For those who equate Christmas with tradition, Liz Simmons probably isn’t the first choice as a Yuletide standard-bearer. A tattooed artist with stand-up hair and funky glasses, she is not easily mistaken for Mrs. Claus.

 

          But on

Newell Avenue

in the Santa Monica/Hollywood neighborhood, Simmons does, in fact, radiate the holiday spirit. Maybe it’s the colorful homemade stars, maybe it’s the snowman — or maybe it’s the glare of 30,000 lights. Whatever.

 

           “This is my thing. It’s kind of like an obsession,’’ she says. “It just makes me happy because it makes other people happy.

 

          “If you come home and you had a bad day and you see the lights — you can’t not be happy,’’ she says from under a mop of blond hair.

 

          For her, the tradition started a mile or so to the west, when she lived in a four-plex on

Prospect Avenue

.

 

          “When new people moved in, I’d be like, ‘You have to let me use your electricity!’" she says of the amps required to bathe the entire building and yard in lights.

 

          About 18 months ago, she moved into the house on Newell. Last winter, when she hung all those lights, she missed being able to split the electric bill with other tenants. But she never considered abandoning her one-of-a-kind Christmas projects.

 

          Improvisation seems to come naturally. She found “lighty-uppy elves’’ at a thrift shop and wound red tape around white PVC pipes to create oversized candy canes.

 

          The real notables, however, are a 7-plus-foot fuchsia and lime green wooden sleigh that she built, and a 6-foot hairy snowman she nicknamed “The Abominable.’’

 

          Her visions comes to life from a workshop in the detached garage where a vintage recording of Burl Ives or the Kingston Trio might be blaring Christmas carols any time of the year.

 

          Simmons’ neighbor, Eric Luneborg, says: “During Christmas, literally, there’s a line of cars that go down our street that have come here to see what she’s done. She really brings a lot of color and a lot of quality to the neighborhood that you won’t find in North Dallas .’’

 

          Luneborg, who has lived on Newell since 1999, says the street wasn’t on anyone’s sightseeing map prior to Simmons’ arrival. But not long ago, he met a limousine driver who told him that he routinely brings clients to the neighborhood in December to see the holiday lights.

 

          Despite the increased traffic, Luneborg said, neighbors have embraced the attraction. Most aren’t even aware that Simmons is the anonymous benefactor who places flowers on neighbors’ doorsteps for May Day. Or that she hides Easter eggs throughout the neighborhood and places empty baskets on neighbors’ doorsteps, encouraging them to hunt.

 

          “She’s like the holiday fairy or something,’’ he adds.

 

          True, she can’t accommodate the snow-blowing machines she once put on top of the apartment building on Prospect. And she no longer flocks the entire yard. But some of her adventures have taken on the power of urban legend. Like the one about how her Christmas lights blew out a transformer in the neighborhood last year. All she knows for sure is that during her annual party, friends were “taking pictures of my house and BOOM! The house was just dark.’’

 

          Whether or not her lights caused the explosion remains a mystery. But it wasn’t a complete shock to her guests.

 

          “One year, my breaker box blew up during the party,’’ Simmons says. No mystery there. It was her lights.

 

          Simmons’ only concession to home ownership is giving up her hot glue gun to affix decorations to the roof. Now that it’s her roof, she’s had to find neater ways to attach, say, a Christmas tree she scavenged from someone’s trash.

 

          This year, she’s ready. She has added an electrical circuit outside since last winter, to head off any problems. The only dilemma is how to keep improving over the previous year’s production.

 

          “That’s the biggie: It’s gotta always be bigger and better.’’

 

          That one-upmanship with oneself is a recurrent theme for Eleni Papathanasiou, whose house at the corner of

Highgate Lane

and Abrams has been luring passersby to the block for decades.

 

          The house was two years old when she and her husband bought it in 1971. An old snapshot shows the yard with virtually no landscaping. Today, it is the gateway to one of our neighborhood’s most well-lit streets during the holidays.

 

          “I started this when I moved in,’’ she says. “It wasn’t real big, but every year I’d add a little more and a little more.’’

 

          Today she has a scrapbook filled with clippings from 20-year-old newspaper articles on the neighborhood decorations. There’s even a certificate of appreciation from the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department.

 

          She bought a SEASONS GREETINGS sign that was built to scale for an office building, not a residence, and put it on the roof. Before long, she realized that she couldn’t indulge her holiday decorating “therapy’’ without more power.

 

          “I have a different circuit for my Christmas,’’ she says. “I took care of that a long time ago. I brought the electrician and said ‘let’s fix it.’ ”

 

          Her grown daughter, Litsa Papaniculaou, says she grew up in a neighborhood landmark. “Everyone knows this house as the Christmas house … Basically, every single aspect of this house is decorated.’’

 

          Nowadays, her mother even decorates the stop sign on the corner and the home of her elderly next-door neighbor, Olene Friou.

 

          “She helps to get the lights up on the higher places for me,’’ Friou says. “I think it’s made our street very pretty.’’

 

          Ralph Long, who moved onto the block 25 years ago, said the tradition has just grown without any overt planning through the years.

 

          “It just kind of morphed into what it is on Highgate,’’ he says. Now when someone buys a house on the block, “it’s kind of one of those things: Are you aware of what you’ve gotten yourself into when it comes to Christmas?’’ he says with a laugh.

 

          Most newcomers eventually get caught up in the decorating fervor, he adds. “I don’t know if it’s peer pressure or what. You kind of hate to be the only block on the house that does nothing.

 

          “We do it because it’s a fun thing. I like coming in after work and turning on the lights and seeing the glow,’’ Long says, confessing that “it’s a little bit OCD to say the least. But when it’s done, it’s quite fun and magical.’’

 


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