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HoHoHo Holiday Lights

The Signal’s 16th annual Holiday Light Tour crew was wowed by what they saw and whom they met

Posted: December 10, 2009 4:52 p.m.
Updated: December 11, 2009 6:30 p.m.

The judges for the 16th annual Holiday Light Tour, from left, Jim Walker, Michele Buttelman, Lila Littlejohn, Tammy Marashlian, Melissa Gasca, Josh Premako, Brian Charles and Brandon Lowrey. Newcomers and old hands had a great time viewing the impressive holiday displays and mingling with the true fans of the season, the entrants in the Signal H...

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Last Saturday night eight Signal newsfolk crammed into a Chevrolet Suburban and ventured out on the streets and byways of the Santa Clarita Valley.

We had a list of 21 homes and streets to evaluate, rating their holiday lights and decorations on the theme of "Old Fashioned Holidays," as well as their glitz, charm, wow-factor and just about anything else that struck us collectively or individually.

Two key ingredients, as usual, were how friendly the folks we met were and how well they stuffed us with seasonal goodies.

The judging was close, and every home deserved to be a champion, but here are the top four homes, plus six other special category winners because, well, we liked them.

#1 Gayle Mitchell
Gayle Mitchell has been decorating her Newhall home inside and out for decades, and wants you to come in and see this year's incredible Santa displays. More than 200 Santas of various sizes turn things into what Judge Jim Walker called "A Santa's workshop - for Santas."

Judge Brian Charles noted "Her Christmas display took me back to my grandma's house when I was a child."

Judge Melissa Gasca said, "The tree in the window reminded me of Narnia. You can tell Gayle has put so much heart into her home, it is absolutely breathtaking."

Judge Lila Littlejohn noted that the home "is the definition of an old fashioned Christmas."

#2 The Tisdells
Todd, Sara, Emma and Spencer Tisdell have once again turned their home into a coordinated music and light show that should not be missed. Todd spent 70 hours programming the incredible display, which is very much appreciated, as evidenced by last years visitors. Sara Tisdell said that last year it was like "Field of Dreams" once The Signal story came out about their display. She said the headlights coming up on Christmas Eve were nonstop.

Judge Michele Buttelman said, "How can you NOT love this house? The amount of love and effort that goes into mounting a display this spectacular cannot be underestimated. The new LED trees add an additional WOW factor!"

Judge Tammy Marashlian said, "The hard work the family put in really showed. The hot cider paired with fun music made my night."

Judge Brandon Lowrey said, "It isn't a light display, it's a light show."

#3 Frost Family
As always, the Frost Family went all out decorating their yard. One new addition (only for judging night) was a goat pen where the mother goat wore stuffed reindeer antlers.

Judge Michele said, "What can you say about a guy who offers the judges their own petting zoo? Goats with reindeer antlers! I love, love, love it! Everything is handmade. This home is a great example of what the Christmas spirit is all about."

Judge Melissa agreed. "The reindeer goats were all I needed. They even talked to me," she said.

Judge Josh Premako echoed this: "Reindeer goats! A Ferris wheel! Awesome!"

#4 The Hobbs
Keith and Merilee Hobbs, and their children Amanda, Kameron and Landon, did up their yard this year with a "Mario Kart" video game theme, complete with large character cutouts on the front lawn.

Judge Jim said, "This ‘Mario Kart' Christmas was backed by the theme music from the game and the atmosphere was enhanced with brownies."

Judge Brian said, "The ‘Super Mario'-themed home might make others hit the reset button on their 2010 designs."

Judge Melissa said, "What a kid-friendly, fun house. And I appreciate that it was their 7-year-old's idea."

Judge Brandon wondered, "The Japanese characters actually make great Christmas decorations. Who knew?"

Most Clever Use of Animation -
Thad and Karen Kleszcz
This home had a full-featured Santa's workshop theme, including a moving conveyor belt with gift boxes going around.

Judge Michele said, "I love the gift conveyor belt. Everything here is handmade and unique. The red carpet to Santa is a special touch."

