By The Delray Beach Historical Society
With the approaching 60th Anniversary of the “Delray Affair,” the Delray Beach Historical Society, along with the Grass River Garden Club will be celebrating and sharing how it all began… with Delray’s Gladiola Festival and Fair.
The Delray Beach Historical Society and the Grass River Garden Club will be engaging the community to help bring this beautiful flower’s stature back to life in Delray Beach. “It is our vision to have this iconic, perennial flower growing in everyone’s backyard,” says Delray Affair Chairman for the DBHS, David Cook.
As the exclusive festival Gladiola supplier, the Delray Beach Historical Society will be selling Gladiolus corms (bulbs) in their booth to help raise money for their educational programs. The Historical Society’s 40 sq. ft. booth downtown at the 2022 Delray Affair will also feature a history exhibit of images and memorabilia from the 1940’s and 1950’s Gladiola farming days, festivals, parades and queens. Visitors can also enjoy a “garden lounge “with refreshments and a gift shop featuring local history books and exclusive art by Lois Brezinski.
The Delray Beach Historical Society booth will be located at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Swinton Avenue and will be open April 8, 9, 10.
The History of The Gladiola Festival:
A 1948 Delray News article featured the original mission of the Gladiola Festival:
“It is the purpose of the South Florida Gladioli Festival and Fair Association, Inc., through its officers and board of directors to exhibit, develop and further the agricultural, horticultural
and other resources of south Florida, and in connection therewith through displaying, advertising and other media, to present to the people of south Florida, and the world in general, the many and varied advantages to be had and enjoyed in this section of the Sunshine State.”
Long before the Delray Affair came to dominate East Atlantic Avenue with its displays of arts and crafts, the Gladiola Festival had a successful 8-year run as Palm Beach County’s feature attraction.
After a long depression beginning in Florida during 1926 and the difficult years of World War II during the 1940s, the people of Delray Beach decided to have a big festival and fair 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 main attraction, however, were the Gladiolas, brightly colored flowering plants from Africa. The gladiolus growing business began in 1939 and the 1940s and 1950s were the heyday for farming. Centered 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 US, 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.
Going back in time can explain how the current Affair evolved from what it was to what it now is: an arts-and-crafts extravaganza. 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 arts-and-crafts 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, flowers and culture.
About the Delray Beach Historical Society:
The Delray Beach Historical Society is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to collect, preserve and share Delray’s rich history and heritage. It is a vibrant center for community life whose focus is to bring together families and multiple generations to share in a series of educational and fun-filled programs and events, which showcase the colorful stories of Delray’s past.
Three buildings encompass the Delray Beach Historical Society campus. The historic Cason Cottage was built in 1924 and is named after Dr. J.R. Cason, Sr., the town’s first physician. Visitors enjoy exhibits, workshops, lectures and summer camp here. The 1926 Florida Bungalow provides space for exhibits on local Florida history and offices. The Hunt House is an original 1908 Florida farmhouse, which was dedicated and named the Ethel Sterling Williams Archive and History Learning Center in 2009. This state-of-the-art and award-winning center houses the City’s archives and is open for local research, archive donations and features two permanent history exhibits.
The Delray Beach Historical Society’s Educational Heritage Gardens is a one-acre “living museum,” for the study of Delray Beach History, pioneer habitats and sustainability.
For more information:
Delray Beach Historical Society
A 501(c)3 organization
3 NE 1st Street
Delray Beach, FL 33444
561.274.9578 or www.delraybeachhistory.com