Over the course of Falls Church’s 21 years of Watch Night News Year Eve celebrations, one question has been burning on everyone’s mind: What’s the story behind the Watch Night star?
In a kitschy nod to the Big Apple’s ball drop celebration in Times Square every year, the Little City has its own unique emblem descend from high above to ring in the New Year with style. But given all the pomp and circumstance (hardy har har) that the Watch Night Star brings to the annual occasion, its inclusion as a part of the New Year’s night’s main event couldn’t have had a more casual background story.
“The whole thing really took place because of me buying a soda at 7-Eleven, running into Len [Michalowski] and me two days later talking to Barb [Cram],” City of Falls Church’s superintendent of public works, Robert Goff, said.
“Len told me he thought it’d be a great idea if we could find that star that was atop the water tank. I always knew where the star was at but never thought about lowering it from a building,” Goff continued. “When I told Len I knew where it was he got excited. Literally two or three days later I ran into Barb and I asked if we can put something on a roof and lower it down. She said ‘I don’t know if we can do that,’ and then I said, ‘Well, I have this star and Len wants to lower it.’ And she said she’d look into it.”
As you know, the star (literally and figuratively) became the star of the New Years eve ever since it was introduced eleven years ago when the calendar flipped from 2007 to 2008. If you dig a little deeper, however, you’ll find that a lot of the star’s sentimental value is derived from its role in the holiday season.
According to a write-up Cram did on the history of the star on the Watch Night website, it was always illuminated during for the Christmas season ever since 1948 — the City’s first year as an independent municipality — when it rested at the top of the water tower behind 422 N. Washington St. It was built at Dixie Sheet Metal and designed by local architect Victor Spector, according to Cram, and was sorely missed when the construction of a townhouse office development near the water tower caused the yearly celebration to be scrapped. It wasn’t until Michalowski made his longing for the star’s return public knowledge that it worked its way back into City’s life.
Retrieving the star became a mission for Goff and former Falls Church water system employee and current Sisler Stone employee Guy Brady. They pulled the star out of the rafters of the old property yard directly across the street from the new one, cleaned off all the mementos the local birds had left on it over the years and immediately began the restoration process. In two weeks time the star was reborn with a series of small lights with a few large incandescent lights all around it and a new coat of silver paint, per Goff, making the 100 lb, 12’x12’ star ready for showtime.
Now the Watch Night committee contracts an Atlantic Realty crane operator to lower the star each New Year to cap off the night. The only thing the event’s organizers have to be wary of, according to Goff, is the wind, since strong gusts can make the star flail around. With a New Years eve forecast this year in the mid 30s with light winds, there should be nothing stopping local residents and the shepherds of the stars from witnessing the anticipated drop themselves.
“I’ve actually never seen the star drop before because I’ve always been out of town with family. I might have to drop by and see it with Rob and Barb and take a selfie,” Brady said with a chuckle. “So many things have gotten torn down and replaced over the years, it’s nice to see something from the City’s past and put it out there for community.”
“I was born and raised here,” Goff added while noting his pride in helping make the star a part of the City’s local appeal. “My father worked for [the City’s Public Works department], my mom worked at Columbia Baptist Church for 40 years, so it’s exciting to see the community come together and that we’re able to give back to them and to teach them a little about the history of it.”
Watch Night will take place next Monday on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, from 7 p.m. – 1 a.m with the main stage musical performances being located at the intersection of Broad St. and Washington St. Activities for kids and families can be found at the Grand Fun Alley located in the commercial lot of 100 W. Broad St. Musical performances and other activities can be found at nearby locations, including the Falls Church Episcopal (115 E. Fairfax St., Falls Church), Falls Church Presbyterian Church (225 E. Broad St., Falls Church) and the Cherry Hill Farmhouse (312 Park Ave., Falls Church).