Prestonwood Holiday Lights and Video
In December 1977, residents of the Roebourne block in the Prestonwood Forest subdivision decked their street with a nativity-themed Christmas light display. The next year - not to be outdone - the adjacent block of Wycomb residents joined forces to light their houses and place various cutout signs in their yards signifying what they called "The Night before Christmas in Texas."
The décor trend ran through the neighborhood like a frightened elf that didn't make his quota for Santa by Christmas day, and by the 1980s, most of the streets were decorated.
Wycomb resident and former Prestonwood Forest homeowner's association president Jack Howard has lived in the neighborhood since 1974. He was present when the frenzy the neighborhood calls "Nite of Lites" began.
Participation in the Nite of Lites is strictly voluntary, but almost every home in the subdivision participates. The residents don't seem to mind the higher electric bills.
"(The electric bills are) of course higher, but the lights are small," Howard said. "The lights are lit up for about three weeks, starting on Dec. 10 this year, and by New Years Day they're all down."
Howard said some people begin stringing up the lights three to four days ahead of time, while others put up thousands of lights, which takes months to accomplish.
Fourteen-year resident Mingo Williamson is heavily involved in the community. She coordinates block captains, distributes the Prestonwood press and is the director of the July 4th parade. She has seen many famous people come through the neighborhood during the 30-year tradition.
"When President Bush Sr. and Barbara come through, security is alerted," Williamson said. "Kevin Costner came through when he was filming Tin Cup and I've been told that athletes have come through, too."
Last year's Nite of Lites drew the attention of the Travel Channel, which came through the subdivision and filmed a number of streets including Howard's.
"I was one of the interviewees and during the year I sent them a lot of additional information," Howard said.
Williamson helped him locate interviewees for the special. The Travel Channel's "Dazzling Holiday Lights" Christmas Special is a three-part series, Howard said.
"The first part is in San Antonio, the second is about a subdivision and the third is Christmas in the sun, or how they celebrate Christmas in the desert," he said.
Because of the heavy flow of sightseers due to the neighborhood's popular display, directional arrows are needed.
"We keep a steady flow both ways," Howard said. "We think somewhere between10,000 and 15,000 people come through here yearly. It can be a little bit of a pain when you try to have a party because you can't park on the streets, so if we have a party, we arrange to park at the neighbors'."
Howard said that the people venturing through the neighborhood are polite and let residents out of their driveways when they need to leave their homes.
"We have virtually no problem with people coming through here it's almost always trouble free," Howard said. "The only problem is some occasional vandalism, especially with the cutout animals of about a foot high."
Over time, some of the old signs have deteriorated, causing residents to make new ones. But according to Howard people get attached to their street themes, some of which include Disney characters, Toy Land displays and themes from around the world.
"We're decorating our cul de sac with a pioneer wagon," Howard said. "It will be an addition to the display. We try do something different every year so that it isn't the same."
Prestonwood Drive resident John Broadfoot - also a former homeowner's association president - says he thoroughly enjoys the Nite of Lites.
Newcomers to the community often pick up where the previous owners left off in their decorating, he said, and the family-oriented atmosphere of the neighborhood promotes neighborly bonding.
"It's a great community," Broadfoot said. "We've been written up in "Southern Living" and now this. It will continue for many years to come."