BRIGHT LIGHTS: Big city and beyond

THE BALTIMORE SUN

We asked Sun readers to recommend some of the biggest and brightest home decorating jobs of the season, and we received information about an array of dazzling dwellings throughout the area.

Scores of tips came into The Sun's Sundial telephone response service, and we hit the streets to take a look and take some photos.

Reddy Kilowatt would be proud. Electric meters are humming overtime at some of these houses.

To help you share in the glowing holiday spirits, here is a guide to the most notable displays. They've been divided into suggested driving routes, with Baltimore City as the core.

The nearly three dozen houses specifically noted are those nominated by one or more readers. We've also mentioned particularly good displays discovered en route and have tried to suggest streets that are worth driving through for numerous displays not designated by a specific address.

City route

The mecca for Christmas light zealots is the compact North Baltimore neighborhood of Hampden, where blue-collar pride translates into many houses encased in sparkling blue, red, green and white lights. There is stiff competition here, and the best advice is to cruise around with the family and argue the merits of each knockout entry.

1. Most spectacular of all -- and drawing a steady stream of cars -- is the 700 block of West 34th Street. Not only are most of the houses on the street outrageously decked out, but strings of lights cross high above the block for its entire length. Among the zillion highlights are a straw-littered front-yard manger scene accompanied by a tape loop of sacred choral oohs and aahs; candle-lined steps; fully decorated Christmas trees in front of houses; a Santa's workshop with moving dolls; candy cane fencing; and Santa and his reindeer taking to the rooftops.

2. Another Hampden site deserving special mention is 3660 Buena Vista Ave., easily reached by going west on West 36th Street, passing through the intersection with Falls Road, and soon turning right onto Buena Vista. The light-trimmed house is nice enough, but the star attraction is how every fence, deck and porch in the big yard has been covered with blinking lights. And that yard is inhabited by so many Santas, snowmen, toy soldiers, candy canes and reindeer that you'll worry about overpopulation at the North Pole.

3. Upon leaving Hampden, you can use your own directional sense for deciding where you go next in the city and how you get there. One possible route has you heading north to Northern Parkway and proceeding east to its intersection with The Alameda in Northeast Baltimore. Head a short distance south until you reach 5912 The Alameda, where one brick rowhouse stands out boldly from its neighbors. Admire the front "fence" comprised of Santa Clauses, candy canes and toy soldiers. There's so much other Christmasy stuff on and around the house that the reindeer crossing sign on the lawn should not be considered a joke.

4. Another great rowhouse is way down in South Baltimore. Using your preferred route, get to 1444 Patapsco St. This narrow block of small Formstone-covered rowhouses is between Fort Avenue and Ostend Street. The highlighted house is a glittery Christmas celebration topped with an impressive rooftop manger and star. Some nearby houses and pubs also are quite festive.

5. Circling the Beltway, take Exit 15 (Route 40) east until it turns into Edmondson Avenue in westernmost Baltimore City. Just before the Edmondson Village Shopping Center, turn left on Swann Avenue and proceed a few blocks until it reaches Rokeby Road, where two attached houses in the 4500 block have twinkling lights woven through the fencing, Santa and his sled on the porch roof, and a manger scene and toy soldiers ensconced on the lawn.

Reversing your course once back on Edmondson Avenue and now heading west, note several brilliantly lighted houses in the 4600 through 4800 blocks of Edmondson. This route, from Towson to Perry Hall, takes two hours or so and includes the perennial three-house display in the Parkville/Carney area you can see from the Beltway.

1. Take Beltway (I-695) Exit 25 (Charles Street) toward the city. At the first light, turn left to 1032 Kenilworth Drive.

The residence includes colorful lighting on the roof and yard and several Santas, including a dangling sleigh driver and a moving figure in the front window.

2. Return to the Beltway and head east to Exit 29 (Loch Raven Boulevard) and head south. After crossing Joppa Road, make the third left, onto Redwood Road, and go three blocks to Oak and turn left. On the right side, Robert J. Daugherty's house at 8619 Oak Road is the centerpiece of a multi-rowhouse panorama that includes lights outlining the structure, sidewalks and windows, as well as Santa and other lawn ornaments.

3. Return to Joppa Road and head east to Satyr Hill Road. Continue straight across Old Harford Road (Satyr Hill becomes Ellis) to Woodcroft and Ellis.

The house on the far right corner has a nicely designed display of lights strung in the tree and other attractive ornaments.

4. Continue on Ellis to Richmond Avenue, turn right and then right again at fourth street to find 8608, 8610 and 8603 Richmond Circle.

Possibly the area's most concentrated display, the homes of Del and Mary Delano (8608), Randy (Del's son), Toni and Randy Jr. Delano (8610) and Dennis G. Bayer (a brother-in-law to the Delanos, at 8603) annually attract motorcoach tours around the one-way circle. The triple display may contain every commercial lighting display available, as well as original creative additions.

5. Turn right from circle onto Richmond Avenue (the house at 8616 is pretty), and turn right onto Harford Road. After crossing the Beltway, make first left onto California Avenue, first left onto Balder Avenue and then first right to 3047 Arizona Ave.

Jane and Richard Wilken's house includes lighted toy soldiers, Santa riding a train in the yard, a choir of lighted figures and lights all over the place, including the trees, fences and around the windows. (Note: Arizona is a dead-end street. You might consider parking on adjacent streets and taking a walk.)

6. Return to Harford Road and go north, making a right at Joppa Road. Continue about 1 1/2 miles to Seven Courts Drive and turn left, continuing to 9328 Seven Courts Drive.

The home of Joan and Donald Clark is a North Pole of Santa symbolism, and last weekend Mr. Clark dressed up as Mr. Claus to accept donations for Toys for Tots. (They will accept toys through this weekend.)

7. Turn left onto Proctor Lane to see a nice house at 374, then turn around, return to Seven Courts Drive and turn right back to Joppa. Turn left and at traffic light turn left onto Belair Road. In about 1/2 mile, turn left onto Cedarside, and right into first court to number 3 Symphony Woods Court.

In this brand new development, the home of George and Kay Almakhmreh is outlined in colorful lights, the trees are trimmed in red, and white lights adorn the garage. (The flanking houses at Nos. 1 and 3 are decorated, too.)

8. Return to Belair Road and turn left. Continue about 1 1/4 miles to Kahlston Avenue and turn left. Make first left and then next right, continue around to 9610 Dundawan Road.

The display of Wayne and Phyllis Oldaker includes lighted candy canes and other lawn figures and colorful lights outlining the house and yard.

DRIVING TIPS

For convenience, we've started each route (except the city route) at an exit from the Baltimore Beltway, I-695. Some routes bring you on and off the loop highway more than once.

Do some planning with a good map or a detailed metropolitan map book. Use the grid location system to find and mark each neighborhood for later reference.

Designate a navigator, and equip him or her with a flashlight to check routes and addresses.

Be a courteous driver. On some streets, space is tight and many vehicles may be cruising slowly.

At some of these houses, a walk down the block is the best way to appreciate the volume and variety of decorations, so get out to take a closer look. You may also be able to talk to the decorators.

Take the time to cruise through neighborhoods on your own. Often, one massively decorated home spurs others to join in the spirit.

Take along a festive beverage (non-alcoholic, please) and holiday cookies, or other refreshments. On some routes the drive between spectacular houses is lengthy.

We know there are other houses out there worth seeing, so you might want to go exploring to make up your own routes.

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