CANDY CANE LANE in Pacific Grove is a tight-lit community. Every year, starting the first weekend in December and ending on Dec. 31, some 75 homes between Morse Drive and Beaumont Avenue become collectively known as Candy Cane Lane, a triangular winter wonderland with lights, displays, a centerpiece little park, music and Santa handing out candy to the kids.
And in a city that calls itself The Last Hometown, this Christmas tradition has gone on for 55 years.
Terry Jones, one of the organizers, estimates that hundreds of thousands of viewers come to enjoy the spectacle every year, bumper-to-bumper for a month. One handy tip is that traffic seems to dwindle during dinnertime, from 6 to 7 p.m., so that would be the best time to see everything and avoid the crowds.
Or even better, park the car and walk through the area for good views and photo opportunities. Best bets for parking are Pacific Grove Middle School, a block away, or the high school across Forest Avenue. Morse Drive is one block downhill of David Avenue, just off Forest.
Jones, who has lived in his Morse Drive home most of his life, remembers when there were only five houses on the street, with a forest across the street. His earliest recollections of Candy Cane Lane include a red-and-white striped fire engine in Platt Park, surrounded by a miniature town, and an ice skating rink with two cutout skaters.
Candy Cane Lane has been a tradition for Monterey County residents throughout the years and most of them have their favorite Candy Cane Lane displays. Everybody remembers tiny, triangular Platt Park, site of most of the moving displays,including the Santa Swing, rocking horse, a trolley train that moves back and forth and, new this year, a train that runs around the park. A net fence surrounds the park to keep fans away from the dangers of electricity and moving parts.
"We don't want people to get hurt,"said Monica Jones. Besides, there are lots of interactive features outside the fence,including a gigantic gingerbread house that people can enter and wooden cutouts so people can poke their heads through for photos. New this year is a sleigh in which families can sit for pictures.
In the experimental stage this year are lights that go on and off to the sound of music. "We're hoping that goes well,"Jones said. "We're hoping to use it in the park. It depends on the expense."
Residents store their own Christmas displays after the holidays, but the large pieces in Platt Park are stored in a shed at the Pacific Grove corporate yard. Jones said that once a volunteer poured the concrete pad, the neighborhood group built a storage unit in one day, with donated funds, like an old-fashioned barn raising.
Most of the moving displays were built by the late Les Goode.
Adding to the novelty of Candy Cane Lane are the old-fashioned street lights, survivors of Pacific Grove's original lamps.
The largest moving mechanical display outside the park is known as the Fireman. The tall display started out as a tin soldier, holding a long saber. After many years, the residents donated the figure to the P.G. Fire Department, which replaced the saber with a hose, then an axe. Eventually the firemen returned the figure and it's back as a soldier.
Participation in the event is voluntary, but most residents enjoy extending the tradition. Some viewers note that many displays have little to do with Christmas. That's no accident. Since the idea is to delight children, many of the characters are modeled after Disney characters. Organizers also keep an eye on what movies are popular with kids that year and base characters on what's current.
Who's behind all this work? "This is an informal neighborhood get-together,"Monica Jones said, with organizers, neighbors and a treasurer, as well as people pitching in money for upkeep and new displays.
And, for the record, Monica Jones estimates that around 1,500 trick-or-treaters show up every Halloween. She says she spends around $150 on Halloween candy. She says it's a safe neighborhood and that's why so many goblins show up.
And soon after Halloween, the preparations begin for Candy Cane Lane. Candy Cane Lane is "wildly exciting and fun," said Monica. "We sit with the kids on the porch wrapped up in blankets, drinking hot chocolate and talking to perfect strangers. It's really rewarding."
Terry adds, "There's something special about it when the houses and the park all done. It just feels like Christmas."