Raymond Gao

The weather was a balmy 60 degrees Sunday afternoon as members of the New Haven community gathered in Wooster Square Park to celebrate the 45th annual Wooster Square Cherry Blossom Festival.

“[The festival] is New Haven’s welcoming of spring,” festival co-chair Charlie Murphy said. “It’s the first outdoor event you can have under comfortable conditions, and [Wooster Square Park] is a great place to have it.”

The 72 cherry trees of Wooster Square Park blossom for only a short period each year, and the timing of this period can vary dramatically from year to year. This year, just one cherry tree in the park was in full bloom. Many of the others had produced only pale, pink buds. But this did not dampen attendees’ spirits

Presiding over this year’s festival as master of ceremonies was Bill Iovanne, Jr., president of Iovanne Funeral Home, Inc, whose offices are adjacent to the park. Iovanne was honored by the Friends of Wooster Square for his service to the community, which has included serving on the boards of several charitable organizations as well as independently hiring a private contractor to remove snow from Wooster Square Park after a particularly heavy snowstorm in February 2014. Also honored was resident Marianne Mazan, who worked with the group originally responsible for bringing the 72 Yoshino cherry trees to Wooster Square Park in 1973.

The celebration began with a welcome address by Stephanie Simoni of WTNH News 8 and featured a variety of acts throughout the afternoon, including the Premier Jazz Ensemble of the Neighborhood Music School, St. Luke’s Steel Band and Tuxedo Junction, a local swing dance group. In addition to live music, the festival included special programming for children consisting of shows by Nappy’s Puppets and a presentation by HorizonWings, a nonprofit organization that specializes in the rescue and care of birds of prey.

The rectangular park was anchored by the main stage in the center, facing north. A small number of booths constituted an area for children and family in the southern end of the park, while the vast majority of groups set up booths in the northern half. Lined along the main walkways of the park were familiar food vendors including Crepes Choupette, Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant and Caseus’ Cheese Truck. Chabaso Bakery, a national chain established by the founder of Atticus Bookstore, was stationed at the western entrance to the park from Academy Street, passing out free samples of baguette to passers-by.

The groups in attendance represented area businesses, nonprofits and governmental agencies, as well as local authors and artists. They spanned from Best Buddy Biscuits, a confectioner of all-natural dog biscuits to the Bonsai Society of Greater New Haven, a group of bonsai enthusiasts and experts who showcased their work and advertised their upcoming annual exhibit.

Christine Hayward of the Bonsai Society said it was only the society’s second year at the festival. She noted that the cherry tree is one of the few fruit trees commonly used in bonsai, particularly when they are in full bloom. There were no cherry bonsai trees on exhibition at the Bonsai Society’s booth at the time.

A number of the 85 groups with booths at the festival hailed from outside of New Haven proper, with the festival attracting visitors not only from New Haven but also from elsewhere. Yale students were well-represented within this contingent.

“For a community that had seemingly been drowning in wintry weather, the festival was a welcome signal that spring was finally on its way,” Lisa Wu ’21 said.

The Wooster Square Cherry Blossom Festival has taken place annually since 1974.

Raymond Gao | raymond.gao@yale.edu