John Kelly
John Kelly
Columnist

What’s 90 feet tall and glows? The Christmas tree on this Alexandria high-rise.

John Kelly/The Washington Post - Tom Boyle, left, and Harold Davey at the upper end of the Christmas tree light display at the Watergate at Landmark in Alexandria.

Off Edsall Road in Alexandria, there is an apartment building that has a Christmas tree made out of lights on about 15 (or so) balconies. It signals the beginning of the holidays for me, and I have been curious about the history of this tree. If you travel north on Van Dorn Street from the Beltway, you can see it as you reach a small hill on Van Dorn. It’s just so cool and a real beacon!

Sue Hotto, Alexandria

(John Kelly/The Washington Post) - A large Christmas tree, made from roughly 650 sets of lights that crosses over nine balconies, is seen on the Watergate at Landmark in Alexandria.

“It seems like a welcoming thing,” Tom Boyle said of the nine-story Christmas tree, a light display he assembles every year with the help of his neighbors in the Watergate at Landmark condominium complex, a collection of high-rise buildings on Alexandria’s Yoakum Parkway.

Tom remembered flying into National Airport one December, before he’d retired from the Army. He peered out the window of the commercial plane and saw it in the distance: the shape of a Christmas tree, composed of multicolored lights. It was the holiday season, and he was almost home. “It just gives people a warm feeling,” he said.

The tree took root in 1979 when Harold Davey of Building 2 put up a light-bulb-covered wooden frame in roughly the shape of a Christmas tree on his 17th-floor balcony. His downstairs neighbor, the late Leon Klein, asked if he could get in on the act. Leon put up lights on his balcony and doubled the size of the glowing evergreen.

“I also asked the guy above me, and he agreed,” said Harold, retired after a career in the Foreign Service and at the Department of Labor. “Every year, I take the star to him and he puts it on his balcony.”

That upstairs neighbor is Mo Ahmari, who lives there with his brother, Ahmad. They are Zoroastrians, originally from Iran.

The tree continued growing downward as more neighbors were asked if they were willing to temporarily donate their balconies.

After a while, Tom Boyle took over the operation. He keeps all the lights in his storage space, retrieving them every November. He outlines the tree in string and then attaches the lights to the balconies and the string. The lowest floors feature the tree’s base and narrow trunk. The way the balconies are arranged, the tree has to be pretty slim, so it looks as if it were designed by Giacometti.

There are about 30 strands of lights in all, a total of 650 or so bulbs. Each strand is plugged into a particular unit’s outlet and is on a timer set to come on between 4:30 and 5 in the afternoon and go off about 1 in the morning.

Depending on the weather, it takes Tom about two weeks to construct the tree. He says it’s worth it.

“You come through the gate, and there’s a tree that just leaps out at you when you get that close to it,” Tom said.

Harold said: “Everybody seems to enjoy this tree. We’re the only building we know that has something like this in all the high-rises around Washington.”

Answer Man is happy to learn of the Watergate at Landmark’s Christmas tree. It’s a lovely reminder that, although the concrete mesas of our city can seem cold and impersonal, there are places where neighbors come together every year to plant a tree in this season of light.

Helping Children’s

With Christmas drawing ever nearer, the doctors at Children’s National are busy determining who can go home. Only the sickest kids will stay at the Michigan Avenue pediatric hospital on Dec. 25. But even those who must stay in a hospital bed will be surrounded by a warm and caring staff.

I’m hoping you’ll be caring, too, when it comes to my annual fundraising drive for Children’s National. My goal is to raise $400,000 to pay the bills of poor children. So far, we stand at $143,403.34. The deadline is Jan. 10.

By pooling our resources we can help ensure that no child is turned away because his or her parents don’t have sufficient insurance. To make a tax-deductible gift, visit childrensnational.org/
washingtonpost
or send a check (payable to “Children’s National”) to Washington Post Giving Campaign, c/o Children’s Hospital Foundation, 801 Roeder Rd., Suite 650, Silver Spring, Md. 20910.

Bill and Joanne Conway, through their Bedford Falls Foundation, have generously offered to match all gifts to The Washington Post Campaign for Children’s National. All donations, up to a total of $150,000, made by Dec. 31 will be matched dollar for dollar.

Your gift today can make a difference in the life of a child.

 
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