MAPLE STREET — Walk south on the west side of 11th Street toward Ocean Park Boulevard and all will seem normal on a mid-December day. Turn right on Maple Street, and you might think you just walked into a winter wonderland.
The house at the corner of Maple and 11th Streets is, when fully decorated, covered with at least 45 different pieces and literally thousands of lights. The Christmas set-up is complete with fake snow on the lawn, a 12-foot lighted train and a 14-piece nativity scene.
“It started out ‘normal’ and it just kind of kept growing and growing,” said resident Mariann Santora, who is vice president of J&R Bottling and Distributing, Inc. “I would say in total [decorating] probably takes 36 to 40 hours.”
Santora and her family — husband Mark Hammer and sons Michael Hammer in 12th grade and Nicholas Hammer in seventh — have lived at 1047 Maple St. for about 10 years.
“I used to live in a condo,” Santora said, “and I would put lights up around the door and down the railing … and when my husband met me, he wanted to continue it for me.”
But a condo limits the amount of decorations that can be displayed. When they moved to their current house, Santora said having lights go around the house was a big deal. The family makes even their “normal” decorations unique by lining the roof with big colored lights, then hanging white icicle lights and finally finishing off with realistic-looking icicles hanging from the roof.
Santora tries to add something new every year, and at the very least rearranges things year after year so it never looks the same. This year she needs to find room for a new light-up decoration with the word “joy” on it. She says neighbors stand outside sometimes hoping to spot the difference.
The Hammer/Santora family notices another difference at this time of year — in their electric bill. Santora says the bill is normally about $70, but skyrockets to $350 when their decorations are up.
“Let’s put it this way,” Santora said, “we blow the circuit breakers all the time so my husband has to get creative with the electrical to keep everything moving and lit.”
Mark Hammer has done quite a lot of handy work for the decorations, including building a platform for a group of carolers under which Santora places a CD player, fixing all sorts of electrical issues and building parts of the nativity scene.
“He’s very artistically inclined, and he can build anything; he’s amazing,” Santora said.
It takes half the time to take everything down as it does to set up, and for 11 months of the year, all the Christmas decorations are kept in storage at Santora’s business.
“The Christmas decorations alone would fill up my garage,” Santora said.
Christmas decorations are only half the deal, however. Santora’s Halloween decorations rival her winter ones in amount and special effects, which include blacklights, graves galore, black sheet decorations that cover the walls to give the house a creepy look and even a huge skull that hangs from the roof and revolves eerily over the spooky scene.
Santora has a flag or two for almost every holiday except for Labor Day and Memorial Day, and has some other decorations such as large eggs she places around the yard for Easter, bunting and lights for the Fourth of July and some fall garlands for Thanksgiving, but nothing is as intense as the Halloween and Christmas decorations.
Of course, the best part for Santora is all the compliments she and her husband receive.
“To me that’s the best part of it — how happy we make everybody else,” she said. “If we get stuff up late, people will come and literally knock on my door and ask if everything’s okay … ask if me and Mark are getting a divorce.”
Admirers don’t stop there. They send notes and letters and even leave decorations for the family if they are moving. The only complaint they have ever received was years ago.
“When energy was a big thing … I had this one person who actually sent a letter … complained to us that we were wasting electricity and how could we do that?” Santora said.
Her neighbors defended Santora, however, and even offered donations as thanks for the cheery attraction. Santora says she would never accept money, though, and does it all from her heart.
The decorations have made quite an impression in the neighborhood. For Halloween, Maple Street now gets around 340 to 360 trick or treaters on average, something the neighbors were not expecting at first. Neighbors often check in with the Hammer/Santora family to make sure the Christmas decorations will be up by a certain date or will still be up after Christmas so their out-of-town relatives can see.
This year the rainy weather prevented the family from setting up very much last weekend, but Santora insisted progress be made despite the rain.
“Our ‘fans’ are waiting patiently!” Santora said.