I admit it: it never gets old. I know everyone says the Delray Affair needs a do-over, but I still love it, top to bottom, and I loved it even more when I’d go home with an armful of glads every year. In the years since—with the gladiola farms all gone now—I always felt something was missing, and all the stained glass flip flops in the world weren’t going to change that.
I think the Delray Beach Historical Society (DBHS) felt the same way because this year—the 55th anniversary of the Delray Affair—they are doing a little something to return glads to the festival that originally started because of them.
The DBHS will be selling gladiola bulbs in its booth to help raise money for their educational programs. The booth will also feature an exhibit of images and memorabilia from the 1940s and 1950s gladiola festivals (which is how the Delray Affair started) parades, farmers and queens. There will even be a few Gladiola Queens from that era from the town’s pioneering horticultural and farming community.
The DBHS recounts the history of this annual event:
“After a long depression beginning in Florida during 1926 and the difficult years of World War II during the 1940s, the people of Delray Beach decided to have a big festival and fair to celebrate and promote the gladiolus farming business. From 1947 through 1953, the festival welcomed movie stars like Vera Ellen to West Atlantic Avenue. It was a modern day fair, with special exhibits and farm animals. Local builders brought miniature homes to showcase their projected developments, cars were given away, and there were even regatta races on Lake Ida. The Gladiolus Festival Parade was the biggest event in town, with lavish, flower covered floats and the crowning of Gladioli Queens.
The main attraction, however, were the Gladiolas, brightly colored flowering plants from Africa. The gladiolus growing business began in 1939 and the 1940s and 1950s were the heyday for farming. Centered between Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, there were at least 11 nurseries growing 14 varieties of gladioli, making Palm Beach County the leading source for the popular flowers. By 1950, Delray producers were shipping out 2 million gladiola bundles and paying $500,000 in annual wages. Delray Beach became the leading grower of Gladiolus flowers in the US, with more than 13 Gladiolus growers, contributing to a more than a $1 million-a-year industry”.
By 1962, arts and crafts were added to the festival, and it was renamed the Delray Affair. The event continued growing but the glad farms ultimately disappeared and the popular gladiola booth at the Delray Affair became history a few years ago.
I for one will be happy to stop by the DBHS booth and take my glad bulb home with me to plant in my yard. It’s a small way to pay tribute to the Delray that we have loved through the years and to salute the people who helped pioneer this wonderful little place we call home.
We’ll see you there.
The Delray Affair takes place this Friday through Sunday, April 7 through April 9, with 600 vendors stretching the length of Atlantic Avenue, from Old School Square to the Intracoastal. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fri. and Sat. and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sun.