WEST COVINA — It took Dave Morel 20 Christmas seasons to make the decorations that turn his house into a holiday showplace. It took more than two weeks to get this year's elaborate system working to his satisfaction.
It took vandals less than 10 minutes to wreck it.
Morel's outdoor scene was shattered on the night of Dec. 13, but not his resolve.
The next morning he set about buying, restoring and rebuilding because, he said, it would be unthinkable to celebrate Christmas without the front yard spectacular that has always been his family's gift to their neighborhood.
Morel, his wife, Mary, and children Scott, 15, and Barbara, 23, live on the corner of Alaska and Shasta streets, a quiet area removed from freeways and business districts.
For the holidays their place is ablaze with 4,000 lights that computer relay systems blink and flash in constantly changing colors. Dozens of motorized figures move. There is a human-sized gingerbread house surrounded by giant lollipops and candy canes, reindeer, signs, wreaths and stars that Morel made or that the family received as gifts through the years.
Escape by Truck
Morel said he had finished working on the display at 10 p.m. on Dec. 13, and minutes later his wife heard a clatter and found a youngster tearing a wreath from their front door.
The boy and three others drove off in a truck carrying 10 six-foot plastic candy canes, 12 three-foot lollipops, a three-foot Santa, four reindeer, a snowman, 10 three-foot candy sticks, a large wreath, a sign that identified the display as "Candy Island," and several small items.
They left intact a manger scene with wise men and shepherds that Morel inherited from his father.
Police said nobody has been arrested for the vandalism and it is unlikely that anyone will be. West Covina police called the vandalism of the Morel display part of a widespread "prank" by teen-agers who stole decorations from about 10 West Covina and Covina homes that weekend.
They theorized that the youngsters may have dumped the decorations in a big heap at South Hills High School after that night because they wanted them to be discovered. A Police Department spokesman said there was little damage.
Morel disagrees. First, his pocketbook was severely dented. He spent $240 and an entire day getting his system going again. And his spirits took a dive.
"I was crushed," he said. "Nothing like this has ever happened before. Why this time of year?"
In the 15 years the Morels lived in Baldwin Park, until 1981, their Christmas decorations won several community awards.
"Christmas has always been my favorite time," said Morel, a carpenter and draftsman. He said he started assembling this year's panorama the day after Thanksgiving.
After the theft, he said all he could think of was restoring the scene as soon as possible. By late Sunday night the family had spent $240 for replacement materials and had restored the display.
That is when police called to say the decorations had been found.
One result, Mary Morel said, is that the family remains jittery about outside noises, still fearful that vandals could hit again.
A happy result, the family agrees, is that the display is greatly improved with the new replacements.
"I guess I'm not angry now," Morel said. "But if I could catch those kids, I'd make them work as we had to, to replace what they took. And I'd get them to pay back the $240."