By Amy Wenk
Looking for some free holiday entertainment? Pile the kids into the SUV and check out the festive lawn displays of these local residents:
The Gropper House
It is safe to say you will not see another holiday display like the Gropper’s.
Crammed on the half-acre property at the corner of Peachtree-Dunwoody and Winall Down roads are around 100 inflatables, ranging from snowmen to menorahs to a train-conducting Santa Claus. There is even a blow-up of the infamous fishnet leg lamp from “A Christmas Story.”
The “Atlanta Wonderland,” as it is dubbed, is home to Piedmont Hospital neurosurgeon Dr. Gary Gropper, his wife Vickie, their four children (25-year-old Josh, 23-year-old Zac, 22-year-old Brittany and 19-year-old Lexie) and five chihuahuas. The family has lived in the house since 2000, and Dr. Gropper and his clan have decorated with inflatables since about 2001.
“When it comes time to put them up, it’s like a family party,” said Lexie, who attends Appalachian State University. “We are clearly a non-traditional family.”
The display certainly attracts attention. People are constantly driving by and even park to stroll the grounds.
“It really is like a wonderland to all the kids,” Lexie said.
Zac, a graduate student at Georgia State University, called the display a “virtual speed bump.”
Carpooling parents stop before and after school. Ambulances from Scottish Rite swing by with patients, and landscape companies often inquire if it is a business. Last year, CBS news broadcast a weather report from the Gropper’s front lawn.
But the display does not appeal to all.
“We have a lot of conservative neighbors,” Lexie said. “Some people just think it’s tacky.”
The family has also had to deal with vandalism.
“Kids who come back [from college] for the break will come back from the bars and just want to stab them,” Lexie said. “We’ve had a lot of instances.”
The displays come with other costs as well. The family spends an additional $1,500 per month in electricity to power the inflatables.
“We have to keep the lights off in the house to keep the inflatables going,” Zac said. “My mom says as long as there is power in the laundry room and kitchen, she’s happy.”
The family also decorates their lawn for other holidays including Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day.
“We please a lot of people and spread a lot of holiday cheer.” Zac said. “Everybody smiling is what [my dad] likes about it.”
The Williams House
Brookhaven resident Michael Williams, who lives on Logan Circle off Briarwood Road with his wife Amy, uses a different approach to express his holiday spirit.
For the third year, the homeowner has set up a light display that synchronizes with Christmas tunes through his own short-range radio frequency, 99.1 FM. Each musical chord incites a myriad of patterns on the stars and arches that line the driveway, as well as the Christmas tree centerpiece and lights on the roof.
“Ever since I was little I always loved Christmas lights,” said Williams, director of purchasing for the Rosa Mexicano restaurant chain.
Williams got the idea for synchronized lights after viewing a TV show. But he did not know how to orchestrate the display until stumbling across a YouTube video that mentioned Light-O-Rama, a company that manufactures programmable light controllers.
He bought two controllers for his first display in 2007.
“Then I was pretty much hooked,” Williams said. “So the next year I bought four more controllers and more lights.”
He started working on his 2008 display in January and it took him all year to build the light-holding apparatuses like the stars and arches. This year, beginning the day after Halloween, he re-configured the display that incorporates more than 20,000 lights.
“The first year it was probably mostly people on the street” who saw the display, Williams said. “It seems like this year, we get somebody every night.”
Although the light controllers cost $200 each, Williams said the biggest cost is the “mile-long” extension cords and the time it takes to set-up the display.
“I’ve always liked the way it made me feel watching the lights,” he said. “I hope that people will see it, and it will make them feel good, too.”