Even before the lights began blinking Saturday night on West 34th Street in Hampden, there was a clear audience favorite among this year's over-the-top neighborhood Christmas display.
Clusters of people were stopping well before dusk to admire an oversized can of National Bohemian beer made of plywood, positioned to pour strings of lights representing the sparkling fizz of the brew that has been embraced by Baltimore into a giant pint glass. Both the red can and the amber glass are mounted to the second-story of a rowhouse.
"We thought of the idea ... and just kind of went for it. And it's awesome," said Steve Saada, who moved into the forest-green house on the south side of the block in July.
The cascading Boh is a new addition to the block-long, eclectic holiday exhibit — displays also include representations of the Nativity, Ravens football blow-ups and a hubcap tree — that was illuminated for the first time this year at 6 p.m. Saturday, shortly after Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived in a pickup truck to greet scores of gathered children.
A gusty chill kept the crowds for the annual event smaller than in years past, but there was no shortage of oohs and aahs after the residents flipped their switches in unison, as they have for more than 20 years.
When Saada and friends from Towson University agreed last year to rent one of the 25 houses in the 700 block of West 34th Street, they were surprised that their lease specified that they had to decorate for the holiday season.
"The house came with some lights," said Saada, who is from New Jersey and had never before seen the 34th Street display. But it was decided, he said, that those would not suffice to show their support for the event.
Saada and his crew — his twin brother Ray Saada, his girlfriend Jessica Baroody and housemate Mikey Mullen — designed and executed the Boh display, plus a lighted cut-out of Sally Utz, the potato chip girl. Next door neighbors Ed and Hope Johnson, who have lived on the block for 22 years, offered them tools and guidance on how to secure decorations to the house.
"I was like the Home Depot for them," said Ed Johnson. "'Can we borrow a screwdriver? Do you have a paint brush?'" The green house has had renters in it for several years, said Johnson, who added that he was impressed by the commitment Saada and his housemates put into the community display.
"They did a great job. Absolutely a great job," he said.
Even Bob Hosier, who with his wife Darlene originated the "Miracle on 34th Street" tradition, got a kick out of the new addition. Hosier said he's only showing off one previously unseen item this year — a new building in the winter scene he has built under the porch — because it's difficult to find new store-bought pieces to show off.
"I certainly like what everybody does," Hosier said, admiring the fresh handmade cut-outs across the street. "Nothing says Baltimore better than Natty Boh."
The lights will glow from dusk until 11 p.m. nightly until New Year's Day, Hosier said. After the lights started twinkling Saturday night, as children and parents gathered in the street surrounding Santa's pickup, a group of young men stood off to the side, each holding an insulated can coozie and contemplating the new addition.
"It caught my eye … I like it," said Hampden resident Steve Connor, sipping from his can of Boh. "It's made out of particle board and painted crudely. Welcome to Hampden."