“It started simply,” says Kathy Gregg, president of the Upper Hastings Ranch Association. Residents began moving into the just-built development called Upper Hastings Ranch in 1951 and 1952. Their homes were unique, early examples of tract housing designed by the prestigious and prolific Los Angeles architect Edward H. Fickett, who advocated for modern, efficient, and affordable housing for returning veterans and average American families.
The neighborhood seems to have attracted residents searching for connections and community. “People who lived here came up with the idea to put something decorative on the parkway for the holidays,” Gregg explains. The festive spirit caught on. Increasingly, more homeowners bedecked their homes and yards with individualized visions of holiday splendor, and a friendly competition grew… and grew… and became remarkably well-organized. Today, as it has been for multiple generations of local families, the neighborhood’s December extravaganza is a must-see holiday outing.
While impressively decorated and more lavish homes can be found in other areas of Pasadena and neighboring communities, the sheer enormity and cohesiveness of the Upper Hastings Ranch presentation throughout its 44-blocks is awe-inspiring. Residents can do as much – or as little – decorating as they wish on their own homes, but curbside every street’s property spotlights a uniform holiday-themed display. Streets lined with angels, teddy bears, snowmen, candy canes, little drummer boys, wooden soldiers, stars, bells, and Peanuts characters greet the passing motorists.
Residents of each street meet to choose the themes for their blocks. “It’s a true community project involving neighbors working together and helping one another,” Gregg says. Neighbors with the talent and tools create the displays for each homeowner. These decorations can last a decade or more, although it’s up to each street’s residents to decide when and how often to change their themes.
What is it like for new homeowners who move into the area with no awareness of this long-standing holiday tradition? UHRA “is the most organized, best run homeowners’ association in Pasadena,” Gregg states proudly. So, of course, new residents receive welcome baskets that include, among other things, plenty of information on the holiday lights and the role they can play in each December’s production. Communication throughout the neighborhood year ‘round is enhanced by a newsletter, “The Lariat,” which has been published regularly since its debut issue in May 1964.
When you cruise through the neighborhood this holiday season, take notice that specific homes are singled out as award winners. The annual awards competition acknowledges the judges’ favorites each year in categories ranging from humorous, to religious, to best use of lights. There’s even a special award for children who create their own displays. Whatever the theme, originality wins votes and is rewarded by the non-resident judges, who are assisted by members of the UHRA Board.
The Upper Hastings Ranch Holiday lights are on display nightly from 6-10 pm from mid-December through January 2 each year. To see images of the festive displays taken by Pasadena Star-News photographers in the 1970s and 1980s, view our latest History at Home video produced in partnership with Pasadena Media. We wish you all a bright and beautiful holiday season.
- Jeannette Bovard