Fresno's first Christmas Tree Lane house is on the market

The Fresno BeeDecember 1, 2013 

The house with the first decorated tree that started Fresno's famed Christmas Tree Lane 91 years ago is for sale.

The price: $799,000 for an American Foursquare-style house on half an acre with original wood columns, crown molding, stained-glass cabinets and a sad but magical history.

Homeowner Joy Newsome, who was raised in the two-story house on the corner of Van Ness Boulevard and Pontiac Way, is ready to let go of the family home after 46 years.

"I love the woodwork," Newsome said. "You don't have craftsmanship like this in a new home."

But it's time to start a new life, she said.

Her daughter, Madison, 18, is sad to be leaving. "It's comfortable," she said. "I've been here all my life."

Newsome's parents, Ratana and James Newsome, bought the 2,419-square-foot house in 1963 from the estate of the original owners, dentist William Winning and his wife, Mae. Ratana Newsome was chairwoman of the Home Economics Department at Fresno State, and James Newsome was in real estate.

The four-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom home, built between 1914 and 1918, was a grand estate during its heyday with a concrete fish pond, fruit trees, a garden of flowers and an expansive front porch.

But the house is known for the single deodar cedar tree that the Winnings lit in 1920, at Christmas time, in memory of their only child who died in an accident the year before.

The boy, William "Billy" Hobart Winning, was 14 when he died after falling into machinery operating in a pump house, now considered the shed, behind the house.

Other residents joined the Winnings' annual tradition in the years that followed. By 1931, the spectacle became known as Christmas Tree Lane -- now a two-mile stretch of holiday displays on Van Ness Boulevard between Shields and Shaw avenues that attracts more than 100,000 people every year.

The lane opens at 6 p.m. Tuesday for the first of two walk nights. The other is on Dec. 11.

Newsome and her family decorated the house off and on for the holidays with cutouts of Santa Claus on his sleigh pulled by reindeer, a holiday Mr. Potato Head and even Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo, a character on the "South Park" television show.

When the house was dark, a sign and lights always marked the "First Tree."

The Fig Garden Homeowners Association places the plaque in front of the tree every year before the lane opens for the holidays, said President Dean Alexander.

This year, the association placed some holiday cutouts of ice skaters and carolers in front of Newsome's house. The group also decorates various dark spots along the lane where homes may not be lit, he said.

"Obviously there's peer pressure, but it's not a requirement to decorate" if someone buys a house on Christmas Tree Lane, Alexander said.

Newsome inherited the house from her father, who died in 2000.

"It was fun as a kid," she said, remembering those holiday nights.

Over the years, Newsome tried updating the house by renovating the bathroom and opening the second-floor balcony that her parents enclosed.

The house still has its large front porch with a door that opens into the formal living room. Dark-stained wood columns lead visitors into the dining room with built-in china cabinet and buffet. Both rooms have original hardwood floors.

Sliding doors in the dining room separate it from the parlor, which possibly served as Mr. Winning's dental office, and can be used now as a family room, said Realtor Shirley Wells of Century 21 Adanalian & Vasquez.

A small kitchen is located in the back of the house with a laundry room and half-bathroom off to the side.

One of the home's distinctive features is a deep storage closet under the stairway with a prohibition cabinet still containing three bottles of moonshine.

The house has two sets of stairs, one for the homeowners and one used by the maid or butler. Both stairs lead to the second floor where the master bedroom has a balcony, a dressing room and walk-in closet.

There are three other bedrooms, one without a closet that possibly served as a nursery, Newsome said. A full attic is large enough to be transformed into another room, she said.

Half of the wooden shed where the Winning boy died still stands in the backyard not far from where Newsome and her brother unearthed teeth from the dirt as kids. Newsome thought about demolishing the shed but decided it should remain with the house, which still maintains most of its original charm.

The house needs upgrading and landscaping work to return to its prime, Newsome said.

"I would like to have someone come in who will appreciate the architecture of the home," Newsome said. "I would like to have someone restore the home."


If you go

What: Christmas Tree Lane. Almost 150 homes along a 2-mile route plan to participate this year by decorating their residences for the season.

When: Tuesday, Dec. 3 to Wednesday, Dec. 25

Walk nights: Tuesday, Dec. 3 and Wednesday, Dec. 11. from 6 to 10 p.m.

Music: Local musicians and choirs will perform live along the route on both Dec. 3 and 11.

Cost: The event is free and open to the public.

 

 

Special communitywide events celebrating the Christmas season in the central San Joaquin Valley:

TODAY

Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, "Santa Comes to Clovis," 6:30 p.m., Clovis Civic Center, 1033 Fifth St., (559) 324-2780

Visalia's Candy Cane Lane Parade, 7 p.m., downtown Main Street.

TUESDAY

City of Fresno Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, 5 p.m. in front of City Hall.

Christmas Tree Lane, 6 p.m. Tuesday-Dec. 31, Christmas Tree Lane, Van Ness Boulevard between Shields and Shaw avenues. Walk nights are Tuesday and Dec. 11.

WEDNESDAY

29th annual Tree Lighting, 6:30 p.m., Downtown Sanger, Seventh and N streets, (559) 875-4575.

THURSDAY

Madera Tractor Parade of Lights, 6 p.m., Yosemite Avenue, (559) 673-3563.

FRIDAY

Rock-N-Roll Around the Christmas Tree, 7:30 p.m., The Fresno Fairgrounds, 1121 S. Chance Ave., (559) 650-3247.

Selma Holiday Street Faire & Santa Arrival, 4 p.m., Downtown Selma, (559) 891-2235.

SATURDAY

Festival of the Trees, 10 a.m., St. Columba Church, 5073 N. Palm Ave., Fresno, (559) 229-8534.

Santa Lucia Festival/Christmas Village Celebration, 10 a.m., Kingsburg Swedish Village, 1475 Draper St.

84th annual Downtown Fresno Christmas Parade, 11 a.m., Fulton Mall, Fresno and Fulton streets, (559) 490-9966, ext. 223.

66th annual Nation's Christmas Tree City Toyland Parade, 11 a.m., Downtown Sanger, Seventh and N streets, (559) 875-4575.

Fowler Christmas Tree Lighting, 2 p.m., intersection of Merced and Seventh streets, (559) 834-5486.

Spirit of the Holidays, 4 p.m., Exeter Veterans Memorial Building, 324 N. Kaweah Ave., (559) 592-4134.

Oakhurst Community Christmas Tree Lighting, 5 p.m., Ditton's Talking Bear Corner, Highway 41 and Road 426, (559) 642-0313.

Community Caroling, 5-7 p.m., Three Rivers Museum, 42268 Sierra Drive, (559) 561-2707.

Chowchilla Lions Club Tree Lighting Ceremony, 5:30 p.m., Rite Aid parking lot, corner of Robertson Boulevard and Front Street, (559) 665-8615, ext. 110.

Clovis Children's Electric Christmas Parade, 6:30 p.m., Old Town Clovis, (559) 916-9124.

Have a communitywide event to add to the list? Email details to metro@fresnobee.com.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6495, blee@fresnobee.com or @bonhialee on Twitter.

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