Local News

Sebring man clings to '60s-era aluminum Christmas tree

SEBRING - Since 1960, it has stood upright in place and is now a silent spectacle of yuletide charm harkening back to the mod days of art deco, mink coats, skinny coat lapels, silk gloves and space-age dreams.

Now, the aluminum Christmas tree Thomas Urbanski's parents bought at a Buffalo, N.Y., nursery 53 years ago has become a Christmas decorations drive-by mainstay, a family heirloom and valuable piece of beatnik-era nostalgia.

Made with slivers of glistening aluminum strip mounted in aluminum branches clinging to an aluminum pole, Urbanski's tree is also adorned with about 100 shiny, pink, thin-glass ornaments made in Poland, also purchased at the same time his parents -- Walter and Helen -- made the spur-of-the-moment purchase when he was a 9-year-old lad.

From the time it was bought and put up in the living room window of their Buffalo home, until his parents moved to Hollywood, Fla., and onto Sebring in 1978, the tree and its rather unique, metallic foliage has been the talk of the neighborhood.

Urbanski said it's actually the third tree; the first two trees were crushed as they were being transported by train in the early 1960s.

"When my mother first saw it she liked it and my father said, 'Buy it.' She said, "OK," said Urbanski, a retired florist and accountant. "Over the years, people would ask us when were we going to put it up."

The trees were a mid-century trend of hipness most popular from 1958 to the mid-1960s and most people have reproductions now, but a few from the original manufacturers -- Sears & Roebuck, Silverline, Peco, Evergleam, Sapphire and Sparkler -- can still be found.

Based on an eBay search, prices for aluminum trees now range anywhere from $85 for a small, four-foot tree to $3,000 or more.

In 2005, a rare, seven-foot-tall, pink aluminum tree sold for $3,600 on the Internet.

Urbanski said after moving into the Sportsman Avenue home with his parents, the tree became a hit shortly after it was placed in the window 27 years ago. He said it takes two days to set up, including the ornaments which were repainted in 2010 by handyman and friend Mike Altman.

Altman, who owns a Sebring paint business, said he strung the ornaments up and spray-painted them with acrylic enamel. He said the original colors were scraped off and worn, so he repainted them pink.

"They weren't real bad; it was just another job I had around the house."

As the mid-1960s passed, aluminum Christmas tree began to fall out of favor and many were thrown away or kept in basements and attics. According to the website of the Aluminum Christmas Tree & Ornament Museum, Brevard, N.C., the airing of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" in 1965 has been partially credited with ending the era of the aluminum tree, and by 1967 their time had almost completely passed.

By the end of the 1980s, it was not uncommon to find aluminum Christmas trees for sale in yard sales or at estate sales being sold for as little as a quarter. However, in recent years, the trees have seen a re-emergence in popularity and collectors began buying and selling the trees online.

Urbanski said he doesn't plan on selling the tree or giving up displaying it, which is fine by his neighbors and Christmas decoration sightseers.

"I think it's pretty; it's different," said Liz Reinhardt, who has lived across the street from Urbanski for 22 years. "People stop their cars to see it. When I see it, I know it's Christmas."


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