How Brisbane Became the City of Stars

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Houses in Brisbane decorated with the city's iconic stars. (Bianca Taylor/KQED)

Look up in Brisbane in December, and you’ll see stars. Specifically, wooden slats nailed into the shape of a five-point star, then wrapped up in lights.

Bay Curious listener Ashley Shively remembers seeing the displays while growing up. She says her father grew up in San Francisco and would always point out Brisbane’s stars when they drove past.

But she never knew why the stars were there, so she asked:

Why do residents of the town of Brisbane put up five-pointed stars at the holidays?

To get to the scoop on the stars, I went to Brisbane’s Festival of Lights. It’s the city’s official tree lighting, and the start of when the town lights all its stars.


The City of Brisbane’s official Christmas tree. (Bianca Taylor/KQED)

At the festival I talked with Mayor Clarke Conway, who was born and raised in Brisbane. He told me the star tradition got its start in 1939, when a guy named Gaynor put up a big green star high in the hills on Kings Road.

This star caught the eye of Art Kennedy, who was part of Brisbane’s Chamber of Commerce at the time. Kennedy liked the star so much that the next year he and the chamber made 20 similar stars to give to residents for free. The tradition was born.

Today, the chamber still gives free stars to Brisbane residents.

The only time the Peninsula town hasn’t had its iconic holiday stars was during World War II, when U.S. cities were ordered to black out all their lights at night to avoid attracting enemy airplanes.

When Brisbane became incorporated in 1961, it appropriately chose the “City of Stars” as its name.

If you, like our question asker Ashley and her dad, find yourself driving past Brisbane on Highway 101, you can see the stars for yourself, twinkling in the hills just like they have for nearly 80 years.

If you’re a Brisbane resident, learn how you can get your own star.

Brisbane Hardware is one of the businesses that donates supplies to build stars every year. (Bianca Taylor/KQED)

While many refer to Gaynor with this spelling, they are likely referring to a man named Mr. Gagnier, who records show lived on Kings Road in Brisbane during this time.