CERRITOS — Thousands of people each night are making a pilgrimage to the Kings Row neighborhood to look at Christmas displays on houses, roofs, lawns and trees that make up a dazzling lighted pageant begun by residents five years ago.
Sightseers from throughout the area are drawn to the demonstration of holiday spirit at Kings Row Avenue and Castle Place, a cul-de-sac one block away.
Trees lining the streets are wrapped with aluminum foil and spirals of plastic red ribbon. Most of the 30 homes on the two streets are involved in the event. Many of the displays are homemade, including life-size versions of toy soldiers and Santa Claus and a variety of original Christmas greetings in lights.
"The neighbors pride themselves on having a good neighborhood and this Christmas thing," said resident Baret Basham, who with two roommates moved into the neighborhood about two years ago.
Bundy Claus, a mannequin named after the character of Al Bundy in the Fox television show "Married With Children," sports neon green sunglasses as he crouches to ski off Basham's roof. Whitey, a polar bear, sits near Bundy Claus wearing bright orange sunglasses.
"The first question the neighbors asked us is if we believe in Christmas," Basham said. The first housewarming gift they received was a set of Christmas lights.
Bob and Rose Kamppila said they started the decorating frenzy when they moved into the neighborhood five years ago. Bob Kamppila has added to his Christmas paraphernalia each year and estimates he has almost $5,000 worth of Santas, teddy bears and lights. This year's addition is a stuffed Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtle in a sleigh on the roof.
"It's like Disneyland for kids from other cities," Bob Kamppila said. "I dress up like Santa Claus and give out candy canes. It's for the kids, for the expressions on their faces."
It takes the Kamppilas about a month to set up their Nativity scene, life-size sleigh and hundreds of lights. Supplies, such as staples and extension cords, cost about $300. And for the month of December, their electricity bill soars to almost $400, said the Kamppilas, who have probably the most elaborate display.
Other neighbors said their electricity bills typically double during the season.
"It's a neighborhood effort, everyone helps each other out and we work together to achieve the effect," Bob Kamppila said. "Everyone on the street owns a staple gun."
Kamppila said he knows of sightseers who come to drive or walk down Christmas lane from as far away as San Bernardino and the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
"Every year someone will come to the door after we've turned the lights off and ask us to turn them on again, because they came so far to see them," he said. "We also receive Christmas cards and thank-you notes from people who've seen the lights."
The decorating begins each year around Thanksgiving, according to Shirley and Bob Patterson. Shirley Patterson said she sets off down the streets wrapping the many trees in foil "to get the people in the mood."
"There's a lot of work involved in putting up everything," she said. The Pattersons' yard is full of hundreds of brilliant red poinsettias and three homemade reindeer. Large angels, made by her son, Bob, hang in a tree. "But it's worth it for all the enjoyment you give, especially to the kids, they're my favorite," Shirley Patterson said.
To celebrate their achievements, the Pattersons and their neighbors have weekend parties in their driveways the last couple of weeks in the season. They set up an organ and about 50 people may join to sing Christmas carols.
The Youngren family home on King's Row has a more somber display. Brothers Matt and Scott Youngren decided two years ago to erect three tall crosses--one bearing the inscription, "Jesus was born in Bethlehem to die at Calvary for you"--on the front lawn.
"We built these crosses to remind people of what the real meaning of Christmas is," said Matt Youngren, 20.
To help control the nightly influx of visitors, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has set up a special traffic lane on westbound South Street as it goes over the San Gabriel River. Cones direct cars right onto a frontage road, into Castle Place for a short up-and-back loop, then onto Kings Row Avenue where the flow is one-way, exiting onto Droxford Street. Even with control, traffic often backs up almost a mile on weekends as cars approach the small neighborhood.
"We enjoy it," Deputy Richard Jeanson said. "It's one of the positive aspects of the job, instead of the negative ones like giving tickets and arresting people."
But not everyone in the neighborhood enjoys the seasonal notoriety.
"I'm not really into it," said one homeowner, who asked not to be identified. "It's like an amusement park at night. The cars are bumper-to-bumper and you can't even pull out of your own driveway. And it's not unusual to find used Pampers and other trash in your yard in the morning."