Judge Jim quipped, "The Swiss chalets intrigued me. I was looking for the one with ‘Roman Polanski' on it."

Judge Brian said, "Originality and ingenuity - they turned a Costco checkout belt into a conveyor belt for Santa's workshop."

Judge Josh added, "Warm and inviting. A great use of color and variety."

Best Use of The Grinch
Chris Leidholdt
The Leidholdt home in Canyon Country was all about "The Grinch." This included a human-sized Grinch in a smoky tunnel and giant Grinch eyes on the roof. There was also a yard-art cutout where our judges poked their faces through for photos.

Judge Jim said, "I was very impressed by the yard art, which I learned a neighbor had spray painted freestyle. I also like the Grinch standing in the ‘smoky' cave."

Judge Melissa said, "The Grinch eyes (on the roof) were scary, but so creative."

Judge Tammy said, "I loved the cutouts where people could pose. The Christmas countdown made me so excited for the holidays."

Judge Lila was impressed to hear Chris Leidholdt say that he had set a screw for lights every 18 inches on his roof!

Judge Josh noted, "It's like Christmas in a Tokyo pachinko parlor."

Most Labor-Intensive Lights
Wes Novotny/John Fosterling

Once again these guys went all out to decorate their home. This year the theme was all about "The Simpsons."

Judge Jim noted, "It's all totally Homer Simpson. And that works for Christmas, believe it or not."

Judge Brian only said, "D'oh!"

Judge Melissa said, "The Bart tied to the tree was sad, but so cute."

Judge Tammy added, "If you love the Simpsons, you must come to this house. The best house ever!"

This award reflects what homeowner John Fosterling said was a labor intensive effort to replace all the lights in the numerous strings that decorate the outside of the home with yellow lights. Yellow, of course, being the signature color of "The Simpsons."

Best Collective "Wow"
The McDiffetts
This home got its award because as our SUV turned a corner nearly all the judges exclaimed "Wow!" at the same time.

Judge Michele said, "A homemade ski lift with inflatable snowmen and reindeer is so fun! Nearly every inch of lawn and house is covered with colorful lights. When you turn onto Vista Ridge off of Wiley Canyon Road you immediately go WOW!"

Judge Melissa said, "The snowmen and reindeer on ski lifts were adorable, and the avalanche was creative."

Judge Josh noted, "Who says families always argue at the holidays? This is teamwork done right - father, son and grandfather. Great, charming details."

Best Use of Fake Snow
The Evanoff Family

Mark, Durinda, Cally and Kira Evanoff decorated to the max, including covering their lawns with cotton "snow."

Judge Melissa said, "I think I fell in love with the giant Santa on the garage."

Judge Tammy said, "A true winter wonderland. The grass has turned into snow and a story can be told with all the characters."

Judge Lila liked the banner that read "Come home for the holidays."

Best Use of Flying Reindeer
Edward and Kim Pape

The Pape front yard was chock full of Christmas, including a snowman crashed into a tree and a lighted, animated mailbox.

Judge Michele took note, "I was so intrigued with the holiday mailbox. I love the handmade cutouts and the Frosty the Snowman melting into the grass was priceless! The motorized swing is clever beyond words and I love the flying Santa sleigh and reindeer."

Judge Jim thought things were "old-school in a good way."

Judge Brian added, "With a snowman plowing into a tree, Kim is definitely moving up in the world."

Judge Lila was impressed with the white lights across the entire front of the house and the wooden yard art, which Kim made herself.

Judge Brandon said, "Homemade and inventive, it tried to tell a story."

Judge Josh added, "A white Christmas, indeed. Nice classic details."


SCV's Spectacular Streets
Wakefield Court wins again, but don't miss the other street extravaganzas

By Jim Walker
Escape Editor

"It takes a village" to present a truly coordinated street of holiday decorations, and several of the streets in the Santa Clarita Valley have been doing it for years. And while the decorations themselves are impressive, even more amazing is the neighborhood camaraderie that is obvious on these streets. These are more like block parties with lights as the excuse, and anyone who stops by benefits. Each of our streets had something special going on but, for the sixth time in 15 tries, Wakefield Court in Saugus took top honors.

