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With the approaching 62nd Delray Affair, April 12, 13 and 14th, the Delray Beach Historical Society will be celebrating and sharing how it all began with Delray’s Gladiola Festival and Fair.

The Delray Beach Historical Society’s downtown campus will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10am – 5pm. They will be selling gladiolus corms (bulbs) for anyone to plant the historic perennials in their backyard, and they will be selling the beloved gladiola flowers by the bunch. “We’re excited to offer these beautiful, symbolic flowers again to the community after so many years,” says DBHS president, Mike Cruz.

As the exclusive festival Gladiola supplier, the Delray Beach Historical Society will be raising money for their educational programs and the maintenance of their one-acre educational heritage garden over the three days. Also featured will be an outdoor exhibit of images and memorabilia from the 1940’s and 1950’s Gladiola festivals, parades, farmers and queens. All three history exhibits in their historic cottages will be open as well as their gift shop. Visitors can tour the gardens, play cornhole and enjoy fun refreshments.

The Delray Beach Historical Society is located at 3 NE 1st Street, one block north of Atlantic Avenue.

The History of The Gladiola Festival:

A 1948 Delray News article featured the original mission of the Gladiola Festival:
“It is the purpose of the South Florida Gladioli Festival and Fair Association, Inc., through its officers and board of directors to exhibit, develop and further the agricultural, horticultural, and other resources of south Florida, and in connection therewith through displaying, advertising and other media, to present to the people of south Florida, and the world in general, the many and varied advantages to be had and enjoyed in this section of the Sunshine State."

Long before the Delray Affair came to dominate Atlantic Avenue with its displays of arts and crafts, the “Gladiola Festival” had a successful 8-year run as Palm Beach County's
feature attraction.

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- 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 in Delray Beach. 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. An area totaling 1,600 acres was under cultivation, producing varieties such as the salmon-colored Picardy, the magenta Paul Rubens, the delicate pink Rose Van Lima, the Morning Kiss and the Snow Princess.

Over the years, as farming gave way to tourism, the Festival evolved into an arts-and-crafts extravaganza. In 1962, community leaders organized a committee who created “The Delray Affair.” The committee was money-minded, too. By scheduling the festival later in the year, they could effectively extend the tourist season by tempting snowbirds to postpone their homeward migration until after Easter.

Friday, April 12, 2024 to Sunday, April 14, 2024
10:00am - 5:00pm
Delray Beach Historical Society
3 NE 1st Street
Delray Beach, FL 33444