November 2006 Issue
Home for the Holidays
"A Christmas Story" House opens its doors in Cleveland.
One of Brian Jones' most treasured holiday memories is watching "A Christmas Story" with his parents. Never mind that the movie's Midwest winter setting was miles away from his Hawaiian home. Never mind that his coveted gift was a puppy, rather than the air rifle 9-year-old Ralphie Parker hoped to receive in the film. And never mind that it took place more than 30 years before Jones was born.
"'A Christmas Story' is endearing and funny at the same time, which is a hard combination to get," Jones, 30, explains by phone from his home in San Diego. "Who hasn't been picked on in the schoolyard and fought back? Who hasn't gotten in trouble with their parents? It has a very human touch that connects with everybody."
So last year, when the Cleveland house featured in the 1983 movie came up for sale on eBay, Jones just had to have it. His goal: create a setting that would replicate the Parker family home and build a museum/gift shop that fans of the movie would be sure to love. Bids for the house started at $99,999. Jones sealed the deal by offering $150,000.
On November 25, the house (complete with leg lamp in window) and museum will be introduced to the public as part of a three-day grand-opening celebration featuring autograph and meet-and-greet sessions interspersed with movie marathons. Stars scheduled to attend include Ian Petrella (Randy), Scott Schwartz (Flick), Tedde Moore (Miss Shields), Zack Ward (Scut Farkas), Yano Anaya (Grover Dill), Patty Johnson (head elf) and Drew Hocevar (male elf).
Based on stories written by humorist Jean Shepherd, the film's release almost two decades ago met with little fanfare except in cities such as Cleveland, where much of it was shot. Prominent locations included Public Square, where the holiday parade was staged, and the downtown branch of the now-defunct Higbee's department store, where the Parker boys visited Santa.
Although it has justifiably earned a place in the annals of holiday-film history and has long been a favorite of fan
s who have driven by it over the years, the 111-year-old dwelling, located in the city's Tremont neighborhood, was more on a par with a scene from "The Money Pit" when Jones purchased it.
"The house was empty at the time the movie was made. After filming was over, it went through periods of being run-down-fixed-up, run-down-fixed-up, run-down-fixed-up. It was sad to see," says museum curator Steve Siedlecki.
Under Siedlecki's watchful eye, more than $200,000 of restoration work has transpired, including replacing exterior vinyl siding with the spiffy yellow and green paint job fans remember. Since the house was used for exterior shots (interiors were created on a Toronto sound stage), a wooden staircase resembling the one on which Ralphie made his grand entrance in his infamous bunny suit, looking "like a pink nightmare," has replaced a downstairs bedroom. The back yard, where Black Bart lurked and Ralphie engaged in target practice, is newly landscaped.
"The contractor followed 12 pages of still frames from the movie to make it as realistic as possible," Siedlecki says, as he examines donations for the house, which range from a half-dozen console radios with lighted dials similar to the one on which the Parker boys tuned in "Little Orphan Annie," to vintage boxes of Lifebuoy soap.
Across the street, "A Christmas Story" House gift shop will be replete with everything the die-hard fan requires, from DVDs to ornaments to T-shirts and posters and the leg lamps that Jones manufactures. The museum adjoining the shop will spotlight such artifacts as Randy's snowsuit and zeppelin, and movie reviews written following the film's premiere.
Last year, more than 1,300 fans from around the country attended a sneak preview of the house, which also served as a fund-raiser. An additional 2,000 have asked to be placed on Jones' mailing list for updates.
Petrella is one of them.
"I truly believe in this project," says the 31-year-old actor-turned-puppeteer, who was 8 when he was awarded his part. "It's an absolutely wonderful idea, and I'm very excited about it.
"We all want to achieve something in life - whether it's a job, a relationship, an object, a car, good grades... anything. The movie addresses those desires on a level everyone at any age can relate to."
When You Go...
"A Christmas Story" House, 3159 W. 11th St., Cleveland; "A Christmas Story" Museum, 1103 Rowley Ave., Cleveland, 216/298-4919. www.AChristmasStoryHouse.com.
Hours: Wed.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 1- Jan. 15; Thur.-Sat. 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sun 12-5 p.m. January 16-September 30.
Admission: Adults $5, children under 12 $3, group discounts available.
The Renaissance Cleveland Hotel (24 Public Square, Cleveland) is offering a special grand-opening package that includes deluxe overnight accommodations, parking, buffet breakfast for two and transportation and tickets to "A Christmas Story" House and Museum. For more information, call 216/696-5600 or visit www.renaissancecleveland.com.