue in Altadena.
The Palawoo Star — named after Nightingale’s estate, was lit every Christmas with 50 watt light bulbs and stationed so it could be seen at the top of Christmas Tree Lane on Santa Rosa Avenue.
Now the star will shine again this time as a symbol of hope during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“We have a timer set for it to come on 7:30 PM to 11 every night and we’ll stay on for the duration of the challenges we’re facing,” said Phil Elkins, who purchased the Palawoo Estate in 1989.
Originally the star was made of wood and was lit by 50 light bulbs. The original star was destroyed by winds and a second one was destroyed in a fire in 1935.
The star was rebuilt, this time out of iron, and at some point went dark after 1939.
In a letter to the Chamber of Commerce that year, Nightingale said the star had been destroyed twice and vowed to rebuild it again if he had to.
“A high wind destroyed the first star at the close of the Christmas season, a second one was destroyed by the forest fire in 1935 but the third one is still in service & if we lose it there will be another one built. We originally called it “The Star of Palawoo” (Palawoo, and Indian word meaning the birds next — the Nightingales home).
Very little may be seen of the star by day as it is colored to match the shrubbery but at night it may be seen many miles distant, the star, gleaming out of the night is the only visible light in the great silent mountain space.”
After Elkins moved to the property, he noticed a wire coming. After he investigated it, he found the star covered in weeds and shrub.
After strengthening the star, he began illuminating it with Christmas lights, but it could not be seen far away because of the low wattage of the lights, but last year he decided to use stronger bulbs.
“I approached Dr. Elkins and asked him if he would be willing to let us do that.” said Bill Westphal. “We did that for Christmas of last year.”
In 2018, part of it failed to light up when the Christmas lights were inserted. Westphal asked to fix the star and discovered a broken wire.
“That’s when I saw what condition the star was in,” he said. “I’d never seen it up close before. And it was basically held together with, you know, conduit and bailing wire. It was really something. So then I asked him if he would be interested in rebuilding it, and we got, um, contributions from the group of volunteers and from Dr. Elkins and we purchased all brand new metal and new lighting and cords and rebuilt the whole thing.”
After the star was rebuilt and lit with stronger bulbs, one volunteer said they could see it from South Pasadena, and that when Westphal suggested using the star for other holidays.
“It’ll be on every night,” Westphal said. “Probably for the next couple of weeks, I guess until this whole quarantine thing is over.”
The star has been a symbol of hope before in August 2009, it was lit it as the Station Fire ravaged the Angeles Forest forcing evacuations in Altadena. The star was a sign that the community would pull together during the disaster.
“Bill contacted me a couple of days ago and said what about relighting the stars as a sign of hope for the current time,” Elkins said. “And I said, great, a light in the midst of darkness so we flipped it on.”