‘Everyone went to Koestler’s’|Mural of Christmas Tree Lane brings whiff of memory lane

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 14, 2008

About 200 people, many of them friends and relatives of the Koestler family, gathered Saturday night to celebrate the unveiling of a Riverfront Mural depicting the family bakery at Christmas.

“The Koestler family has always been a large family, and running the bakery was always a family affair,” said Jeannie Koestler of Vicksburg whose great-grandfather, Leo C. Koestler founded the bakery. “My grandparents, Charles Koestler Sr. and Katherine Koestler, had 24 grandchildren.”

To watch a video of the mural unveiling, click here.

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“We had big Christmases and we have so many memories of that bakery at Christmas time,” she said. “Their bakery represented good, and the mural brings back memories to everyone involved, especially of my Mamaw and Papaw.”

Leo C. Koestler opened Koestler’s Bakery on Washington at Belmont Street in 1908. Bread cooked in coal-fired ovens was known as Mello-Toast Bread and was delivered daily to homes by a horse-drawn dray. In 1918, the bakery became the first in the state to deliver in a motor truck, a Studebaker, to wrap and sell bread wholesale and to install a slicing machine. When Leo Koestler died in 1923, he left the business to his five children who continued their father’s tradition.

In 1949, the bakery moved to a new building at Clay and Hossley streets. That same year the family began the annual tradition of Christmas Tree Lane, the result of a belief in giving back to the community.

Christmas Tree Lane is the scene depicted in the mural.

“Oh, my children always had to go to see Santa outside the bakery,” said Caroline Mendrop. “Every year it was something they just had to do. Everyone went out there at Christmas time. There was a live Santa and, I remember, a snowman.”

Perhaps just as easily remembered as its Christmas decorations is the smell of freshly baked bread the bakery sent through town.

“I remember the most heavenly scent all over town,” said Pat Oglesby. “You could just smell it from everywhere, and you just had to go buy some bread.”

“We could smell it from (St. Aloysius) and after Flashette practice we would go get hot, unsliced bread,” said Donna Palermo Butler. “We’d just pinch it off; it was what everybody did.”

Jeannie Koestler, too, remembered stopping by the bakery after school.

“It was absolutely wonderful,” she said. “We’d get a loaf of unsliced bread and put butter down in the middle of it and go up to Fort Hill. By the time we got there, the butter would be melted and we’d pull it out and eat it. There is nothing like it now.”

In honor of the bakery’s Christmas festivities, Saturday night’s events included carols sung by Warren Central’s Madrigal Choir and an appearance by Santa Claus, who handed out net stockings similar to those given out at Christmas Tree Lane. History and memories were shared by great-grandchildren of the founder.

“While the bakery closed in 1975, the memory of Christmas Tree Lane lives on in the minds of members of the family,” Charles Koestler III read from the mural’s memorial plaque, “and still brings smiles to all who came,” 

The mural, painted by artist Robert Dafford, marks No. 28 completed on the east side of the City Front floodwall. The four remaining murals are expected to be finished by next summer.


Contact Megan Holland at mholland@vicksburgpost.com