Lights in Lakewood burn blue

LAKEWOOD - Blue lights will forever be special in Lakewood. Local historians say blue bulbs symbolized the holiday spirit of community businesses, dating as far back as the early 1930s.

But they took on new meaning after Nov. 29, when four Lakewood police officers were gunned down at a Parkland coffee shop.

In the weeks after the tragedy, blue lights blazed throughout the state in memory of Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Ronald Owens.

The Lakewood City Council unanimously passed a resolution last week adopting blue as the official color for holiday lights in the city’s residential and commercial areas.

The Lakewood Historical Society is also working to create an exhibit explaining the community’s affinity for blue holiday lights.

“It’s going to take a little bit of homework, but I think we want to carry on the blue light tradition,” said Becky Huber, president of the historical society.

The blue light police tradition dates back more than two decades before the recent fatal shootings.

Brenda Donner, a member of the Washington state chapter of the Concerns of Police Survivors group, said it started with the mother-in-law of a slain Philadelphia police officer in 1996.

The color blue became a universal symbol – think “the thin blue line” – for police support, particularly where officers had died in the line of duty.

“It comes from the whole boys-in-blue mentality,” said Donner, whose chapter is based in Tacoma.

That symbolism spread throughout Western Washington after Nov. 29, as blogs, social networking sites and other media encouraged residents to display blue bulbs.

As for the ties to the Lakewood business community, the origins are less clear.

The historical society is looking for longtime residents who can provide perspective.

They might want to start with Cy Happy, 87, who’s lived in Lakewood since 1922. He recalls that the blue lights were the idea of Mary Clapp. She was married to Norton Clapp – developer of the old Colonial Center shopping center, hub of Lakewood for some 50 years and now the museum’s home.

Happy, one of Lakewood’s foremost historians, said he didn’t know why Mary Clapp chose blue. She inspired owners of nearby shopping centers to follow the color scheme, he said.

Lakewood City Councilman Walter Neary, who’s written a book on Lakewood history, said that for decades people would travel from all over the South Sound to see the blue lights.

By the time Lakewood became a city in 1996, the tradition apparently had vanished. A year later, Lakewood made blue the official holiday color among businesses to help revive the tradition.

The lights were never as prevalent as they were 50 or 60 years ago, but that changed this year.

“Now, it’s become a richer symbol,” Neary said.

Huber said plans are still early for the blue light exhibit. She wants input from the Police Department.

She also hopes that by getting the word out, local stores will stock up on blue bulbs next holiday season.

Brent Champaco: 253-597-8653