TALE OF TAKOMA: How the festival hit the street

TALE OF TAKOMA • BY DIANA KOHN

Laurel and Carroll Avenues will be the site of an afternoon of music, games, ethnic foods, crafts, antiques and contests.” Sounds like a simplistic description of the Street Festival coming up this Sunday. The quote, however, announces the Summer Festival held July 26, 1981. Newly elected Mayor Sam Abbott had proposed a Victorian Festival as the kick-off for the campaign to revitalize the “Laurel/Carroll Business District,” as it was then called. The first step toward revitalization was a new name. “Takoma Old Town” emerged as the winner from more than 106 entries.

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The 1981 Victorian Festival. Takoma Voice photo courtesy Historic Takoma. Inc.

That first festival included “over 40 booths . . . . selling Latino, Armenian, Asian, Middle Eastern, health foods and hot dogs, as well as antiques, stained glass, and crafts.” Music was provided by Sunshine Skiffle Band and Hambone Sweets among others. The Victorian theme, in keeping with the upcoming Centennial, was reflected in contests for Best Victorian Costume, Best Bathing Outfit, and Most Magnificent Mustaches.

The festival attracted 4000 people and was repeated the following year, this time on August 1st. It Following the same format, with additional competitions for the Biggest Home Grown Tomato, Biggest Home Grown Vegetable, Best Summer Flower, as well as the Best Home Made Pie, Best Home Made Bread, and Best Home Made Cake.

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Image courtesy Historic Takoma. Inc.

The festivals brought attention to the Laurel, Carroll and Westmoreland Avenue corner where a whole series of renovations were under way. The new Urban Park, with its Gazebo and lower playground was the highlight of the third festival on August 7. The 1984 festival reverted back to June 10, expanding its range all the way to Takoma Cafe (1 Columbia Avenue), with a Strawberry Festival on their side lawn.

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Image courtesy Historic Takoma. Inc.

By 1986 the Victorian theme was dropped in favor of simply “Takoma Old Town Street Festival.” Held June 8, it showcased “Takoma Park’s inexhaustible number of talented musicians on three stages.” The headliners were Celtic Thunder, Cathy Fink, Rudy Arredondo, Carol Hausner and Karen Collins. Kids activities included a Moonbounce and pony rides.

Sponsors now included the City, the Street Festival Planning Committee and the Takoma Old Town Business Association. In the decades since, the festival organizing moved from the Planning Committee to become a major project of the Old Takoma Business Association.

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Last year’s Street Festival. Photo by Bill Brown.

What began as a summer festival with 40 booths has shifted to October where more than 200 vendors reflect ethnic diversity in food, crafts and community organizations.

Rain or shine, join us for this beloved Takoma tradition, Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.

About the Author

Diana Kohn
Diana Kohn is president of Historic Takoma, Inc., which is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the heritage of both Takoma Park MD and DC. Diana is co-author of Images of America: Takoma Park, a photo history of the town.