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Jul 08

A Little About the ‘Star' in Star City

Posted on July 8, 2019 at 2:50 PM by Melinda Mayo

For more than 60 years it has lit our mountaintop, provided our nickname, and been a mandatory visit for newcomers. There is a lot to know about our Star on Mill Mountain, so I’d like to shine a light on some of its history in this week’s blog.

Roanoke Star 1

What it Takes to Light the Star

Sponsored by the Roanoke Merchants Association, the world’s largest freestanding illuminated star was designed and built in 1949 by Kinsey Sign Co. at a cost of $28,000.  In the early 1980’s, ownership of the Star was transferred to the City.  The Star stands nearly 90 feet tall.  Its 2,000 feet of neon tubes require over 17,000 watts of power to light the sky.  Nearly all the tubing has been replaced as has much of the electrical system, with more than $100,000 spent on upgrades as recently as 2006.  About $10,000 each year is spent on routine maintenance such as continuing to replace bulbs and minor electrical work.  These efforts are led by the City’s Facilities Management Division and involve, from time to time, private contractors.  On average, it costs about $115 per month to provide electricity for the Star.

Over the years, the lighting pattern for the Star has varied—the most common, of course, the traditional bright white.  In the early years of the Star, it was lit red when there was a traffic fatality in the community.  Over the years, a number of special occasions or commemorations have resulted in differing light patterns: a red outline with double white and blue stars inside for the Nation’s Bicentennial; red, white, and blue for six years following the Sept. 11 attacks; all white, briefly, to memorialize the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting; and the red, white, and blue pattern currently used on Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, Sept. 11, and Veterans Day.

Atop the Mountain

The Star has been used as a backdrop for events as diverse as Starcropolis and an episode of the Today Show and, of course, factors into the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon, any number of family outings, and visits by those traveling on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Today, the Star is the centerpiece of the area’s tourism marketing, with most brochures or video clips about the great offerings present in the community featuring the Star prominently.

As Mayor Lea is fond of saying, it’s a great day in the Star City! And we are the Star City because of the Star, of course! I hope you, your family and friends enjoy the Star and keep making memories atop Mill Mountain for many years to come.

--Bob Cowell


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