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Christmas Tree Lane brings tradition, pop culture to Oxnard

Nov 25, 2023Nov 25, 2023

The lights turn on each night at 6 p.m, kicking off the show on Oxnard's F and G streets. Reindeer emerge on front yards and rooftops. Angels sound horns to the heavens. The Grinch sneers. Lucy, of Peanuts fame, goes fishing.

Nearly 30 years ago, the residents of a historic district just off Fifth Street launched Christmas Tree Lane with an assist from friends in Ventura. The pandemic slowed down the show in 2020, but the crowds and tours returned last year. The current edition, expected to bring as many as 20,000 visitors, launched Dec. 11 and continues through Dec. 26.

Christmas Tree Lane is a maze of holiday lights and decorations that cover homes and lawns across parts of 10 blocks. There are nativity scenes, a message etched in lights on a front yard and a snowman blowing cool licks into a candy cane saxophone.

Want more? There's Santa sandwiched by lollipops and penguins, the kid with his tongue stuck to a street pole in a nod to the movie classic, "Christmas Story," and piped-in carols from Johnny Mathis and Mariah Carey.

Every Christmas display carries a story. Decades ago, Allyson Knight's grandmother gave her husband a massive fiberglass cow – a Holstein that served as a backyard ornament and a permanent part of the household.

Knight, who moved to the 200 block of F Street two years ago with her husband, Zack Cantor, inherited the dairy heirloom. Family members have long debated its name with some asserting it has always been Bessie and others lobbying for Betsy. They settled on Daisy.

Whatever the name, the cow wears a harness of holiday lights in the front yard, ready to lead a team of reindeer. The pilot's seat, in the sleigh about to be launched into the Oxnard sky, is manned by Jedi master Yoda. That addition, along with R2D2 and others, was the doing of Cantor, a believer in all things "Star Wars."

Abundant in pop culture, the streets are cloaked even more in family and tradition.

When Travis Thierry and next door neighbor, Curtis Heath, were kids some 20 years ago, they collected so many railroad cars it almost became a competition.

Their fathers, Todd Thierry and Dwayne Heath, liked trains too, almost as much as they liked building stuff. The fathers and sons teamed together to construct the F Street Railroad that chugs along on a F Street yard every Christmas. This year, the workers have an apprentice helping them out: 5-year-old Bobby Heath, Curtis's son.

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They start putting the display together the weekend after Thanksgiving. It takes about 100 hours spread over two weeks. The trains run across handmade wooden bridges past an In-N-Out restaurant, a reproduction of the Oxnard Transportation Center and whatever else pops into the builders’ minds.

Every Christmas brings a new wrinkle. This year, the train loops in to the Heath front yard by way of a massive figure eight encircling two trees. The railroad also has its own Instagram page.

It changes and grows but the trains and models remain what they have always been — playtime.

"There are nights we are geeking out playing with trains, trying to figure out how to run one from this line to that line," Curtis Heath said.

Steve Fleischer remembers the words. It was the early 1990s and his new F Street neighbor, Steve Buratti was explaining his zeal for holiday decorations.

"He said, 'Do you mind if I put stuff on your lawn?'" Fleischer said.

He said sure and in a year started doing up his lawn himself. Things grew from there. Other neighbors wanted in. Residents on Ventura's Teloma Drive had been dressing their homes up for decades in a holiday presentation called Candy Cane Lane. They decided to pass the mantel and some of their decorations to F Street.

Christmas Tree Lane was born.

A few years later, residents on G Street joined the party and now the lane covers most of the Henry T. Oxnard Historic District. About three out of four homeowners dress up their properties. Others stay dark, some because of age or health conditions.

Fleischer's front yard teems with "Peanuts" characters in a winter wonderland made of quilt batting. Charlie Brown waves at passersby as Peppermint Patty sits next to an arsenal of snow balls. An empty wooden booth bears the sign, "Psychiatric help, 5 cents." It also announces, to Fleischer's amusement, "The doctor is out."

"She's gone fishing," he announced with a smile, pointing at Lucy seated on an ice block, reel in hand.

The "Peanuts" theme was his wife, Sharon's, idea. She did the painting after Fleischer used drawings in a coloring book to etch characters on plywood. The pandemic was hard. The first year of the pandemic, Fleischer put out just one character, Charlie Brown, who held a sign.

"See you in 2021," it read.

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Sharon died after a stroke nearly two years ago. She was 74 and Fleischer misses her every moment. Now, her brother comes down each year from Porterville to help him put up Linus, Lucy and the rest. Together, they watch the kids who are enthralled by the characters and the piano jazz music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

"The kids are on my lawn dancing and having a good time," he said. "There's a lot of ways of giving back to the community, and this is an important one."

The show is free and most people walk from house to house. Parking can be usually found on adjacent streets though the weekends bring bigger crowds. People should dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes. Cross streets only at corners and beware of cars. Stay off yards and driveways.

Some people drive through the display, though the going can be slow. The Holly Trolley offered tours in a double-decker bus but ended its run on Thursday. On Saturday, a special attraction brings a guided tour including visits inside four historic homes with wine, craft beers and bites of food from local restaurants. For tickets and more information, go to

Special sights include the nativity scene with life-sized camels across from the "Peanuts" presentation on F Street , the lighted displays of reindeer and angels on G and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" characters that show up at several homes.

And then there is the Henry Levy house, the nearly 5,000 square-foot home built in 1914. It sits on G, awash in twinkling, computer-operated lights. A ghost pops from a window in an ode to Halloween and speculation about the home being haunted. "Frosty the Snowman" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" play on a video screen. Mathis and Carey croon.

Just to the side of the house, towering inflatables of Santa, Frosty and a Christmas tree dance in the breeze. The fir stands 20 feet tall and would cost about $1,000, said owner Eric Andrist who collected his holiday largess over decades. He moved to F Street last year.

"When we heard we were going to live on Christmas Tree Lane, we were thrilled," he said. "It feels good to make people happy."

For more information, go to the lane's Facebook page.

Tom Kisken covers health care and other news for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at [email protected] or 805-437-0255.

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