By early October, the dining room chandelier is sitting on the floor. In its place on the ceiling — no kidding — is an upside down, fully decorated, revolving Christmas tree. And that is only the beginning.

 

 

          At the Preston Hollow home of Tim Chapman and Roy Lotz, holiday decorating is a months-long process and labor of love that crosses property lines. By the end of December, the transformation is so complete Hollywood would surely dub it Extreme Makeover Does Christmas.

 

 

          Chapman and Lotz moved into a spacious home on

Glendora Avenue

near Hillcrest High School seven years ago and almost immediately gave in to the urge to create a memorable Christmas display every year with a different theme from the year before.

 

near Hillcrest High School seven years ago and almost immediately gave in to the urge to create a memorable Christmas display every year with a different theme from the year before.

 

          But while their imaginations were megawatt, their electrical system was as old as the house. Lotz and Chapman concluded there was no way to indulge the neighborhood without an electrician, so they added three separate circuits outside and began hanging lights.

 

 

          “Our electric bill doubles for December and January,’’ says Chapman, an engineer.

 

 

          Adds Lotz: “Everything that could be outlined is outlined. And it’s the C-7s, not the little bulbs.’’ (Bulb size is a recurrent theme with the holiday makeover crowd, and C7s are apparently top-of-the-line.)

 

 

          But while their yard decorations are hard to miss, some neighbors have been even further dazzled to find that the spirit of the season has arrived unannounced in their own back yards.

 

 

          One woman, a widow who did not want to be named, has lived on the block since moving into what was then a new home in 1966. She hadn’t been able to manage decorations for some time when she arrived home one day to find a swag of greenery and lights around some ornamental ironwork in her yard.

 

 

          “I immediately knew who it was, so I went to the phone and called Roy and said, “Yes, there is a Santa Claus,’” the woman recalls.

 

 

          “It’s just kind of our gift to her,’’ says Roy .

 

 

          Another security-minded neighbor who did not want to be quoted by name said Chapman and Lotz have decorated her yard for several years.

 

 

          “They came and asked me if I wanted them to do it. I said, ‘Yes, certainly!’ They even provided the lights,’’ she says. “I would not be able to do it. They are just very good neighbors.’’

 

 

          When the pair is not outside working on their own or a neighbor’s yard, they might be inside, where they have 13 full-size Christmas trees, all trimmed in separate distinct styles. The “gold tree’’ has 3,000 lights. Other rooms feature antique ornaments and many decorations have been collected from their travels.

 

 

          Five of the trees — including the inverted, revolving tree over the dining table — can be seen from outside. Wreaths hang in the front windows, as well as along the patio and fence line in back of the house. Last year, 12 trees lined the rear driveway.

 

 

          “When people hear about our house, they think it must be so gaudy, but I think there’s a way you can do Christmas to the max and not have fake poinsettias,’’ Lotz says.

 

 

          The real challenge is self-imposed. They try to develop a different theme every season.

 

 

          “We have to change everything every year — that’s the killer,’’ Lotz says. “I lie in bed during Christmas and think, ‘What am I going to do next year?’’’

 

 

          Amazingly, storage is not a problem for the 13 trees, wreaths, topiaries and other accoutrements of the season. That’s because their home has, or had, a three-car garage. One third has been walled off, air-conditioned, carpeted and otherwise outfitted as the nerve center for the holiday creations. Lotz built some of the artificial trees himself.

 

 

          On the other side of the Dallas North Tollway in Old Preston Hollow, homemade decorations may be harder to come by among the stately mansions. But the decorating tradition is no less important.

 

 

          Outside Harold and Annette Simmons’ estate between

Preston Road

and

Douglas Avenue

, just north of

Northwest Highway

, sits a memorable display that has become a neighborhood institution. It’s a whimsical showing of giant bears playing musical instruments. They’ve been perched on the edge of the Simmons’ property at Christmas time for roughly 20 years, since they were purchased at the Cattle Baron’s Ball live auction.

 

and , just north of , sits a memorable display that has become a neighborhood institution. It’s a whimsical showing of giant bears playing musical instruments. They’ve been perched on the edge of the Simmons’ property at Christmas time for roughly 20 years, since they were purchased at the Cattle Baron’s Ball live auction.

 

          “When my husband bought them, I wondered what in the world we’d do with them because they were so large and there were so many of them,’’ Annette Simmons recalls with a laugh. “But we put them out for the first Christmas, and we got so much reaction from children in the neighborhood that we decided that we’d always put them out.’’

 

 

          She said the couple still finds letters from children stuffed in their mailbox, thanking them for the display.

 

 

          A little further west, June Arnold’s decorations are also the talk of her neighborhood. At her home on

Midway Road

, just north of

Northwest Highway

, Christmas is only one of the holiday seasons that rate an elaborate outdoor display.

 

, just north of , Christmas is only one of the holiday seasons that rate an elaborate outdoor display.

 

          Drive by her house around Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July, Easter and most recently, September 11 and Halloween, and you’ll see her sentiments on display. Her elaborate front yard displays started as a typical Christmas season decorating plan than somehow ran amok.

 

 

          “These people would drive by, and every year, I do a little bit more, and more people drive by,’’ she said, describing how she got locked into a decades-old pattern of one-upmanship with herself.

 

 

          Nowadays, police officers wave as they drive by. Firemen “blow their horn,’’ she said, and a 23-year-old serviceman on leave from once knocked on her door to thank her for the 9-11 sentiment.

 

 

          But it’s clearly Christmas that is closest to her heart. Inside the house, beyond the curious eye of most passersby, an entire room remains fully decorated with Christmas memorabilia year-round. Even her kitchen wallpaper is a holly-and-berries affair.

 

 

          She is Mrs. Claus to hospitalized children, taking donated toys and treats to area hospitals.

 

 

          Born in Arkansas during the Depression, Arnold said she can’t trace her holiday passion to any childhood extravagance.

 

 

          “We were so poor, we looked up to people on welfare,’’ she says with a laugh.

 

 

          Rather, she said the reason she has had her husband rattling around in the garage pulling out decorations for the past 30 years is simply because “I like to make people smile.’’

 

 

          That hasn’t always been easy around the Arnold house. In 1990, a grown daughter died of brain cancer. Now, when people offer Arnold donations to offset the cost of utilities for powering up all her Christmas lights, she asks people to donate the money to cancer research.

 

 

          Looting and vandalism are occasional problems, but the Arnolds haven’t let that force them to change much over the years. The only changes have been a result of the need for crowd control.

 

 

           “We used to have Santa Claus out there but then it got to have a traffic jam,’’ she says.

 

 

          Now it’s just Rudolph and eight reindeer, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, elves, candy canes, a family playing in the snow and scads of lights.

 

 

          After three decades of commemorating every major holiday, even her neighbors know what to expect in the waning days of December.

 

 

          A yard sign that reads: “That’s All Folks. I’ll See You Next Year”

 

 


WANT MORE?
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Preston Hollow.