gladiolas

Will gladiolas become king again in Delray Beach? This was Delray Lumber’s float during the Gladiolus Festival Parade, part of the Gladioli Festival and Fair, in the early 1950s. The Delray Beach Historical Society wants the city to become, once again, the Gladiola Growing Capital of the World. / Photos courtesy of Delray Beach Historical Society

Will gladiolas become king again in Delray Beach? The Delray Beach Historical Society (DBHS) is hoping the answer is “yes.” With the 55th anniversary of the Delray Affair coming up Friday through Sunday, April 7-9, the DBHS will be celebrating and sharing how the event began: with the city’s Gladioli Festival and Fair. Delray Beach was once known as the Gladiola Growing Capital of the World.

The Delray Beach Historical Society will be asking the community to help resurrect this beautiful flower’s stature. “It is our vision to have this iconic, perennial flower growing in everyone’s back yard,” says President Howard Ellingsworth.

Help gladiolas become king

The DBHS will be selling gladiola bulbs in its booth to help raise money for its educational programs. The society will also feature an exhibit of images and memorabilia from the 1940s and 1950s gladiola festivals, parades, farmers and queens. There will also be an opportunity to meet Gladiola Queens from that era.


Long before the Delray Affair in its current form came to Atlantic Avenue, the Gladioli Festival and Fair was one of Palm Beach County’s feature attractions.

gladiolas _ delray beach

A vintage poster for an earlier Gladioli Festival and Fair.

History of the festival

After World War II, the people of Delray Beach decided to hold a big festival and fair to celebrate and promote the gladiola-farming industry. From 1947 through 1953, the festival welcomed movie stars like Vera Ellen to West Atlantic Avenue.

It was a fair with special exhibits and farm animals. Local builders brought in miniature homes to showcase their projected developments, cars were given away, and there were regatta races on Lake Ida. The Gladiolus Festival Parade was the biggest event in town, with lavish, flower-covered floats and the crowning of the Gladiola Queen.

Gladiolas important to local economies

The main attraction, however, were the gladiolas, brightly colored flowering plants. The gladiola-growing business began in 1939, and the 1940s and 1950s were the heyday of local farming. Boynton Beach and Delray Beach had at least 11 nurseries growing 14 varieties of gladiolas, making Palm Beach County the leading source for the flowers.

By 1950, Delray Beach producers were shipping out 2 million gladiola bundles annually. The city became the leading grower of gladiolas in the U.S., with more than 13 growers contributing to the more-than-$1-million-a-year industry.

The current Delray Affair — the festival’s successor — has evolved into a multi-faceted extravaganza. Residential and commercial development in the city’s western reaches, combined with a shift in farming from flowers to vegetables, eventually turned the Gladioli Festival and Fair into a small agricultural expo.

In 1962, community leaders organized a committee that wanted to expand the event include arts and crafts. “Delray Affair” was chosen as the name.

Visit DBHS during Delray Affair

The Delray Beach Historical Society will be open during the Delray Affair. See the “Fish Tales” exhibition, and the Cason Cottage Historic House Museum and Gift Shop. “Fish Tales” presents local fishing history and includes 100 years of stories, rare photographs and memorabilia, amusing gadgets, and trophy fish.

For more information, call 561-274-9578 or visit www.delraybeachhistory.org.