• WHAT: Ceres’ Christmas Tree Lane
• FROM HIGHWAY 99: Take the Hatch Road exit and head east. Travel 1.6 miles and turn right onto Moffett Road (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on the corner). Travel 1.0 miles and turn right onto Henry Avenue.
For the cost of gas and a bit of time to get there, Ceres is still the place to go for a spectacular array of Christmas sights and sounds in a potpourri of Christmas cheer that is 51 years old.
Christmas Tree Lane -- Henry Avenue and Vaughn Street the rest of the year -- has been a popular draw for folks all over the area.
While many people were out getting shopping deals on Black Friday, residents on the two streets were dragging out boxes of decorations, hanging lights and sorting out tangled extension cords for Christmas decorations that are now part of the Ceres annual tradition of Christmas Tree Lane.
The first Christmas Tree Lane opened December 1961 on Henry Avenue and Vaughn Street. Fifty-one years later it’s still going strong.
Jim Bowen, 68, and son Jerry Bowen have participated in Christmas Tree Lane since 1972. The Bowen yard is best known for a familiar plywood train which Jim built and modeled after a grocery display he once spied as manager of the New Deal store in Modesto.
“It’s part of our giving back to the community, the elderly and the kids,” said Bowen. “It’s our way of saying ‘Merry Christmas.’ There’s lots of good people who live on Christmas Tree Lane.”
Son Jerry remembered some of the hassles of putting up with traffic during December when he lived there.
“It sucked in high school,” said Jerry, who was helping his father decorate the yard. “I played basketball and it wasn’t like your friends could drop you off and go home and swap out your clothes. It’s always packed. But what is cool is seeing the kids who go by. This is all about families and it gives them stuff to do that doesn’t cost a lot.”
Each year Bowen and his wife Sheila have lost items taken from the yard but it hasn’t deterred their seasonal effort.
“We always have theft. Every year they get me for something. It’s sad but you can’t let one bad apple ruin the whole show.”
Bowen said all the lights and electricity to power his festive display adds about $25 extra to his power bill. Replacing lights from the year prior can cost about $150.
But the effort is appreciated, he said. Once he received a card of thanks from a couple in Germany who merely addressed the card to 1913 Christmas Tree Lane.
“They had been visiting someone here and saw our house and they thanked us for it. Somehow the post office got it to us.”
Christmas Tree Lane is available to see as soon as it gets dark any night during the Christmas season. To get there from Highway 99, exit at either the Whitmore or Hatch exits, traveling east to Moffet. The lane is located near Smyrna Park. Give yourself time to get through the traffic which can back up on Moffet Road at peak hours.
— Jeff Benziger
209 staff reporter