Right Down Christmas Tree Lane
By Mary McInerney
Photography by Jennifer Loring
When you’re the new kid on the 3200 block of Thompson Avenue, Christmastime can be pretty intimidating.
Come mid-December, the stretch of East End homes becomes Christmas Tree Lane, a lighted wonderland that rivals none in Alameda, or even the East Bay. Being the new family means proving you can hold your own among neighbors who transform the street into a spectacle of twinkling lights and holiday music that attracts more than 35,000 people each year.
Vickie and Eric Kuhns and their two young daughters just moved to Thompson Avenue, and they admit they’re nervous. After all, the entire block—each and every one of the 55 homes—participates. “I don’t know if we’re going to have enough stuff,” says Vickie Kuhns. “My sister gave us an early Christmas present, a big decoration for the front yard. And I hear we have to be ready by Dec. 1, and all the husbands have to sign up to [help] Santa.”
The residents of Thompson Avenue have been lighting up their street since 1938, although no one knows who actually started the tradition. During World War II, the block was not lighted for security reasons, but ever since then Thompson has lit up like, well, a Christmas tree each year.
Alameda Power & Telecom contributes the cost of labor to string the lights on the massive trees in the center divide. The neighbors, though, do everything else—handing out candy canes, accepting letters for Santa (all are answered) and directing traffic. Donations, collected near Santa’s sleigh, are always welcome.
Jeri Morgado is chairwoman of the Christmas Tree Lane neighborhood effort this year. She and her family have lived on the street 13 years, and her children help out as Santa’s elves. “We knew exactly what we were getting into,” said Morgado. “It was a bonus. The house was what we liked.”
But two weeks of evening festivities, with people walking through your yard and blocking your driveway, is enough, she says. “It is hard work; physically, by the end, you’re exhausted,” said Morgado. “Emotionally, it can be tough.”
To rise to the occasion, the neighbors kick off the Christmas season with a block party. As for the newbies, the Kuhns, they will be toasted with champagne.
Read All About It
You may have noticed a colorful newspaper sticking out of your child’s backpack or seen a pile of them at the Main Library. They’re copies of the Kidsville News, an Alameda-based educational publication for elementary school children covering topics ranging from food to world cultures to sports and games.
Kidsville News is distributed through local schools and libraries in Alameda, San Leandro, Oakland and Berkeley, with a 40,000 monthly circulation, according to publisher Bill Moore, a Bay Farm dweller. Articles about local history (written by Alamedan Judith Lynch) and events fill pages between more general articles that are shared with the national publication office. There are 42 editions of Kidsville News in the United States, with a combined circulation of more than 400,000, and each one is designed and produced differently in its hometown.
Moore, a former circulation manager of the San Francisco Chronicle for 34 years, is the only licensed Kidsville News publisher in California thus far. “We’re very excited about it,” says Moore, who started publishing the paper in November 2005. “Kids are having a great time with it. There’s a little something for everybody.”
Check it out online at www.kidsvillenews.com or pick up a copy at the library or your child’s school.
Help out a Troop 11 Boy Scout this holiday season by recycling your Christmas tree.
It’s a bargain at $5 (donate more for larger trees, please) and continues a tradition that Hal Zecher Jr., who died as a young adult of cancer, started in 1973 as an Eagle Scout community service project when there were no tree recycling programs.
“People still look forward to our calls,” says David Dial, assistant Troop 11 scoutmaster.
The project, says Scout Master Bill Davis, is the troop’s primary annual fundraiser, with the typical haul bringing in about $7,000.
“We’re really excited this program keeps going,” says Harold Zecher Sr. This season’s pickups are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 6 and 7.
“The only people who don’t go out are the people who can’t. Scouts have to go out unless they’re incapacitated,” Dial says, mostly serious. Scouts and their parents—about 40 of each—make a day out of the project, starting out the morning with donuts, bagels, hot chocolate and coffee and chowing down on potluck dishes and hot dogs and hamburgers fresh from the chuck wagon at lunchtime.
Scouts have pickup logistics down to a science. They divvy up last year’s tree list of takers, and then sell tickets door to door, asking folks to re-up. Those who buy a ticket attach the sales tag to the tree—after removing stands and decorations—and place their tree curbside on pickup day. Scouts stash the discarded trees (flocked trees aren’t accepted) into volunteer-driven trucks. This year the trees will be offloaded at the Alameda Point Collaborative and then mulched and recycled on APC gardens.
