SF Fire Station 39 Claims Back-to-Back Wins in Festive Decorating Contest

SF Fire Station 39 Claims Back-to-Back Wins in Festive Decorating Contest

rtlaub/Chronicle Crews at San Francisco Fire Station 39 began fielding questions from neighbors about their holiday decorations and block parties over the summer. Fire Capt. Michael Day said in early December, firefighters were like children themselves, excitedly discussing light displays, where to put the snow machine and plans to top last year.

“That’s pretty much all we talk about,” Day said Friday night as snowflakes fell on his shoulder from the roof of the firehouse. “When we sit down to lunch, we sit down to dinner, I hear, ‘Who’s making the cookies?’ Do we need more decorations? What should we do next?” Station 39, a charming fire station in the foothills of Mount Davidson, was awarded first place in the department’s annual fire station decorating contest after Friday night judging; a contest where dozens of lighthouses—from the Financial District to the Outer Sunset to the Mission—answered the narrative that San Francisco is a joyless city.

The original competition ran from 1948 to 1950 and was incredibly popular. Fire stations transformed their facades into Christmas presents and children rode a bus to see the lights. One station loaned live animals to a local slaughterhouse and used them in a manger. But that first tradition came to a bitter end when San Franciscans voted against a small cost-of-living increase for firefighters in 1951, and the fire department, which paid for the decorations themselves, suspended the competition.


The race was revived during the 2020 pandemic shutdown when a Chronicle column documented the original race and proposed a revival. The 2023 race was characterized by sheer volume: bigger lights, bigger trees and more creative touches. At least four stations had a snow storm in front of the stations. Four winners will share $4,000 from the San Francisco Fire Credit Union and go to the charities of their choice.

Decorations at Station 12, number two in Haight-Ashbury, included a 15-foot live Christmas tree covered in lights next to an illuminated Grateful Dead-themed logo on the station’s wall. Third-place finisher Station 13, in the shadow of the Transamerica Pyramid, opted for a stark display of moving lights framing the warehouse-like building and an illuminated tribute to the 49ers. (San Francisco 49ers quarterback phenom Brock Purdy wears number 13.) Station 18 in the Sunset District finished fourth, erecting green and white lights on a giant star tree that could be seen for blocks.

But Station 39, founded in 1936 and still located in its original building at 1091 Portola Drive, won by a landslide, becoming the first station in both decades to win the competition two years in a row. Firefighters built a forest of decorated trees on the lawn, added rotating lights and video elements, including a cartoon mascot with an animated face like a character from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. At 18:30… at least 40 neighbors gathered at the station for homemade cookies and hot chocolate.


“We are always looking for ways to be seen, shop local and connect with protected citizens,” said San Francisco Fire Lt. Mariano Elias, department spokesperson. “And we also want to show neighborhood pride — decorating that we’re in the holiday spirit just like everyone else.” Ten stations have officially entered the contest, but many more are showing lights. The fire station will be lit at least until December 31st. The Chronicle Guide and Fire Station Map include most of the participating fire stations.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.