AGOURA HILLS — On the first week of Christ-mas, the Kap-lans give to us thou-sands of lights, four fog ma-chines, two fla-vored scents, one la-ser show, a ro-botic Santa and more crowds than a Toys "R" Us.
Drive right up, every body!
Bring one toy so a child's face can light up--just like the Kaplans' place at 5831 Grey Rock Road, where holiday cheer is on the house and all over the front yard!
See 175,000 lights (55,000 more than last year) twinkling in the night and enough flashing lasers to make the neighbors wonder if UFOs have landed!
Listen to a life-size, automated Santa Claus tease a few onlookers with one-liners such as: "I'm the robotic 2000, and I'm an experimental project being built by the scientists at NASA."
It's all so dazzling that you'd think Donald and Joanne Kaplan and their four children should give away sunglasses to everyone, especially to dear old Santa, whose winters at the North Pole hardly ever see the light of day.
It's an extravaganza viewed by thousands of sightseers every December and by countless more on TV news clips around the world. It's bigger, brighter and better this year than all the others dating back to 14 Christmases ago, when the Kaplans strung up their house in Woodland Hills with a handful of lights that soon grew to 8,000.
And now, everything is so garishly theatrical outside the Kaplans' Tudor mansion (five bedrooms, six baths) that the holiday spirit seems packaged by the ghosts of Walt Disney and the Ringling Bros., if not orchestrated by a posse from Las Vegas' Glitter Gulch.
"We estimated that 75,000 people passed the house during all of last December," says Donald Kaplan, a developer and investor, his 55-year-old face aglow like that of a 5-year-old as he talks about the family's light show. "This year, the crowds are going to be a lot bigger."
How much bigger, brighter and better can the Kaplans' light show get? What can they do for an encore?
The Kaplans' 24-year-old son Drew, who choreographs much of it from an electronic control board he built inside the house, grins and says: "We keep adding more and more. And each year, we've always said, 'This is going to be our last year doing this.' "
The Kaplans won't say how much it costs to order or build all these lights, props and gadgets--and to store them in leased space.
"We don't like to flaunt any figures," says Donald Kaplan. "In essence, there's a little Santa in all of us--and this just brings the Santa out."
The only figure the Kaplans do reveal is the one on their December electricity bill, which they expect to go up--to as high as $150 a \o7 day\f7 (from $135 a day last year). They point out, too, that they overloaded the circuitry so badly last winter that they had to rent a 30-kilowatt movie-studio generator, powered by a 250-gallon tank of diesel fuel, just to light up half the display and to keep power from shutting off inside the house.
Drew Kaplan, meanwhile, delights in bantering over two-way speakers with visitors who cannot see him seated inside the house, wearing headphones, as the voice of Santa the robot: "Hello. . . . Would you please sing the Kaplan family a Christmas song? And I'll record it!"
And year after year, he derives even greater thrills adding bells, whistles, smoke, mirrors and other wizardry reminiscent of that frizzy-haired scientist in the film "Back to the Future."
"It was kind of my job to put up the Christmas lights each year," he recalls of his childhood. "And I kept asking, 'Can we put some more lights up this year?' Here, we moved into a bigger house (in 1985), so when we put the lights on it, it looked like nothing. I mean absolutely nothing."
To an exterior emblazoned with 40,000 lights (but no other decor) as recently as 1989, they've added toy soldiers, illuminated elves, gingerbread figurines, candy canes and candlesticks, background music over 10 speakers and special effects such as lasers, vanilla and popcorn aromas and fog machines to simulate smoke belching from a miniature train and from a chimney atop Santa's workshop.
This year, the Kaplans themed their show "Christmas in Camelot" and ordered up make-believe, 13th-Century-style castle towers so tall (27 feet) that they had to be lowered into place by a small crane.
They've also cranked up an illuminated cuckoo clock with a 14-by-14-foot face, spewed more artificial smoke and added toy soldiers to their special effects, each with animated arms and clasping trumpets.
It's a process that the Kaplans say takes 900 hours: crafting new props in September, stringing up lights starting in mid-October and building the rest of the display through November.
To make everything light up these December nights, it's all but taken an act of Congress. The Kaplans say they obtained a temporary permit from Southern California Edison Co. to add a separate 200-amp electrical system to their 400 amps already on hand.