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Working to bring back holiday tradition

Posted on September 16, 2019

By Tia Lyons
Staff Writer

A local committee is working to secure funding to bring back a beloved El Dorado holiday tradition.

Last week, the group presented a $30,000 funding request to restore what is now known as the Community Christmas Tree, a 200-foot holiday lighting decoration that hung for five decades from the former KTVE communications tower on West Main, just west of North West Avenue.

Once known as the “World’s Tallest Man-Made Christmas Tree,” the tree was the city’s most iconic holiday attraction and had become a holiday staple in the community, creating indelible Christmas memories and a sense of nostalgia for countless visitors — local and out-of-town — who engaged in the annual ritual of circling underneath the tree.

On Sept. 10, Sherry Cross, who heads up the committee that is seeking to relight the tree, shared her own memories of the tree during a presentation before the El Dorado Works Board, who administers the city’s one-cent sales tax that is geared toward economic development, municipal infrastructure- improvements and quality-of-life projects.


A Texas native who moved to El Dorado as a child, Cross said one of her first and best memories in the city was of her father driving her underneath the Christmas tree tower.

Cross said and her family arrived in El Dorado in 1973, eight years after the tree first went up.

Former El Dorado Mayor Mike Dumas, also a member of the Christmas tree committee, explained that when KTVE built its first downtown studio at 400 W. Main in 1964, the station’s chief engineer, John Long, proposed the idea of putting up a lighted tree.

The original color scheme of blue lights with a white cap atop the 260-foot communications tower stemmed from Long’s vision that the lighting display resemble a mountain.

“But it quickly turned into a Christmas tree,” Dumas said.

He explained that in the beginning, KTVE bought the implements for the tree — the lights, wires and sockets — and over the course of two weeks, the El Dorado Civitan Club connected the lights to the sockets and built the tree.

KTVE took care of installation and storagein the ensuing decades, with the lights changing to the traditional red-and-green colors of the season to match the city’s holiday lighting displays for downtown, the Hillsboro viaduct and West Avenue.

Over the years, Dumas — also a former KTVE newscaster — said the tree attracted families with children who relished the opportunity to “experience that tree.”

“The idea was to go under the Christmas tree and look up,” he said. “From my experience at the TV station at 10:30 at night when the news cast was over, you took your life in your own hands. Going outside, you were going to get run over if you weren’t paying attention.”

Dumas said the tree was not lit in 1973 due to an oil production-and-demand crisis that led to a gasoline shortage in the U.S. Neither was the tree lit in 1988 because the equipment, particularly the electrical wiring, failed an inspection.

When the tree went back up the following year, a traffic count that was taken between Dec. 4 and Dec. 21 showed that 6,655 vehicles, with an estimated 25,000 passengers, drove underneath the tree.

The tree was lit each day from 5 p.m. until midnight during that time.

‘I just knew that

when those lights came

down …’

In 2009, KTVE moved its studio to 216 W. Main and several weeks ago, the station relocated to an office in the 700 block of North West Avenue.

Shortly after the station moved from its West Main location, Shelli Cross, the owner of the building and no relation to Sherry Cross, said she stopped a crew from removing the Christmas tree lights, noting at the time, “”I just knew that when those lights came down, they weren’t going to go back up. We don’t need to lose that tree.”

For the next six years, Shelli Cross undertook the expensive endeavor of keeping the tree lit. The tradition lasted until 2014, after which the lights were ordered down by an inspection crew due to deteriorating equipment.

Former Mayor Frank Hash planned to approach the EWB with a funding request in 2016 to restore the tree but the request was placed on hold until the matter could be vetted further.

There were concerns surrounding the lease agreement between the property owner and the user of the tower, American Tower Company, who had agreed to the continued use of the tower for the Christmas tree but with stipulations, including a shortened period from when the tree could be installed and when it had to be taken down.

Per the agreement then, the tree could not be lit until Dec. 1, two weeks after the annual Downtown Holiday Lighting Ceremony.

Hash also said at the time that there were discussions about a local group creating an endowment to light the tree and about moving the tree to another location.

Efforts to relaunch

Sherry Cross said she began working in media sales at KTVE in April and her bosses gave her the go-ahead to try and relaunch the popular holiday tradition, with a commitment from KTVE to promote the tree outside El Dorado.

With that, she sought help and soon assembled a committee that has raised $30,000 toward the effort. She also told EWB members that the tower company agreed to a timeframe of Nov. 15 until Jan. 15 to hang the tree.

Sherry Cross said the tree will not be able to go to the top of the tower and will reach 200 feet, explaining that the lights must reach a maximum of 20 feet below the lowest antenna unit on the tower.

“I know there was some grief about it being cut off at the top but that’s what we have to work with,” she said.

Dumas and Sherry Cross said the EWB funding request of $30,000 was to match funds that had already been raised for a programmable, LED lighting display, similar to the display Hash had planned to propose in 2016.

Dumas said the total cost was $59,740, which includes parts and installation.

He said KTVE will hang the tower and electricity will be provided at no cost to the city. Cross also said there are several offers and options for storage.

“The only ongoing cost is sometime in the future. They wear out after they hang out there in Mother Nature for six weeks,” Dumas said.

EWB members expressed concern about the city’s rights in the lease agreement between Shelli Cross and American Tower.

Sherry Cross said the terms of the agreement that pertain to the hanging of the tree go into perpetuity.

“We at KTVE have a history with this tree. The FCC license for KTVE is held in El Dorado. We’re not going anywhere,” she told the board.

“What if her (Shelli Cross) descendants decide they don’t want to do it anymore or what if the property is sold?” EWB treasurer Alison Abson asked.

EWB member Avo Vartenian said he would like some assurance on the timeframe that would be allotted for the deal with a $30,000 commitment from the city.

“Maybe if we had something in writing for a minimum number of years,” Vartenian said.

Added EWB member George Calloway, “I’m for it if the lease is good.”

Greg Downum, chairman of the EWB, later suggested in an email that the committee approach the El Dorado Advertising and Promotion Commission for funding.

EAPC chairman Barry Bagwell said commissioners had checked the legalities of such a request with City Attorney Henry Kinslow, who rendered an opinion in an email Saturday, writing:

• The grantor in the tower lease document, (Shelli) Cross, would need to give the city written assurance about our right to put lights on the tower, and since the lease is filed in (Union County Circuit Court) records, so would this agreement so it would be binding (with) future owners if Cross ever sold the property.

• The request for the matching funds should go to the A&P (commission) instead of the (El Dorado) Works Board.

Bagwell and Commissioner Paul Chaote, also a member of the El Dorado City Council, said the commission is looking into the concerns that were raised by the EWB.

“What we’re doing is trying to find out what their objections were with it because if they’re legitimate objections about the lease, then the A&P commission would have the same objections,” Bagwell said.

“Our primary purpose is event promotion. There some language in our A&P charter to do something like that but it’s still out of the ordinary,” he continued.

Bagwell said the A&P commission may schedule a specially called meeting this week to discuss the matter further.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or