Living on Christmas Tree Lane
Imagine that incredibly decorated holiday home in your own neighborhood multiplied a hundred times over and animated with motion, light, and sound. That’s what Fresno’s famed Christmas Tree Lane is all about, and this Yuletide spectacular is not just for the enjoyment of street residents.
It’s a community undertaking.
Preparations begin each October, when volunteers string lights on 300 evergreen cedars, averaging 50 feet in height. By Thanksgiving, homeowners are arranging painted plywood reindeer (and other figures) across their lawns. By late November, each home receives an electrical drop cord from the Fig Garden Homeowners Association to help power the lavish displays. Some residents tap into their own power too.
“It’s something we don’t mind doing,” says resident Craig Fry.
Labor of Love
From glowing Snoopy and Linus characters from “Peanuts” to more traditional decorations like Santa and his reindeer and depictions of the Nativity, residents along the two-mile Lane spend thousands of dollars decorating their lawns and rooftops — 140 homes in all take part. Their efforts transform the street into an event that enthralls 100,000 visitors annually and grows in popularity every year.
Craig and Jonna Fry moved to the Lane with their children, ages 6 and 8, in 2013 to be part of the tradition. They inherited decorations from the home’s previous owner but replaced them over the course of two seasons to provide a display they think is more updated and personal. Decorating can get a little competitive, he says, but in a good way. “We all have the same goal — to create memories for the people coming through,” Fry adds.
While there’s no requirement to decorate, Fry says that he and his neighbors look forward to the occasion. “It’s something you know when you’re buying,” Fry says. Friends will call or text when they reach his block so his family can go out and wave. “It’s pretty special,” he says.
Living on this Christmas Tree Lane “adds value” to the homes, says Tom Hyatt, a real estate broker who’s lived on the Lane for 19 years. There’s little turnover in regards to homeownership, and when there is it’s often residents bestowing these homes amongst family members. Hyatt plans to leave his home to his daughter someday.
Life on Christmas Tree Lane
This year the Lane opened on Dec. 2 — one of two “walking only nights” when visitors enjoy live caroling (and often join in) as they walk through the two-mile lane.
Hyatt serves hot chocolate, hot cider, and cookies by his front yard fire pit on walk nights. “We really enjoy being part of their evening, and they’re really appreciative, especially on colder nights,” he says.
Other nights, the two-lane street is closed to cross-traffic and both lanes carry cars north, slowly, allowing passengers to savor each new home as it comes into view.
At the Lane’s end, a very special visitor from the North Pole greets children.
That’s why Fresno families have made the Lane a family tradition for years.
“We’ve watched families whose children grow up visiting the Lane and come back decades later with their own children,” says Carol Bruny, who’s lived on the Lane for 54 years.
Families also come from out of town, from as far away as the Bay Area and Los Angeles — a two- to three-hour drive each way, she notes.
Of course, with so much interest the traffic can be gridlocked, forcing residents to use side roads to get in and out. Most drivers are happy to oblige. “They’re enjoying the displays, so it’s usually not a problem,” Fry says.
Now in its 92nd year, Fresno’s Christmas Tree Lane is one of the nation’s longest-running holiday events. But it actually started quite small, with the decoration of a single tree on the corner of Van Ness Boulevard and Pontiac Way in 1920 in memory of a child who had died. Sympathetic neighbors added decorations to their own front yard trees, and year-by-year the decorating became a neighborhood activity.
Since then, there have been only two years the Lane stayed dark over the holidays. The first was in 1941 because of wartime restrictions, and the second was in 1973 during the energy crisis, notes Dean Alexander, president of the Fig Garden HOA, who’s lived on the Lane 23 years and is called “Mr. Christmas Tree Lane” by some. His own Disney/religious display has over 300,000 in-motion lights, video, and music.
“I’ve been called a fanatic,” Alexander says, “but if you can’t be fanatical about Christmas, what can you be fanatical about?” He’s been the event chairman for 10 years.
There’s been a lot of progress over the years, he notes. Christmas Tree Lane coordinators have improved energy efficiency with LED lighting and better wiring, cutting power requirements by nearly 50 percent over the past eight years, says Alexander.
They’ve also engaged local high school students to build displays for any dark areas and help elderly residents who may not have the wherewithal to decorate their own yards. “It’s an end-to-end holiday experience with no dark spots,” says Alexander. “There’s really not anything like it.”
He should know. On December 15, Alexander’s home won $50,000, an ornament-lit trophy, and national props when it was chosen the winner of episode three of ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight.”
“It was an honor to show the world this is what we do in Fresno,” Alexander says.