By Paul Post
CLEVELAND >> Like Christmas itself, there’s something magical about the unassuming two-story home in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood where the iconic movie, “A Christmas Story,” was filmed 30 years ago, in 1983.
On sweltering hot summer afternoons or bone-chilling mid-December mornings, more than 50,000 people a year line up to see the place where Ralphie Parker, played by Peter Billingsley, realized his dream of getting a Red Ryder BB gun from Santa, despite warnings from all sides: “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
Somehow, his quest resonates with anyone who’s ever rushed downstairs and ripped wrapping paper off gifts beneath a tree on Christmas morning.
The house and back yard were only used for exterior filming. Interior shots were done on movie sets because rooms weren’t big enough to accommodate all the equipment involved.
However, visitors can’t tell the difference. The home’s makeover is almost identical to its appearance in the movie, from the crazy leg lamp in the front window to the second-story bedroom that Ralphie shared with his kid brother, Randy.
The story takes place in a fictionalized version of Hammond, Ind., in the 1940s.
After considerable searching, location scouts found just what they were looking for in Cleveland, a “Rust Belt” city with an old steel mill that sets the stage perfectly for viewers in the movie’s opening scene.
Anyone familiar with Cleveland will also recognize the downtown Public Square where parade scenes were filmed. The city’s imposing Civil War memorial, Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, is visible in the background.
Higbee’s, a former 12-story department store that opened in 1931, is also shown prominently. That’s where 9-year-old Ralphie goes to ask Santa for his Red Ryder. In real life, the landmark business closed in 2002 and the massive building is now home to a downtown casino.
Brian Jones, an avid fan of the movie, hit the jackpot when he bought the “Christmas Story” house” for $150,000 in 2005. A year later, after considerable renovations, it opened as a tourist destination.
Last December alone, more than 24,000 people took the tour and souvenir sales at “A Christmas Story” house museum, across the street, are virtually off the chart — with everything from leg lamp tree ornaments to replica Red Ryder BB guns.
How big has it become?
Earlier this month, Cleveland hosted “A Christmas Story House” convention to celebrate the movie’s 30th anniversary and a musical version is currently on Broadway. This year, people could even place bids for a chance to win two overnight stays at the world-famous home. The winner paid $3,152 — equal to night’s stay in a posh Manhattan hotel.
All proceeds go to the Christmas Story House Neighborhood Restoration Project, a nonprofit foundation established to preserve and improve the neighborhood surrounding “A Christmas Story” house for future generations to enjoy. The foundation provides grants, both public and private, to projects that enhance and improve the surrounding neighborhood.
It might be too late to go see the house this Christmas, but it is well worth visiting at any time of year,
For information, call (216) 298-4819 or go to achristmasstoryhouse.com.