First published in the Dec. 10 print issue of the South Pasadena Review
I’m sure Todd Schroeder’s then- preschool-aged children didn’t think they were asking too much when they asked dad for a pre-Christmas favor.
“They wanted me to put lights all over the roof so Santa Claus could see our house from space,” explained Schroeder, chuckling as he recalled the 2006 conversation.
So being a dad, he did just that and covered the roof of their newly purchased South Pasadena home at 1130 Diamond Ave. with 15,000 small lights. It must have been a great Christmas because the USC professor of exercise physiology has been adding to his collection ever since.
Put him in a store any time of the year that puts lights and outdoor Christmas or Halloween decorations on shelves and Schroeder describes himself as “a kid in a candy store.” He now has 70,000 lights on the outside of the house for Christmas and it takes him 25 hours to set things up. He’s now given up on the roof. He and his wife’s concerns about him climbing around on a ladder, and the fact that his children are now in college, have ended that part of the tradition.
Santa, however, should have no problem finding the Schroeder home even now. All he has to do is look for the house with the green lights on the lawn, and colored light arches leading up to the front door. And on the front porch, he’s taken a rocking Halloween prop and turned into a rocking Santa Claus.
“Little kids will come up on the front porch and leave lists of what they want for Christmas,” he said. “It’s so cute.”
And if the display attracts sightseers, the neighbors can’t complain. Nearly every house on the block has some sort of lights and the trees are wrapped in about 25,000 lights — originally bought by Schroeder — from the corner of Oxley Street south to Monterey Road. Just look for the brightly lit shooting star at the top of the block at Oxley, near the public library.
Since then, the neighbors have gotten together the weekend after Thanksgiving, and no one is required to do anything. But, even if they want only one strand of lights and can’t climb a ladder, Schroeder said he or a neighbor is glad to help.
“It’s become a neighborhood thing,” he said.
It has kind of also become a city tradition to go and look at the lights on the block, and the light show has become contagious — in the good sense of the word. Lots of the houses in that area have great displays, and I saw another good one on Windsor Place.
I can hear readers now saying, “You should see my block” or “You should see my home.”
Schroeder kind of represents all of you, too. There is a home up at the top of the hill on Meridian Avenue and Buena Vista Street that, until the pandemic, used to stop traffic with its spooky sounds and amazing Halloween display.
But you heard me mention that Schroeder also does Halloween.
“I moved into an area that is just perfect for the holiday,” he said, noting that South Pasadena is where much of John Carpenter’s classic “Halloween” was filmed in 1978.
This past Halloween, he had 3,000 people during a four-hour period go through a maze that he had mostly built himself in the front and side yards of their house. He knows how many because his wife handed out one piece of candy for each person who went in the maze. Some of his students helped out to “excite” those who entered. It took him three days to set up the maze and he built some of the props himself.
But if some of the neighbors start thinking about Christmas after Thanksgiving, Schroeder thinks about Christmas and Halloween all year, seeking out new eye-popping ideas or building things himself.
“Even as a kid, I was the one who loved to string the lights,” Schroeder said.
Two years ago, he added the lit arches which go up his front walk.
“It’s fun to watch the kids run in and around the arches and people stop and take pictures of themselves,” he said. “My thought is ‘be creative.’”
He said that he’s actually “slowed down” a bit in the last few years — especially since his children are now in college.
“My kids think this is pretty normal now,” Schroeder observed.
But if he’s slowed down, you wouldn’t know it from what he’d like to do in the future. The trees and his home are wrapped in the original small bulbs, for which he paid for when the trees were first decorated in 2010. He’s thinking of replacing them with more expensive, but more energy-efficient, LED lights.
The city doesn’t pay for the tree lights, nor for the decorations.
“I purchased all the lights, extension cords and timers at first, but over the next couple of years the neighbors contributed to help with the expenses. We run extension cords from each house out to the trees, so each neighbor pays for the extra energy cost themselves,” Schroeder explained. “The neighbors on Diamond are awesome and really support the effort to have a cheerful street that brings smiles to kids and adults in the month of December.”
Schroeder said his wife is largely in charge of decorating the inside of the house, which he describes as festive with garlands and a tree.
They have no other real Christmas traditions, he said. Who can ask for anything more than what’s illuminating his house and yard? With all the negative things going on in this world, perhaps the world needs more brightness — even if it’s artificial and even if it is only for a few weeks at Halloween and around Christmas.
So, one evening before the new year begins, get out after dinner, drive around the city and look at the lights.
And don’t forget to stop by Diamond Street and that especially twinkly domicile that Santa can’t miss from the sky, rooftop lights or not.
“So many people enjoy it that it makes the efforts all worthwhile,” Schroder concluded.