Thursday, December 16, 2004
Despite being thousands of miles from the North Pole and hundreds of miles from Disneyland, one Pacific Grove neighborhood has been hosting luminaries like Santa Claus and the Little Mermaid for years.
During December, scores of visitors flock to Candy Cane Lane—known as Morse Drive, outside of the holiday season—to get in the holiday spirit. In Platt Park, a small grassy island adjoining Morse Drive, revelers can watch their favorite cartoon characters like Snoopy and Tweety Bird riding on a slow moving Ferris wheel. Nearby, Disney characters like Buzz Lightyear and the Little Mermaid kick it, only a few feet away from the Sesame Street gang. In one section of the park, misfit characters like Barney and Pokemon huddle as a stream of cars drives slowly by. Meanwhile, Santa Claus, who looks comfortable knowing this is his time of year to shine, lazily sits on a swing before having to get ready for another very busy Christmas Eve.
Surrounding the park are houses adorned with varying degrees of holiday decorations. Some houses are lit up with enough lights to give a Vegas casino a run for its money. One residence, located off Morse Drive at the corner of Beaumont and McFarland Avenues, hosts a 15-foot high robotic nutcracker who swings his arms and moves his jaw under a couple of piercing light bulb eyes.
Down the road, at 1024 McFarland Ave., a stage is set up in front of the house. Starting this Friday night, 14 year-old Jade Vucina will be performing Christmas songs like “Silver Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with a small band including two other Pacific Grove High School students and one middle school student. The music usually starts at 6pm and continues until 10pm.
With so much holiday cheer, it is hard to imagine that Candy Cane Lane ever had to compete to become the most popular holiday neighborhood in Pacific Grove. But, according to Al Borges, a Candy Cane Lane resident and captain of the Pacific Grove Fire Department, Candy Cane Lane used to go head-to-head with the town’s Egan Lane (off Lighthouse Avenue) in the 1950s for the title of the Pacific Grove neighborhood with the most holiday spirit.
Back then, Borges says the decorations were simpler: mainly just trees and some lights in the park. “They would never have this kind of lighting until later on,” he says.
Borges says Candy Cane Lane received a huge boost when Cliff Johasen, a PG&E employee and the neighborhood’s treasurer at the time, brought electricity to Platt Park in the early ‘60s.
Then, starting in 1986 and continuing until 2002, when it stopped due to budget problems, the City of Pacific Grove held a Holiday Decoration Display Contest. Participants could win cash prizes in categories including the best decorated commercial districts, the individual residence with the best outdoor display of a single theme, the best single residence’s window display, the best residence display that evoked the spirit of a holiday greeting card, and the best neighborhood display.
It is not surprising that Candy Cane Lane with its electrified Platt Park did quite well in the neighborhood display competition. Chris Kirchhofer, the administrative assistant for the City of Pacific Grove, recalls that Candy Cane won about 14 or 15 of the 16 contests. “Candy Cane Lane has certainly been the forerunner through most of it,” she says.
Borges says he didn’t move into the neighborhood until 1987. A couple years later, he became coordinator for the neighborhood’s holiday decorations, until retiring in 2001. He says all of the approximately 75 homes pay a $12 or more voluntary membership fee to pay for the costs of making sure that Candy Cane Lane is a winter wonderland.
Though the City of Pacific Grove foots the bills for the electricity used in Platt Park, Borges says each residence pays for its own electric bill during the holiday season. Borges estimates that his monthly electric bill jumps from $180 a month to $300 for the month of December.
Even though there is nothing in the leases for any of the neighborhood homes that stipulates they must participate in decorating Candy Cane Lane, most residents are happy to comply. Borges says he can only remember one couple that didn’t like all the commotion around the holidays. He says that they moved after less than a year on Candy Cane Lane. “If you move to this area, you have to be a part of it,” he says.
Before leaving the neighborhood, I talk with Tom Tsubota who is bringing his 18-month old son Alexander to Candy Cane Lane for the first time. While the younger Tsubota wobbles next to a gingerbread man, the elder Tsubota explains to me why he thinks Candy Cane Lane is “awesome.”
“It always gets you in the mood for the holidays,” he says.
Candy Cane Lane, located on Morse Road off Forest Avenue in Pacific Grove, will be lit up and decorated every night until the first of the New Year.