|Bright Lights Over the City|
by Alison Abbey
Say this about Christmas time in Sarasota: A lot of residents? holiday light displays were definitely more Ho Ho Ho than Ho-Hum. From winter wonderland themes to Santa and his reindeer, Sarasota shines ? brightly.
All of which made it difficult to select winners in The Sarasota Observer?s second annual Holiday Light Contest. Our judges spent last weekend touring the city and Siesta Key in search of this year?s award-winning displays. It was a tough assignment ? albeit a fun one.
To be sure, our winners take their Christmas lighting seriously. With music playing and choreographed lights blinking, these homes, businesses and condos aren?t decorated with typical twinkle lights. For these passionate contenders, putting the lights up is a true labor of love.
(After Christmas, it?s a different story. ?I look at the stuff and say, ?Now I have to take it all down!?? said Bruce Mingus, whose decorations garnered an honorable mention.)
Let?s not think about that now, though. Instead, we?ll focus on enjoying the winter wonderlands this year?s winners have created. Here are this year?s winners of our Holiday Lights Contest:
Publisher?s Choice Award
Phyllis Zacherle, 899 Freeling Drive, and Betty and Dave Frostad, 897 Freeling Drive, Siesta Key
Every year, church groups, families and bewildered drivers-by congregate in the park next to the North Siesta Key bridge to behold the animated light display that takes up three backyards on Freeling Drive. The display includes jumping dolphins, the flashing words, ?Silent Night, Holy Night,? angels, trees, stars and manatees.
Phyllis Zacherle and her late husband Al started the tradition 34 years ago. She says she?s not sure exactly how many strands of lights she and her neighbors, Betty and Dave Frostad, put up this year. The families enjoy their decorating so much that this year they covered the backyard of the vacant home next door, too.
As for the hundreds of onlookers, Zacherle says she?s happy to give them some joy. ?We enjoy them just as much as they enjoy the lights,? she said.
David Painting and Sarah Bueno, 635 Mangrove Point, Siesta Key
David Painting knew this was his year. After calling The Sarasota Observer to let us know about his display, Painting was ready and waiting when the judges walked up his driveway. He was so certain he would make the top three that he fussed at his wife Sarah Bueno for leaving her car in the driveway.
?I was just coming out to move my wife?s car,? he said. ?I told her you were coming and that if she left it here we might be disqualified.?
Painting worked for more than a week, hanging 14,000 lights throughout his yard. The display encompasses the main house on his property and a guesthouse, both of which are two stories. There is also a train with moving wheels, several tree-shaped structures, a lighted archway over the driveway and several twinkling trees; one of which sets a record as the highest on the key at 25 feet.
Gulf and Bay Club, 5730 Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key
Every year, the staff at the Gulf and Bay Club on Siesta Key lines the community?s entry way with thousands of colorful lights. This year?s display also includes a series of illuminated reindeer dancing across the front lawn and shining stars hanging high above the clubhouse.
The Old Salty Dog, Siesta Key
With so many colorful bulbs on the front porch of the Old Salty Dog restaurant, it?s a wonder patrons dining al fresco aren?t blinded by the light.
? Bruce and Cheri Mingus, 1814 Field Road, Sarasota ? With a dozen inflatable characters standing as tall as the house they surround, the Mingus? Christmas display makes onlookers feel more like they?re at Disney World than in a private driveway. It?s that sense of awe that inspired the Minguses to include a practical element in their display: a bench for visitors who want to sit and enjoy the scene.
? Brent and Vanessa Ballard, 1766 Cherokee Drive, Sarasota ? Though they won first prize last year, our judges had to give a nod to the Ballards again. Their display includes thousands of choreographed lights that blink to favorite Christmas songs. The Ballards? display also reflects the spirit of Christmas in another way; visitors are invited to donate to the Life of Riley fund, which benefits children with brain tumors.
? Crescent Royale condominium, 777 Beach Road, Siesta Key ? The twinkling lights that adorn the front yard of this condominium community gave our first-place winner a run for its money. Be sure to drive slow and take in the full beauty of this wintery fairyland.
By Dora Walters and Jason Levitt
South Sarasota residents certainly get into the holiday spirit. But these four deserve special recognition.
Publisher's Choice Award
If you want to get in the Christmas spirit, here?s a must see: Regatta Drive in Gulf Gate. It?s a winter wonderland.
And its creators are our big winners. Neighbors Rick Sluga, 2504 Regatta Drive; Dave Masterson, 2505 Regatta Drive; and Simon Yadlowski, 2513 Regatta Drive, are winners of this year?s Publisher?s Choice Award, the top prize in The South Sarasota Observer?s second annual Holiday Lights Contest.
The three neighbors are the masterminds, designers and decorators of a magical light display that encompasses 10 homes on their cul-de-sac.
Sluga?s two 50-foot-tall lighted oak trees include seemingly endless strings of lighted snowflakes, making visitors get out of their cars and ask Sluga, ?How did you do that??
His answer: ?Very carefully.?
And extraordinarily. As we said, it?s a must see.
While Regatta Drive held our judges in awe, there were many other light displays that also generated plenty of ?ooohs? and ?ahhhs.? It wasn?t easy selecting the winners in our single-family, multifamily and commercial categories. There seemed to be impressive displays on every street, boulevard and circle.
But choose we must. This year?s other winners include:
Gretchen and Chuck Bly, 545 Meadow Sweet Circle, Rivendell.
Lollipops, candy canes, toy soldiers and garlands of light fill the front yard of this home. And in the back yard are lighted Christmas trees and more sweet treats in a fairyland delight.
Talk about cute. This is definitely cute ? and a delight.
Venetian Estate Parks, 8895 S.Tamiami Trail
You can tell from the light displays here that the residents of this cozy development truly get into the holiday spirit. Strings of colorful lights circle the trunks of palm trees at the park?s entrance and outline the clubhouse. Within the park, units are trimmed with twinkling lights of all colors, reindeer with bobbing heads and Santa Causes with friendly waves.
The displays won?t overwhelm you. They?re simply charming. They?ll make you smile.
Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar, 5353 S. Tamiami Trail.
If you drive Tamiami Trail at night, you can?t miss this display. Nestled on the bank of Phillippi Creek, this Sarasota institution always gets into the holiday spirit. Green lights curl up the palm trees and a sign in white lights reads, ?Peace on Earth.? Of course, Santa and his reindeer are galloping across the roof as well.
A nice touch: the poinsettias planted all around the restaurant?s grounds. This year, the restaurant staff planted TK poinsettias.
One of the notable characteristics of Floridians is they get in the holiday spirit. With being able only to dream of a White Christmas, they make up for the lack of snow with spectacular decorations. In addition to this year?s winners, we would be remiss for not citing some of the displays that worth an honorable mention:
? Bob and Sandy Enander, 2281 Mission Valley Blvd., Nokomis. They put up two and half acres of light displays created by Ensander annually for past 20 years. They were winners of last year?s Publisher?s Choice Award.
? 3034 Gulf Gate Drive ? a blaze of lights and holiday figures.
? The Rivendell Community ? A tour of this neighborhood will put you in the holiday spirit, because it certainly exists here.
? Constitution Boulevard ? from U.S. 41 east to Swift Road.