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RSW Living Magazine

When Fluorescent Lighting Brightened Sarasota - A Look into the History of Changes to the City’s Lighting

Oct 14, 2021 05:04AM ● By Jessica Wagner

Photo Courtesy of Jeff LaHurd

Architectural changes were among the most noticeable to Sarasota after the years of hardship that plagued the city from the real estate crash of 1926, the Great Depression, and World War II.

So when the war ended and the city started to embrace “progress and modernism”, changes in the form of architectural designs were welcome, according to Jeff LaHurd.

LaHurd reports, “Editorials predicted that Sarasota was on the verge of becoming a “grown-up” city. Newspapers were again full of grand openings, full-page advertisements of new subdivisions, and headcounts of tourists and new residents were cheerily reported.”

Not only were there changes to the infrastructure of roads and bridges, but one of the most notable changes was the new “White Way” installation.

The “White Way” included converting from the incandescent bulbs that filled the streets to bright fluorescent lights, which was met with incredible excitement.

The festival to celebrate this much-needed change, the Diamond Jubilee of Light, was scheduled to take place during the 75th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent bulb.

“In true Sarasota style, the event was marked by a well-attended citywide celebration. Before the event, the merchant’s association advised members to dim all the lights in their businesses, including signage for a “dramatic two-minute blackout,” reminiscent of the war years when blackout drills were often practiced,” describes LaHurd.

On October 21, 1954, the festival began. There were speeches, pageants, parades, and even a phone call to “the curator of the Edison Home and Laboratory at Fort Myers who was set to turn on a replica of the first light bulb,” details LaHurd

“The fluorescent lamps were said to be eight times more powerful — not just good but the best available in 1954 — and the contrast was obvious. As the Herald put it, “The fluorescent lighting system turned night into day over a crowd of 10,000 people.” When the lights came on, Mayor Hopkins promised, “The new illumination marked a new era of growth and progress for Sarasota.”,” continues LaHurd.

Although the lamps allowed Sarasota to begin its path of huge growth, they have not been forgotten. In fact, they are still in use near the John and Mable Ringling Museum. Be sure to check them out next time you’re in the area!