To schedule a pickup or for more information, visit www.alamedatroop11.org/trees or contact Troop 11 at (510) 910-1527, email@example.com.
About a TV/movie star
Sure, he has a new television series and a movie co-starring Paris Hilton, but Simon Rex, 32, is still an Alameda boy at heart. The former MTV VJ recently talked with Alameda Magazine about his upcoming projects and hometown memories.Alameda Magazine: You graduated from Alameda High School in 1992 and now live in Los Angeles. Do you ever come back to visit?
Simon Rex: I come back a few times a year to visit my friends in Alameda and Oakland. I consider the Bay Area home after living in San Francisco for 10 years and the East Bay for seven. And, yes, I was an Alameda Hornet. I played hoop and scored on Jason Kidd my senior year, which is still the highlight of my youth!
AM: What are some of your favorite restaurants in the East Bay?
SR: I love Dimitra’s on Park Street for sandwiches. Damn, I’m craving one now.
AM: Tell us about your new television show airing on Lifetime this December.
SR: My new show on Lifetime is called Monarch Cove. It’s a one-hour drama that is very suspenseful and scandalous. I play Eddie, an ex-cop who gets in trouble with girls and in his job as head of security at a fancy resort.
AM: You’ve also filmed a couple movies recently.
SR: Yeah, I filmed Pledge This!, a National Lampoon movie with Paris Hilton. It’s a college comedy that takes place in Miami. Let’s just say I had fun shooting that one. I also filmed a vampire movie called Rise with Lucy Liu.
AM: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be doing?
SR: I’d love to play for the Golden State Warriors. I think they could use me in the backcourt. I’m sticking with my Warriors for life. When they come to Los Angeles, I go to every game wearing my homemade Warriors shirt.
TAKE FIVE with Frederica von Stade
1. Clinton Avenue
Clinton Avenue will always be special to me. That is where my children and I moved to from New York after I married my husband, Mike. I’ll never forget our first Christmas. We caroled up and down Clinton and used an electric piano that was generated by our car. It was a great way to start the season and our lives here.
2. St. Joseph
Ever since my arrival to Alameda, St. Joseph has always been dear to me. Joining the church’s Garden Club was a great way for me to literally establish roots. It was through that group that I started meeting so many wonderful people, including one of my best friends, Jo Leitz. I can’t say enough about what that parish means to me.
3. Alameda Police Department
Believe it or not, the Alameda Police Department used to be a favorite hangout spot of mine. My niece and my friend’s son worked there, so I would occasionally drop by to visit. I always thought that my connections could come in handy if I ever got pulled over. Fortunately, I never needed to use them.
4. Gold Coast Grill
Gold Coast Grill is a place without which the Bank of Alameda would collapse! The entire [Bank of Alameda] board meets there once a month and is devoted to the wonderful talent and hospitality of Christos Marras. He is truly host par l’excellence.
5. Jay’s Coffee
I believe [Jay’s Coffee] created a renaissance in neighborly community. Suddenly there was a place where people wanted to be, and where they could meet and talk about their children, house sales, community fundraisers … it became the hub of communication. If I’ve ever wanted to find anything out, I’ve known where to go!
ATTENTION ALAMEDA SHOPPERS!
It’s the season of giving—in more ways than one. From Dec. 8-10, the Alameda Civic Ballet is sponsoring the second annual Nutcracker Shopping Weekend to finance The Nutcracker (Dec. 22-23 at Kofman Auditorium) and help keep holiday shopping on-Island. With the purchase of a Nutcracker Shopping Pass ($10), shoppers have access to discounts offered by more than 40 stores and restaurants.
“This event is a great way for shoppers to rediscover the small businesses of Alameda,” says coordinator Christine Naish, an ACB board member. “It’s a win-win situation for merchants, shoppers and the ballet.” For more information or to buy passes, call ACB at (510) 337-1929 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Passes can also be purchased at Toy Safari (1410 Park St., 510-522-1723), Sway (1339 Park St., 510-769-6905), 3 Wishes (1428 Park St., 510-523-4438) and Spritz Salon (3111 Santa Clara Ave., 510-521-7721).