In the mountains of Altadena, up near Loma Alta Drive, is a 35-foot star on the hillside that has been lit for the last two nights. It’s called the Star of Palawoo.
By Jennifer Hall Lee
It was created in 1928 by a man named F.B. Nightingale, who is considered to be the Father of Garden Lighting.
Nightingale. Palawoo. Such mystical words.
Nightingale is Old English and it means “night “and “to sing.”
Palawoo is a Native American word for Bird’s Nest.
F.B. Nightingale had originally built his star of wood but after a fire he rebuilt it with metal. It was lit with 75 40-watt lamps, and he perched the Star above his home (he built the home) so it could be seen from the people down on Christmas Tree Lane.
Who was F.B. Nightingale?
Nightingale worked for the General Electric Company in New York State which had him transferred to Los Angeles. Prior to his lighting career he was a dedicated magician who worked in Vaudeville. (Silent films had dealt a blow to the popularity of live theater and Nightingale joined the General Electric Company.)
In Los Angeles his work in lighting grew with his love for nature. In Altadena he was known for entertaining guests in his yard with a visual show. According to an online biography he would play Moonlight Sonata for his friends as he dazzled them with a show of garden lighting; garden lights he created that illuminated the plants in the yard.
Nightingale was a man who loved to learn. He was a world traveler as GE sent him overseas. He authored books on lighting, and he also wrote poetry. Have you ever watched the yuccas bloom in the rays of a setting sun…
Enter Phil Elkins
The Star of Palawoo would be a forgotten story if not for the present owner of the Nightingale home, Dr. Phil Elkins who in 1992 discovered a metal post with a pulley on the grounds of his property which he avidly investigated. I spoke with him on the phone today. He said he had hiked up to the post and found a giant metal star in bad shape. He spent time “strengthening the star” and over the next year he got an “electric line safe enough to run from the house to the star.” In 1994 he started “turning on the star in December.”
Bill Westphal, who could see the lighted star from his backyard “always admired it.” He said that the star was lighted “with blue LED Christmas lights.” In 2018 he noticed that a part of the star was dark and asked Dr. Elkins if he could have a closer look. Westphal trekked on up the hill and saw that the star needed some refurbishing.
A small chain reaction
Like many things in Altadena this set off a small chain reaction that included the gathering of volunteers and many original ideas. It led to a rebuilt (metal) Star of Palawoo complete with LED lights that emit the equivalent of the original 40-watt bulbs. An homage to F. B. Nightingale. Voila!
Elkins and the volunteers had discussed the possibility of lighting the star on certain significant days and in this current troubling time of the Coronavirus, Westphal had an idea. He asked Elkins if they could light the star to give “hope for people during this darkened time.”
“The plan is to keep it on during the duration of the quarantine period.”
Westphal refers to the lighted Star of Palawoo as “the star of hope.”
Hope in a time of crisis is always welcome.
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