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Candy Cane Lane : Each Christmas, a West Valley Neighborhood Glows With Good Cheer and Massive Wattage

December 14, 1989|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Asmall neighborhood, tucked beside the freeway in Woodland Hills, considers itself special. Newcomers are informed, before they move in, about "the tradition."

So, on the first Friday in December, Rosemarie Rush was working in her front yard, winding silver garlands around the fence post, hanging colored lights.

Rush recently moved into "Candy Cane Lane," an otherwise ordinary neighborhood that is famous for its lavish Christmas decorations. For 37 years, most of the houses in the area--two blocks long and four blocks wide--have joined in the holiday festooning.

And in the weeks before Christmas, carloads of onlookers jam the streets as police direct traffic. People come to see the Model T hitched to a sleigh on Lubao Avenue, or the 19-foot-tall Santa Claus on Oakdale Avenue. They come to see lighted bells along Jumilla Avenue. On Penfield Avenue, the Pillar family has strung up $2,000 worth of lights, and a jukebox on the front lawn plays Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas."

Candy Cane Lane has seen a lot of changes in four decades. Residents have died or moved away. But the tradition perseveres.

"The people we bought this house from told us about it," said Rush, 53, trying to bring her yard up to snuff. "If you want to buy a house in this neighborhood, you buy into all the decorating."

The six blocks that make up Candy Cane Lane lie directly south of Oxnard Street and west of Corbin Avenue. It is an upper-middle-class neighborhood of large homes on flat, half-acre lots. Many of the residents are in their 50s or 60s and have lived there 20 or 30 years.

They tell stories of how it all began, in 1952, when some housewives cooked this scheme up in their kaffeeklatsch. Husbands were enlisted.

"We all worked together," said Kip Northcross. "If someone needed something cut out of wood, they would go to the man down the street or to my husband, who had a band saw.

"Everyone pretty much went along with it," she said.

Each street was given a theme. Jumilla was Avenue of the Bells, and Oakdale was Candlelight Lane. Lubao was Candy Cane Lane, and Penfield was Caroler's Way. Winnetka Avenue was originally included but never participated much "because that street's just too busy," said Norm Murdaugh, 68, who lives on Jumilla.

Jewish families who lived on these blocks put up blue and white lights and large menorahs.

There were, and still are, other Los Angeles neighborhoods that decorate \o7 en masse\f7 . But Candy Cane Lane soon established itself as a premier holiday attraction in the San Fernando Valley.

The tradition peaked in the 1950s and '60s. It has faltered some since then. Among the original residents still alive and residing in the neighborhood, several said they are getting too old to put up extensive decorations. A majority of the homeowners still decorate, but not all the newcomers have joined the Christmas activities.

And in the past couple of years, vandals have come late at night to tear down lights.

None of this has stopped sightseers.

"It gets more and more popular every year," said Sgt. Dennis Zine of the Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Traffic Bureau. "The traffic is phenomenal. It's one constant stream of cars."

Retailers say that outside Christmas lights are coming back into vogue (see accompanying story on page N10). At Builders Emporium stores, sales have increased significantly over the past couple of years, said Carolyn Jacinto, a buyer for the chain.

Murdaugh says that along Candy Cane Lane, people leave notes in the mailboxes, thanking residents for the decorations.

So the people of this neighborhood keep at it. There is talk of a resurgence, of another era when absolutely every house will be decorated.

The younger generation is taking the lead. Kip Northcross' son brings his children to decorate her house. On Jumilla Avenue, 22-year-old Tim Lopez struggles to erect the huge Santa his father bought 20 years ago.

"He had a knee operation, so now I do it," Lopez said. "I always loved Christmastime here. It was like having Disneyland at home."

And there are people like the Pillars, who moved to Penfield a little over a year ago. They have spared neither cost nor wattage in assembling what has quickly become recognized as one of Candy Cane Lane's most spectacular yards.

"We're going to keep putting up more lights," said Beau Pillar, whose wife's name is Cande.

"We want everyone around here to get excited," he said. "We want to make Candy Cane Lane better than it ever was."

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