The classic holiday movie “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) begins with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. The movie has always reminded me a bit of Orlando’s two largest downtown stores during the postwar era: Ivey’s and Dickson & Ives. Even if they weren’t as big as the Manhattan Macy’s and Gimbels in the movie, they were of the same genre.
In “Miracle,” Macy’s Santa (Edmund Gwenn) tells a frazzled mom (Thelma Ritter) that she can find the toy she’s seeking at Gimbel’s. As it turns out, shoppers love that spirit of cooperation.
In Orlando, Ivey’s and Dickson & Ives cooperated too through the big illuminated star that hung between them for the holidays at the city’s core intersection, Orange Avenue at Central Boulevard.
“Two of Orlando’s largest department stores may brood across the avenue at each other all year long. But their combined light shines out at Christmas,” the Orlando Sentinel reported in 1956.
The star debuted the year before, 1955, at a cost of $2,500. It was the brainchild of Dickson & Ives’ owner, Wilson Reed, according to his daughter Peggy Reed Mann, and was the ancestor of the big star that still graces the intersection each year, thanks in large part to the efforts of the late Jack Kazanzas.
In the late 1990s, it looked as though the star might be on its way out. The plexiglass was cracked, city officials said, and repair estimates were prohibitive.
“It just burns me up that everything has to be constantly changing,” Kazanzas said. He had grown up in the Orlando, the child of parents who had a business in the city for 40 years. He knew the downtown star was a powerful symbol for longtime residents, a reminder of the glory days for retail in downtown, before the first malls hit the area in the 1960s.
In 1998, using glue and glass cleaner, Kazanzas was able to get the star into shape for its annual appearance. He kept on raising money. “I’ve watched Orlando grow and change, and I’d just like to hold on to some of the things I remember for Christmas,” he said.
The star itself — designed by Orlando sign wizard Bob Galler in 1984 — was saved, and the “tiara” of sparkling lights, designed by Orlando’s Cindy White, and added in 2005.
Each year when I see the star, I remember the stores that once surrounded it, and I remember Jack, who died in August 2010. The star now officially bears his name, and news reports of its annual appearance note that the Jack Kazanzas star once again is with us for the holidays.
In “Miracle on 34th Street,” Santa Claus, played by Edmund Gwenn, works in a department store. Kazanzas loved to wear an elf hat as he served coffee and bagels to OUC workers and fans of the star on the early Sunday morning each year when it was returned to its annual place. He had that same magical “Miracle” spirit. And he showed that with enough caring and effort, we surely don’t have to lose everything from the past we hold dear.