The magic behind a Clovis neighborhood's synchronized light show
Terry and Deb Toews knew their home was the one from the moment they saw it.
They could overlook the fact it didn’t have a pool. They didn’t need to go inside, even.
“We bought this house for the front yard,” Terry Toews (pronounced Taves) says of his home at the end of a cul-de-sac in the middle of a winding Clovis neighborhood.
The No. 1 selling point: The yard had plenty of space and offered great views of the Toews’ mass of holiday decorations.
A donation box will be available for the Clovis Festival of Lights. You can also donate online at www.clovisfestivaloflights.org
There is a gingerbread house and a towering Christmas tree, made from 1,000 individually programmable twinkling LED lights. Green and black electrical cords snake across the lawn; 10,000 feet of it, to be exact, all hard-wired into the 17 control boxes that power an additional 50,000 LEDs, in a display of holiday magic that is impossible to grasp during daylight hours.
The home (and its display) is the centerpiece of Santa Claus Lane, which will run a synchronized musical light show each night beginning Friday, Nov. 27.
The Toews have been doing synchronized (or animated) light shows since 2007 but realized there was little more they could do on their own to up the “wow” factor on their displays.
“We could go from 50,000 to 60,000 lights, but would you even notice?” Terry Toews says.
So, they invited their neighbors to join in on the show.
100,000 LED lights are set up for the synchronized display
The entire neighborhood (16 houses and 100,000 lights) are wirelessly linked and controlled from a main hub in the Toews’ yard. Each strand can be programmed independently, or in conjunction with any other, so the lights can bounce from one house to another, or race in a circle throughout the entire cul-de-sac, while music is broadcast via a low-frequency FM transmitter.
While it’s fairly common to see single houses running synchronized light shows, the Toews know of just two other synchronized neighborhoods. One is in Visalia. The other is in the Bay Area and has 24 houses synced.
Producing a spectacle of this scale can be tedious, says Randy Butler, the Toews’ immediate neighbor and one of the street’s original homeowners.
It took hours of climbing up and down ladders to install the 10,000 cup hooks needed to hold the strands of LED lights.
We don’t know how to do small.
“That just kills your fingers,” Butler says. “You’re just sore.”
Programing the light show wasn’t much easier. Each minute of synchronized music takes three to four hours to program, Deb Toews says.
“I’ve listened to the music like 4,000 times. I know every beat by heart and every word.”
The Santa Claus Lane program has more than a dozen songs and runs 60 minutes.
“So, you can do the math,” she says.
The Toews say this kind of over-the-top decorating is a hobby, but it may as well be a second full-time job. They also go all out around Halloween, though the setup is more “old school,” they say.
The couple gave up vacation this year and took the past two weeks off work to handle any final details for the lane.
The lane’s light show is created with software from Light-O-Rama.
But they have been working on some part of the event every day since January, when they first met with the neighbors. They have a pages-long to-do list that included setting up a nonprofit (Clovis Festival of Lights) to accept donations and working with the city to get the proper permits to close down the street and sell concessions for Friday and Saturday walk nights. Guests can expect pizza and popcorn, hot dogs, soda, hot chocolate, cookies and cupcakes. That money will help offset the expense of staging the production.
Procrastination isn’t an option for events like this, Terry Toews says.
The neighborhood had to have its plans firmly set by February. That’s when the Toews’ light supplier (a reseller from Texas who buys from China by the container load) does his “mad grab.” There’s a 20 percent discount on all sales and free shipping. That’s the kind of information you only know when you’ve been doing this as long as the Toews have.
By the Tuesday before opening night, the crew has done a final test run of the lights and the neighborhood is mostly set. Inflatable Santa Clauses and snowmen lay crumbled in front yards, waiting to make their debuts.
The only question now is how many people will come to see the show. More than 2,500 have accepted the Facebook invite for the opening night; a number much larger than Terry Toews expected.
Having too many people showing up is not the worst problem, Butler says. The neighbors all know any inconveniences are worth the final reward.
“It’s for the kids. And the community,” he says.
“That’s what Christmas is about.”
Lights are magical. Blinking lights are even more magical.
Santa Claus Lane
- 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27, and 5:30 p.m. nightly through Dec. 31; Fridays and Saturdays are walk-only nights
- Ladera Ranch neighborhood, 3100 block of Indianapolis Avenue in Clovis
- 559-575-6110, clovisfestivaloflights.org
Other holiday light displays
- Christmas Tree Lane in Old Fig Garden, Dec. 2-25, 6-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 6-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, www.
- christmastreelane.com. Walk Nights, Dec. 2 and Dec. 8, Tree Fresno provides bus service from Fig Garden Village, $7 (children on adult’s laps ride free).
- Zoo Lights, 5-8 p.m. Nov. 27-29, Dec. 4-6, Dec. 11-13, Dec. 18-23, Dec. 26-30, Fresno Chaffee Zoo, 894 W. Belmont Ave., 559-498-5910, www.
- fresnochaffeezoo.org, $8, $6 ages 2-11; members: $6, $4 ages 2-11.
- Global Winter Wonderland, 3-11 p.m. Nov. 27-28, Saturdays, Dec. 5-19, Dec. 25-26, Dec. 31, and Jan. 1-3; 3-10 p.m. Nov. 29, Dec. 24, Sundays, Dec. 6-27 and Dec. 28-30; 4:30-10 p.m. Dec. 21-23, 4-30-11 p.m. Fridays, Dec. 4-18. Tulare County Fairgrounds, 620 S. K St., Tulare. Tickets: 866-987-8190, info: 510-962-8586, www.
- globalwonderland.com. $16, $12 seniors and children.
- Candy Cane Lane (Cindy Lane), Dec. 1-25, 6-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 6-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, Peach and Alluvial avenues, www.facebook.com/
- More: Find a handy dandy list of local homes from last year at fblinks.com/lights.