Tahoe lights burn bright
Actors need the stage, painters a canvas, musicians an instrument. Barbara Fishman needs a publicly visible house to exhibit her Christmas lights.
So when the co-owner of Hot Spots, a Tahoe-based information kiosk company, sold her house to business partner and longtime friend Michael Greenstein, provisions were made to keep the holiday flare aglow. In fact, she made annual Christmas decorating a part of the contract.
Greenstein didn’t think it was a big deal. But as the first season in his new home approached, it was not the thoughts of sugar plums that danced in his head.
“I was dreading it at first,” Greenstein said laughing. “But (Barbara) came over to help and it got to be real fun.”
When Fishman began decorating her house at 1244 Hidden Woods Drive in 1995, she had the only house on the street, glowing brightly in the tradition of ol’ Saint Nick.
“I like doing things that make people happy,” Fishman said. “It brightens up the world.”
The house is on the corner of U.S. Highway 50 and Hidden Woods Drive in Lakeridge, north of Zephyr Cove. It has served as the sole beacon to residents trying to find their way home during white, winter nights.
“I figured this house is right on the corner, and I figured it was my obligation to decorate it,” Fishman said.
Her artistic visions became a magnet for holiday enthusiasts, who would stare in awe at the holiday masterpiece.
“I would look out my window and see these strangers on my property taking pictures of my house,” Fishman said.
Her precedent was met with admiration and eventually with imitation.
By 1999, the rest of the neighborhood had followed suit, turning Hidden Woods into a winter wonderland.
Now the entire neighborhood can be seen glowing from U.S. Highway 50. Not only is Greenstein’s corner house and yard decked in red, green and white lights, but the rest of the neighborhood is alive with electrified trumpeting angels and reindeer and glowing toys such as building blocks and a jack-in-the-box. At one house lights outline two bears 10 feet tall. Each decked in a scarf and hat, they hurl an endless barrage of snowballs at each other amongst a forest of glowing star-topped trees.
Fishman was so enthusiastic about holiday decorating that she spent $3,000 installing electrical outlets to light the trees in her former yard. The magnitude of her display proved costly; her electric bills escalated $150 to $250 a month.
After a failed attempt to convince Sierra Pacific Power Company to give her a holiday subsidy, she harnessed her maverick position as Christmas light queen and got the homeowner’s association to kick in for the extra juice.
Fishman admits her contract has a strange twist. But Greenstein understands his friend’s point of view. After all Fishman misses her old house.
“It is very hard for me to admit it’s not mine,” she said.
In fact, according to the contract, if Greenstein ever sells the house he has to offer it to Fishman first.
Her new house is tucked in the back of Buchanan Way, the last house in a cul-de-sac located off Kingsbury Grade.
“The house she bought was kind of off the beaten track, so she didn’t have a place to exhibit her lights,” Greenstein said acknowledging the logic behind the contract.
Although Fishman left most of her Christmas lights behind for her friend, she claims the reindeer ran off with the sled and a few lights to her new house. But most of her new Christmas exhibit in undetected, shrouded in a forest of landscaping.
But what might be most remarkable about this story is Greenstein and Fishman are Jewish.
“When I was a little girl my mother did not want me to feel left out, so she let me have a little Christmas tree,” she said. “It was blue and silver, which are the Hanukkah colors.”
Neither have forgotten Hanukkah and decorate for both holidays. Greenstein has a Jewish Star displayed in his window.
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