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Holiday lights spectacle
|Messenger photos by Lori Smith
The theme to the Picktown Lights is simple “Merry Christmas to all – and to all a good light.” The dancing lights on 23 homes on Hail Ridge Drive in the Park Place West subdivision are all synchronized and animated to Christmas music you can listen to on your car stereo at 93.9 FM. The neighborhood presents the show seven days a week from 5 p.m. to midnight from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. Last year, the neighborhood collected 14,000 pounds of non-perishable food for the Mid-Ohio Food Bank from cars driving through to see the lights.
When Rob LaRe was growing up, one of his favorite Christmas traditions was to visit a neighborhood house in his hometown of Canton, Ohio – the one everyone knew for its magical display of mesmerizing colors and twinkling lights.
“I remember thinking, ‘I want to be that house,’” he reflected. “I never thought I would be ‘that street.’”
That experience as a young man led LaRe to create a spectacular wonderland of lights for his own home. It has grown into a synchronized, animated production bringing a whole street of neighbors together, collecting tons of food for local food pantries, and garnering national attention for the Pickerington neighborhood.
It all began in 2004, when LaRe was in a friendly feud with his neighbor, Rick Griffith, over who could put up more lights on their Hail Ridge Drive homes in the Park Place West subdivision.
LaRe, who is a self-defined “computer geek” and a graphic and Web designer by trade, was out of space for more lights – so he decided to computerize his and animate them to music.
“It wasn’t really that bad,” he said. “The networking came naturally. The animating took some time to learn.”
Setting up a radio frequency so people driving by could listen to their music on the car stereo was another story.
“That was very time consuming,” he admitted. “I built the FM transmitter myself. It took a lot longer than I anticipated.”
It was well worth it, though, because the following year three neighbors asked him to help synchronize their lights as well, and the elaborate “Picktown Lights” was born.
“We have added a couple houses every year since then,” LaRe said. “Now we are up to 23 homes – 21 homes on one street and two around the corner.”
The effort is so successful it has been featured in The New York Times and on local and national television news shows.
“That has brought people from far and away,” LaRe said.
It is a time-consuming effort, one that begins early in the fall, with planning beginning even sooner.
“No matter how well we plan, it seems like we are always scrambling,” LaRe admitted.
He said it takes 40 hours of work to coordinate the lights for one Trans-Siberian Orchestra song – and this year’s show features more than 15 songs.
“I have a few neighbors who actually take a week of vacation off with me to work on this,” he said. “We’re jumping all over from house to house. We definitely all pitch in and go.”
Some homes choose to keep the same display, he said. “Then we’ve got a few people who change things from year to year.”
The display brings countless cars driving through the neighborhood. LaRe said although the additional traffic in the neighborhood can complicate things for the residents a little, everybody seems enjoy it.
“Nobody’s ever been pounding on my door asking me to take the lights down,” he laughed.
He said he has no idea how many cars come through the neighborhood each year.
“I would really have no clue,” he said. “We more or less base our success on the amount of food we collect.”
The amount of visitors varies from night to night, he added.
“It definitely picks up as we get closer to Christmas, and if the weather is nice,” he said. “People seem to behave themselves and try to keep moving.”
In addition to offering its light display as a gift to the community, the neighborhood has set up a collection box so those driving by can leave a contribution to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.
“We have people constantly stopping and opening their trunks and they have several boxes or bags of groceries,” he said. “Last year we were real close to 14,000 pounds.”
And with all those lights running every night, what does that do to their electric bills?
“I’m almost entirely LED so it’s not really using that much juice,” he said. “My electric bill is higher in July from running the air conditioner than it is in December.”
Besides, LaRe said, “This is our gift to the community.”
Directions to Picktown Lights
• Take 70 East to Exit 112 A (State Route 256/Pickerington)
• Right at first light onto Tussing Road
• Left onto Hines Road (second traffic light)
• Right onto Havencroft (third street on right)
• Follow Havencroft around; Hail Ridge is the last street on the left before Havencroft dead-ends
** Tune in your car stereo to 93.9 FM and watch the lights dance to music
** Don’t forget to bring non-perishable food items for the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. Look for the red collection box.
|On December 21, 2010 Billie said:
What a wonderful display of generousity!
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