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At Midcentury Fire Stations, Christmas Contests Were a Decorating Emergency

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Welcome to Hidden Histories, where we highlight a Bay Area location with a secret past. Maybe it's no longer there, maybe it's been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in Bay Area history—even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open, or you can leave a comment after the jump.

In 1948, the San Francisco Fire Department held its first annual Christmas decoration contest, offering up $1,000 and a gold trophy to the firehouse with the best decorations. Here now is a look back at some of the wackiest decorations ever to grace the city's bravest.

In the first year of the decorating contest firemen set aside only a $50 budget to create some pretty spectacular displays, even by today's animatronic LED standards. The prize money was all donated by members of the Fire Commission and the public. The budget dropped to $25 in the following two years, making the results even more impressive. In 1950, the fire chief worked out a 54-mile route that went past all the firehouses, with free MUNI bus rides provided for children over three nights and candy breaks set up at firehouse rest stops.

By 1951 the firemen voted to end the decorating contest, citing lack of funds, since most of them donated their own money for the decorations. Nonetheless, the tradition of decorating fire stations—contest or no—still remains today.

Station 35 on the Embarcadero in 2012, via Flickr/L*E*O]

· San Francisco Firehouses Celebrate Christmas 1948—1950 [Outside Lands]
· Current Firehouses of San Francisco [Guardians of the City]