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High-Impact Results For Palacio del Rio's Low-Tech Holiday Light Design

While downtown businesses are currently in a spirited battle to win Mayor Julián Castro's Light Up Downtown holiday light contest, the Hilton Palacio del Rio seems to have risen above the challenge.

On the 12th floor of a rather plainly shaped Hilton hotel, the Director of Property Operations, Russell Hendricks, pulls back the drapes to open the balcony door where two light fixtures cradle a colored light bulb.

When all 500 are lit up they complete the design. This season, the word "love" is revealed over a Christmas tree.

Hendricks said it takes three men six hours to change the bulbs by hand. Then they have to check over their work by heading outside for a sight survey at dusk.

“We do nighttime checks right after we do that," said Hendricks. "That's where we make the corrections the following day."

It's a pretty low-tech operation, all things considered. The team comes up with a design and Becky Palomo draws it out on a spreadsheet that acts as the blueprint for which bulbs go where.

"They're excited when they see what we're going to do next," said Palomo.

She's been at the Hilton Palacio del Rio for more than 30 years, and for her, the American flag designed in 1991 for Operation Desert Storm is the best yet.

"My son-in-law is in the Air Force, so the flag means a lot to me," Palomo said.

The lights have spelled out "Go Spurs," displayed company logos, and have been a holiday treat for more than 20 years. Hendricks said it's an emotional light show that makes San Antonio shine even brighter in its unique flavor.

However, the display does have its challenges; like ordering hundreds of the rare blue bulbs and guests who unscrew the lights at night.

"It gets more and more difficult as each year goes by" Hendricks said. "We're looking into the future on how we're going to continue to do this with compact fluorescents."

He knows this time-honored tradition will continue to reflect a simple beauty of the shapes and words of each passing season.