#1 Wakefield Court, Saugus
The traffic was bumper to bumper here, so our intrepid Signal judges patrolled on foot, which allowed us to chat with the neighbors and, of course, sample everything they had to eat and drink.

Judge Michele noted, "Donations are accepted for the SCV Homeless Shelter and Toys for Tots. Toys donated after the 21st go to the SCV Boys and Girls Club. Tim Archer, ringleader of this amazing extravaganza of illumination, challenges all streets to band together and do something good for charity during this season of giving." |

Judge Jim added, "These people know how to party! They actually had beer and cigars, which I did not try (seriously) but I did go in for the sushi and sliders. I give up, you win."

Judge Melissa said, "I loved the little girl dressed as Cindy Lou Who, with the water bottle to make her hair stick out - what effort!"

Judge Tammy said, "The people were so friendly and it shows that a neighborhood can come together and achieve anything - that includes a fantastic holiday display."

#2 Essex Place in Valencia
"The Reindeer Street"

Essex Place was last year's street winner and came very close again this year. While not as massive an operation as Wakefield, the down-home friendliness looms just as large.

Judge Michele noted, "Christmas spirit is alive and well in the SCV. Find Rudolph as he moves around the neighborhood each night. There's a great photo spot where you can get your picture for next year's Christmas cards."

Judge Jim said, "As soon as we pulled up the kids began singing Christmas carols - and they were still going when we left. The chili and hot dogs were very much appreciated. And, yeah, I found Rudolph."

Judge Tammy said, "The street with the most heart. The people are so kind and the decorations are stunning."

#3 Ash Court in Saugus
Feed the Children and the SCV Domestic Violence Center donations are part of the reason for the season at Ash Court, as are the hopeful messages emblazoned on the rooftops, such as "Faith," and "Believe."

Judge Michele felt this was "what the season is all about."

Judge Jim was more materialistic: "The pudding shots won me over."

Judge Tammy said, "My favorite part is the donation station. That's what the holiday season is all about."

#4 Canterwood Drive in Saugus
Judge Michele: "I love the white snowflake lights in the center of the street. Any street that strings lights across the street gets my vote! I also liked the cute antique car that was an homage to our Old Fashioned Christmas theme."

Judge Jim noted, "This was the first time I had seen ‘drip-style' icicle lights. I'm sure everyone will have them in a couple years."

Judge Lila said, "Antique car, lighted cacti - very unusual decorations."

Judge Josh said, "White Christmas, indeed. Charming to drive through."

#5 Crown Court Circle in Valencia
Judge Jim felt, "This deserves its own category. Instead of a street, a group of neighbors in a little townhome-style cul-de-sac got together and decorated in a theme."

Judge Michele: "This charming little enclave off McBean Parkway is a delightful surprise. I love the effort and the beautiful decorations."

Judge Melissa: "This was a charming, cute little neighborhood. I like the centrality of the Christmas tree, surrounded by the snowy cardboard houses. Adorable."

Judge Tammy added, "I enjoy the colors and the little homes lit by the garages. It was so sweet."

Judge Lila: "Good use of theme. Each home has an old-fashioned cutout."

#6 Luminaria Display
More than 1,000 luminarias line the streets of Clearidge Drive, Mansfield Court, Essex Place and Meraweather Place in Northbridge Point.

Judge Michele: "This is an impressive display of neighborhood cooperation that lights up the SCV with holiday spirit."

Judge Melissa: "A great idea to unite a neighborhood in a simple, beautiful way."

Judge Tammy: "What a great display! A very smart way to recycle and decorate."

#7 Woodfield Place in Valencia
This is only two homes, 27648 and 27646 Woodfield, but we judged them as a "street."

Judge Michele: "Only two homes, but a good first year effort from these newbie Light Tour entrants. I love the old fashioned toys featured on the garage door graphics."

Judge Melissa: "Adorable little elves. The twinkling snowflakes stand out from a distance."


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