One of the great thrills that we can look forward to during the holidays is enjoying the lights and decorations that people put on their homes. Most houses might put up a string of lights or two, but for the most spectacular, beautiful, and elaborate displays, Monrovia acknowledges the remarkable hard work of homes and businesses to spread Christmas cheer during an annual home decorating contest.
Winners from the contest hope their displays inspire and strengthen community togetherness in Monrovia.
Gonzalo Salgado and Maria Estevez, who won Best Outdoor Display, have been participating in the contest for 10 years. Every year, the couple designs a new theme. They re-purpose decorations from previous years, making each subsequent iteration more expansive and detailed.
“A lot of this stuff is a labor of love,” Salgado said. “We’ve had an enjoyable 10 years doing this and enjoying the people that come over and see it.”
Their display’s theme this year is “December 26th” and shows what Santa and his elves do while on vacation. Santa sits in a hammock at the beach, and an assortment of characters enjoy various summertime activities.
“We love to tell a story,” Estevez said.
On the other side of the coin, Stephanie and Jason Radnoti, who won the Santa’s Workshop award, were first time winners. Their display was a tribute to their favorite Christmas movie, Elf.
“My favorite part of Christmas is looking at how people decorate, and the clever way they come up with their themes. I always wanted that as a child,” Stephanie Radnoti said. “It brings people so much joy. It brings us so much joy.”
The local businesses, such as Paint N Play that won Best Holiday Display, also get involved. Traci Loving and Judy Sedano designed the store’s window display, which has a tree and a backdrop that showcases different art pieces that customers can make, such as hand impressions.
“When people that don’t know anything about the studio, when they look at that window, they can see most of all we do,” Loving said.
This year, many of the contestants struggled due to the large amounts of rain. It was particularly an issue for Darrell Clark, who won the Most Effective Use of Light. His home display includes 30,000 LEDs and takes eight computers to run. “My house gets warmer just from all the computers running,” Clark said.
His projections couldn’t run in the rain, making it difficult for Clark to test his display while getting ready for the contest.
Clark’s goal is always to excite people and make the space feel magical. Clark said many people come back repeatedly over the years and often thank him for his lights.
“That’s the best part: touching each person and making a little magic for that one person for that one moment. That’s why I do what I do. If I can make one little piece of magic, then that makes the world that little bit better,” Clark said.
Entire blocks or neighborhoods also get involved for the contest every year, holding painting parties and having parades.
While there are three neighborhood awards, only three neighborhoods usually ever participate, meaning each one is guaranteed an award.
The 2400 and 2500 block at Rochelle won the Holiday Spirit Award. Michele Cazaro represents the block and said the focus is not on winning but making the community better.
“It’s really more for us, about our own neighborhood. It’s fun to be competitive, but it’s really fun because our neighborhood gets together,” Cazaro said. “That’s what makes it really fun, is spreading the Christmas spirit, and I think that’s why people keep doing it every year.”
The 300 block of North Alta Vista Avenue, which won the Judge’s Award, has a flamingo theme. Each flamingo on the street is unique, designed by different families.
According to Anna Hetman, the flamingos are a tribute to Tony Hunt, who thought of the idea of a flamingo in a Santa hat. Although a prototype was built and Hunt was able to paint it, he passed away from cancer in 2003. The Hetman’s put out the flamingo every year until one day, strong winds blew it away in 2013.
“Tom started wondering about what we were going to do without a flamingo in memory of Tony. Tom decided it was time, 10 years after Tony’s passing, to make his idea come to life,” Anna said. “We were not expecting the enthusiastic response that was shown. We were also not prepared for how it touched Tony’s wife, Carol, and daughters, Chris and Heather.”
Anna Hetman said the contest, and wanting to honor their neighbor, helped bring everyone closer together.
“Although this has always been a great neighborhood, with wonderful neighbors, it definitely brought us together with a common activity,” Anna Hetman said.
Other winners include Best Neighborhood Effort Award by Valmont Drive and Valmont Place, Children’s Choice award by 309 N. Madison Avenue, Most Spectacular by Monrovia Floral and the Business Judge’s Award by the Monrovia Chamber of Commerce.
There seems to be a synergy between the different contestants as well as people who view and enjoy the lights.
“What’s nice about this street, is that we kind of feed off of each other,” Clark said. “And you know what? My neighbor across the street, she put out lights. She had never done that before.”
The favorite part about participating in the contest for many of the contestants is the chance to interact with the people that come to see their home. A family from El Monte came to see Salgado and Estevez’s home after seeing the decorations in Monrovia last year. Overwhelmed, the father cried and thanked Salgado and Estevez for what they do.
“Those are the kinds of things that makes us enjoy it and keeps us going,” Estevez said.