By Lesley Miles
2003. Frozen in time; coffee cups exactly where they were left seven years before, desks, chairs, file cabinets filled with files were all left as part of the Isaacson Granary sale. Even the power was on, waiting, as if the workers would return at any moment to mix and mill feed for cattle across the central valley.
But the star was not part of the “as is.” An icon of downtown Morgan Hill, it was hefted off and taken down the road to San Martin to another Granary, with a requirement that we promise to replace it.
Once we completed the arduous reconstruction in 2005 into a mixed use LEED certified building we stepped back and looked up and realized it was not “complete.” The final step was to build a star and…erect it.
Building the star was a simple task out of half-inch metal conduit—a bit larger than before it had a wingspan of 12 feet. Wrapping it tightly with old-school colored lights from that era when large colored lights were the norm, we lifted it gently only to realize that it was at best unwieldy. Getting the star up over 75 feet to the top of the building was another story, and hauling it up the face of the building and climbing with the star up three legs of a ladder suspended over the railroad tracks and above the building to lift it into position was doable if not clearly crazy.
In the days before phone video, I took a flip book series of shots as the star crept up the side of the building. This studied sequence was unnerving; the fragile lights just grazed the corrugated metal of the building but survived intact as did the assembly team. The cord feeding down through the roof was plugged in and the star, as if by magic, had returned to shine over downtown Morgan Hill again.
2019. The star has shown steadily, high above the Granary, every holiday season since then—turned on right after Thanksgiving and then off after New Year’s. Changing the old-school bulbs proved to be a difficult job as we all got older and last year, when we turned on the star half the bulbs were out and it was pretty sad looking. People came up to me in the supermarket and said, “Hey the star is looking pretty bad.”
Contemplating what we were going to do, how are we to get it down, much less back up..took up a fair amount of unresolved time. And then I saw a post on Nextdoor that said, “I will do your Christmas lights. I have a ladder!”
I reached out and asked, “Are you afraid of heights?”
Cody Van Houten said, “No I’m not afraid of heights. What would you like me to do?”
I laid out a plan. Cody, Charles Weston and Sam Carlson would figure it out and I would watch from a distance. Charles met with Cody on a Sunday morning at 7am. It was a clear, dead-still morning, any breeze brought a sway to the rusted but still intact ladders reaching up to the perforated basket holding the star and would result in a no-go.
Cody and his buddy nimbly climbed to the top and lifted the star, sliding it all the way down the face of the building. The removal and restringing was relatively uneventful—testing was A-OK on the ground as the star began its way back up into position.
Connected, the colored, now LED, lights shine brilliantly with hope for a long time!
Lesley Miles is an Architect at Weston Miles Architects and co-owner of the The Granary building, located at 17500 Depot Street in downtown Morgan Hill.