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Touring Historic Holiday Lights Inside Nela Park

The lights are back on inside Nela Park in East Cleveland this holiday season for the first time since 1958.

Divisiveness in the country and the memories of dozens of Northeast Ohioans who drove through Nela Park’s holiday light displays in the 1950s (and earlier) led CEO of GE Lighting Bill Lacey to bring back the drive-through displays and illuminate the campus with more than 500,000 LED lights.

“This is my protest: To build the biggest, best lighting display that we have seen in decades so that we can build hundreds and thousands of smiles to remind us that the things that bind us together… far outnumber the things that divide us,” Lacey said at the kickoff of the 93 rd annual display of lights last week.

Nela Park light display from 1950s. [GE Lighting Archives]

In addition to elaborate displays along Noble Road, cars can drive through the campus this year on Fridays from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 5 to 9 p.m. before Christmas. 

“We are opening the heart of our Nela Park campus for community members to drive through and actually relive memories from years past and see displays dating back, replicas, as far as the 1920s,” said Alicia Gauer, communications director at GE Lighting.

GE’s Holiday Lighting designer Debbie George recreated displays from the past using old photos and records in the archives.

From old train cars to a snowflake island, George’s team hand built the replicas starting this past Labor Day.

George has designed the displays along Noble Road outside the campus for 15 years, and said she happily took on the extra work this year inside Nela Park.

Nela Park light display from the 1960s [GE Lighting Archives]

“My background is visual merchandizing,” George said. “This is just a giant display window to me.”

While George is too young to have visited the historic displays in the 1950s, she says she did grow up admiring the lights visible outside of Nela Park along Noble Road.

“The fact that we use LED lights now, the colors are more brilliant than I remember," she said. "You’re painting with light, painting with different colored Christmas lights.”

The light displays that stretch along Noble Road outside Nela Park are musical themed this year and even salute the Cleveland Orchestra celebrating its centennial season. There is also a replica of the National Tree in Washington, D.C., which GE has been designing for the last 55 years.

It’s tough to say what the future holds for these holiday light displays. GE Lighting is up for sale. But this year’s display is definitely bigger and brighter at Nela Park.

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.