By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Dec 02, 2020 at 9:03 AM

The holiday lights return to the Miller Valley tonight to add a little sparkle to a difficult year.

For many years, during the 1960s and early ‘70s, the holiday lights displays in the Miller Valley were a local highlight for festive decorations fans.

As part of its 150th anniversary, Miller Brewing brought back the lights in December 2004 – after more than 30 years – and they’ve been glowing each holiday season since. During this pandemic year, the lights promise to bring even more joy than usual.

The Holiday Lites show – created in partnership with Clearwing Productions – will be illuminated every night from Wednesday, Dec. 2, through Sunday, Dec. 27, from 6 to 10 p.m., but because of COVID restrictions, there are no tours or tastings this year.

“Holiday Lites has become a tradition that has brought cheer to families throughout Milwaukee and Wisconsin, and we’re thrilled to continue it in 2020,” said Kindra Loferski, manager of guest relations at Miller’s Milwaukee brewery, in a statement.

“While we are unable to gather in person, we still found a way bring some holiday cheer to our neighbors in a year when it’s especially needed.”

To see the lights, drive on either side of State Street in front of the Plank Road Brewery House, next to the Miller Inn. Please follow the directions provided on-site and remain in your cars to help ensure social distancing.
For more about the shows visit millerbrewerytour.com/tour-information or call (414) 931-2337.

“Miller first began decorating the State Street brewery for Christmas in the early 1950s,” says brewery archivist Daniel Scholzen.

“The tradition coincided with and was intended to celebrate the renovation and modernization of the brewery, which was largely complete by 1954. The lights and decorations on brewery buildings were always intended to be enjoyed by the general public.”

A December 1954 Miller Brewing company newsletter said, “The lights that decorate the Miller Brewing Company during the Christmas season are a part of Milwaukee's Christmas spirit. The beauty of Miller grounds is the pride not only of Miller employees, but of every Milwaukeean.”

The tradition continued and by the late 1960s, the annual festivities had grown quite a bit.

In 1968, 2,000 showed up to hear carolers and the Bel Canto Chorus perform.

By the early ‘70s, Scholzen tells me, Miller Brewing Co. President John Murphy hosted an annual lighting ceremony on State Street, which was closed to traffic for the occasion.

“The increased scale of the celebrations at this time reflected Miller’s rapid growth in the beer industry,” Scholzen says. “The tradition of lighting up State Street for Christmas was suspended in 1973 in response to the domestic energy crisis.”

Two years after the tradition returned in 2004, Miller began synchronizing the lights in a show with recorded music.

Here are some great images, courtesy of Molson Coors, of the Miller lites over the years.

Building 35, 1953

Building 35, 1959

1963

1966

1967

1969

1972

Undated postcard

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.