Few places outside the North Pole have as much Christmas spirit as a pair of houses on South Elati Street in Englewood.
On any given night between Thanksgiving and New Year's, the block of Elati just north of Belleview Avenue is thronged with giddy youngsters, beaming parents and grandparents, and on a recent night even a real-live troupe of old-fashioned carolers, all exploring a pair of elaborate holiday displays that for years have drawn visitors from around the area.
On the west side of the street, the Kloewer family (pronounced clay-ver) is back for the 26th time operating their legendary Christmas house, a continuation of a massive holiday-season display begun by Ron Kloewer's parents in the early 1980s.
Across the street, Ron's childhood friend Robert Jones and his wife Joanne are continuing their 8-year-old tradition of operating a Griswold-esque display of their own, with plans to keep it growing as the years go by.
But the whole shebang almost didn't happen this year.
“We weren't sure how people would react in the year of COVID,” Kloewer said. “We didn't want to go to all the trouble just for no one to show up, or for everyone to just stay in their cars. If you're just driving by, you're not getting the whole experience.”
As it turns out, people have shown up by the score. Kloewer said the houses have proven as popular as ever, perhaps even more so as nearby holiday attractions like A Hudson Christmas at Littleton's Hudson Gardens have been canceled.
“It's something fun and traditional you can do with your kids without making reservations or paying an arm and a leg,” Kloewer said.
The Kloewers have been putting on their light show since the 1995 holiday season, though in the early years it was outshined by Kloewer's parents Dick and Alice, who put on an epic display of their own at their home just half a block away.
Dick and Alice began decorating in 1983, Kloewer said, with Dick building dozens of custom displays: miniature wooden houses containing motorized themed scenes. Many of Dick's miniature houses survive today, incorporated into their son's annual display.
After Dick and Alice retired from Christmas decorating in 2011, Kloewer and his wife Melanie stepped up their game, enlisting their three kids for help.
Setting up the display takes a cumulative 300 hours, with the family usually beginning in early October. Kloewer said it wouldn't be possible without the tireless help of his wife, his children and family friend Mike Rasmussen.
The display is so massive that Xcel Energy wired up a second transformer on the utility pole behind the house, Kloewer said, though he wouldn't say how much the December electric bill typically runs.
“It goes up a bit,” he said with a grin.
Melanie said life has gotten easier since the advent of LED lights, which ended her annual job of painstakingly inspecting long strands of lights for burned-out bulbs.
Why go to all the trouble?
“The smiles and the compliments,” Kloewer said. “One year a guy who was almost blind told my dad, 'I can barely see anything anymore, but I can see your lights.' It meant a lot to him.”
Of the visitors who thronged the Kloewer house on Dec. 9, many were seeing it for the first time, but others had been coming for years.
“It's been tradition in my family since I was a baby,” said Megan Ford, who drove down from Lakewood with her husband Robbie and their son Thatcher, 2. “Christmas wouldn't be the same without it.”
Kloewer said whether his kids will take over the family tradition and keep the epic displays going is yet to be seen, though he said he's hopeful.
“Mike's got two kids of his own now, so that motivates him, and Randy always loves helping,” Kloewer said of his two younger children. “We'll keep doing it as long as we can.”
Across the street, the Jones family has been building up a staggering display of their own since they moved into the house in 2012.
“I grew up going to Ron's mom and dad's place every Christmas,” said Robert Jones as visitors made their way between glittering displays along his sidewalk. “Everyone in Englewood knew Mr. Kloewer's house. When we moved in here, we almost didn't want to decorate — how could anyone measure up to Ron? But we started, and it's just been so much fun that we just keep growing.”
Jones travels far and wide for his job as a medical equipment installer, giving him the chance to prowl far-flung antique stores for decorations. His prize addition this year is an authentic old wooden sleigh, bought at a curio store in rural Kansas — now adorned with a life-size Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, both wearing COVID-era face masks.
Like the Kloewers, the Jones family has started collecting cash donations, which Jones said he mainly invests into more decorations.
The family loves chatting with their visitors, Jones said, and last year began handing out cups of hot chocolate, though Jones said they “chickened out” this year over COVID concerns.
For Jones, the display has a deeper personal meaning.
“My mom used to take us all over town to look at everyone's Christmas lights,” he said. “She passed away in 1994. I think in part I'm doing it for her. Our reward is all the wonderful people we get to meet.”
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