Homeowner Spotlight - The Story Behind Your Favorite Christmas Displays
Bill McVicker's stunning sidewalk garland lights adorn the neighborhood. He has now helped more than 1,000 area homes light up the night.
Christmas is only one month away and the incredible light displays are in full force.
Everything from synchronized music, massive inflatables, and themed homes can be found along each Christmas light tour. But every house has something unique and special for you and your family to see.
If you’re like most people who enjoy taking in these brilliant works of art, you probably have some questions about them (I know I do). When we reach out to homeowners to make their display a part of our Built Story tours, they often have a story to tell.
We recently spoke with two homeowners who were overjoyed to share the meaning behind their magnificent Christmas light displays. So we’re passing their holiday spirit on to you!
Bill McVicker and Fairview Park Holiday Lights
How it started:
Bill’s Fairview Park, OH tradition dates back to 1953 in Buffalo, NY when his grandfather asked his wife what she wanted for Christmas. Her response: “I don’t know, a windmill.” And just like that, his grandfather built her a garden-sized windmill. Thus, birthing an annual tradition of surprising his family with a special project for the holidays.
They were carefully hidden from the family and his grandfather would sneak parts into the house without them knowing. It would only be officially revealed on Christmas morning. This tradition was carried on for over 30 years!
How Bill took over:
In 1985, Bill received some tragic news. His grandfather’s eyesight deteriorated to the point where he couldn’t put together his holiday project. He was devastated and took it upon himself to carry on their tradition.
His first modified project came after a failed attempt that almost caused him to put it on hold. But to this day, Bill says a higher power awakened him from his sleep and forced him to carry on. This resulted in a mechanical snowman and when he revealed it, his grandfather’s face lit up with joy.
Bill’s grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer the following February and passed away in October. Meaning Bill would’ve never had the opportunity to create a project for him again. To this day, Bill thanks whatever force caused him to wake up and finish one final project for his Grandfather.
How the lights came to be:
In 2011, Bill was setting up his Sidewalk Garland Lights and thought it would be special if the whole sidewalk was set up for each house. The following year, he pitched the idea of decorating the sidewalks in front of their homes himself if they were willing to chip in for supplies. Quickly, more and more people joined.
This led to a compounding effect. People who drove by would stop and ask him what he was working on. After almost 20 years at his home on Seabury, the neighbors all knew his tradition.
Fast forward to today and almost every house on the block (70+ homes) participates. Talk about the Christmas spirit!
Hear from the owner:
What’s your favorite part of the holidays?
“My favorite part is the overall sense of peace, joy, and community. In 2016, we did the first co-op group purchase, thinking if at least 50 houses signed up, it would be worth the effort. We handed out light kits at the community center and there were people lined up out their door, all to decorate nearly 300 houses. It was $16,000 worth of lights and stakes. That really reinforced the community aspect.”
What are your favorite projects?
“One of them is the sidewalk music. With increased foot traffic, I thought how much better the experience would be if there was music. Not just a house or two, but the whole street. You expect music at a mall or commercial venue, but not along a 1/4+ mile of neighborhood a sidewalks. It just adds so much to the experience.”
“My biggest project is the sidewalk tunnel. It spans over 30ft, running most of the length of our sidewalk, and has 8000 LEDs. Seeing the reactions of the kids when they go into it truly warms my heart. We have also had three marriage proposals under it.”
What makes your house unique?
“On weekends in December, we open up the Elf Tent. We have hot chocolate for everyone and magic reindeer food for the kids. This is all free, though donations are appreciated as this is how we raise money for the Fairview Park Hunger Center.”
“We also have a Carousel for the kids to ride on that I consider to be my most ambitious project.”
How much money have you raised for the Fairview Park Hunger Center?
“In the early days, the donations jar took in $50-$200 per season. But with last year’s incredible $5000 donation, we have now raised over $10,000.”
Enjoy the McVicker's holiday cheer in the Fairview Park Holiday Lights tour!
Valerie Bauer’s Winter Wonderland
How the display got started:
Growing up, Christmas was always an important holiday in their family. Val’s parents moved to Iowa in 1984 and were very well known for their decorations. She loved to help them set up and creating a display started to grow on her.
Val started decorating for Christmas at her home in West Des Moines back in 2000. Then, in 2014 she moved to Angel Park where she continues to put together a spectacular Christmas display. Which, multiple families have referred to as a “true destination.”
More than just a set of lights:
The lights and inflatables were wonderful no doubt, but she kept thinking about how she could do something more. Val wanted a way to give back over the holidays so she reached out to the Marines.
She found out you didn’t need to be a business owner to hold a Toys for Tots drive. So, 5 years ago marked her first-ever Toys for Tots event and it has been a tradition ever since! Val runs it every year on the first Saturday of every December from 6-8pm.
There’s even an appearance from Santa himself!
Hear from the owner:
What’s your favorite part about having a Christmas light display?
“The children that come out to see it, the questions they ask, and the sheer joy on their faces as they see Santa on Toys for Tots night. It warms my heart to see how proud they are to bring a gift for someone less fortunate.”
What do you enjoy most about the holidays?
“Family. The past several years have flown by and it seems like with everything going on we haven’t had enough time to spend together. Catching up on what’s happened and truly just relaxing is what I look forward to. We also enjoy piling into the car every Christmas eve to drive around town and look at other displays.”
She also mentioned sitting around her parent’s real wood fireplace! Sounds cozy right?
Does your display have a theme?
“Each area of our yard has a different theme, we have a section for Minions, Santa’s workshop, and Penguin Island. They all seem to have their own little areas that develop as the years go on. Winter Wonderland would sum it up nicely!”
What are the questions people ask about your display?
“People always ask us how crazy the energy bill gets for all the lights! It does increase a fair amount, but since we use LEDs, it’s quite manageable.”
“We’ve also been asked (jokingly) if we work at an inflatable company because of how many there are! We’ve received a fair share by donation from others who’ve either lost interest or just want to pass the Christmas cheer along!”
Add Val’s house to your list of must-see Christmas lights in Des Moines!
Want to discover more stories like these?
Check out the Built Story App for the cheeriest Christmas light tours around the country!
Experience curated, easy, dazzling routes.
Turn-by-turn navigation is integrated into the app. Hear a holiday joke or read the stories of the people who decorate throughout the self-guided tour, too. You’ll have unlimited access to each route for 30 days—break up the tour if you’d like and enjoy it on your time!
It’s the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
All tours will be live on December 1 – and some earlier than that! Add yourself to the email list and we’ll be sure to send you updates on all Christmas light festivities.