Even the security guards expressed a sense of wonder yesterday at the dazzling transformation of Festival Hall in downtown Baltimore: row upon row of designer Christmas trees, sitting in the snow under a high canopy of ribbon with curtains of lights hanging like the aurora borealis.
The attraction was the opening day of the Festival of Trees, a fund-raiser for the Kennedy Institute on which 1,100 volunteers worked for more than a year.
On display are more than 70 silk trees, each about 10 feet tall. Local corporations paid $5,000 for each tree; some designed trees themselves, while others used local designers. Many of the corporations also donated the trees to be sold or raffled at the festival.
A local jeweler's tree featured jewel-studded balls with ropes of gold beads and pearls and ornate metallic ribbons, while the Soup Kitchen achieved a cheerful holiday color scheme by hanging its familiar red-and-white cans as ornaments and topping the tree with a white chef's hat.
On top of the Black & Decker Corp. tree, a circular saw blade created the traditional star effect. And blue and silver ribbons with running lights created a wave-like effect behind the crystal shells and fishes hung on the tree that was designed by the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
A United Nations tree, bedecked with flags with the dove of peace nested above, was yesterday's raffle prize.
The festival also features an International Village, filled with booths with Christmas trees and holiday decorations from around the world, as well as gift, crafts and bake shops and a supervised area with activities for children while their parents shop.
For the youngsters, Santa Claus himself outshone any of the local celebrities at yesterday's festival opening.
"I thought it was wonderful," Angela Tavik, mother of Abby Tavik, a 3-year-old from Cockeysville, said of the festival.
"My favorite part was peeking in the window and watching [Abby] buy gifts."
The Festival of Trees has been a successful fund-raiser in other cities, usually as a benefit for children's causes, said Gary W. Goldstein, a child neurologist and president of the Kennedy Institute, on North Broadway.
The center is affiliated with -- but not financially supported by -- Johns Hopkins Hospital, and the Festival of Trees could help to clarify the institute's identity, said Dr. Goldstein and Sally Casey, executive chairwoman of the festival.
They said they hope to net $500,000 in unrestricted money for the center from the tree festival and a black-tie fund-raising party last night.
If it's successful, they said, the festival could become an annual event.
The Festival of Trees at Festival Hall at Sharp and Pratt streets in downtown Baltimore,is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. through next Saturday. Admission is$3 for adults and $1.50 for children and seniors