A real Christmas Story: How a superfan turned his love of the festive film into a phenomenon by buying the house from the iconic movie – and bringing hundreds of thousands of tourists to Cleveland

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By Sheila Flynn

 

  • Brian Jones had loved A Christmas Story since childhood; he started a business reproducing distinctive leg lamps from the film after his parents sent him one to cheer him up when his dream of being a Navy pilot died
  • Jones, 41, decided to turn his part-time leg lamp selling venture into a full-time business – but his Christmas Story career expanded when his wife emailed him a link advertising the sale of the house used in the film
  • The exterior shots of the home of 9-year-old movie protagonist Ralphie Parker were filmed in Cleveland, though the film was set in Indiana and the interior shots were filmed elsewhere
  • California native Jones said it took him ‘maybe 20 seconds’ to decide to buy the property – though he’d never visited Ohio and couldn’t locate Cleveland on a map
  • The 1983 film has become a popular Christmas marathon movie and in 2012  was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress
  • Jones decided to turn the house in Cleveland’s  Tremont neighborhood into a museum, recreating the Parker home – and bought the house across the street, as well, to turn into a museum and shop
  • He says the attraction hosts 200,000 visitors each year; a Cleveland tourism representative says it offers the city  ‘the only place that people can come and get their Christmas Story fix’
  • Many other Cleveland businesses have jumped on board and display leg lamps on their premises
  • An annual Christmas Story run raises money for a foundation that continues to help homes in the Tremont neighborhood of the city
  • Fans can now stay overnight in the Christmas Story house, reliving their favorite memories of the film

It must certainly have been a surprising scene for those who weren’t in the know. Clad in bunny suits, pajamas and other unexpected attire, nearly 6,000 runners left Cleveland’s Public Square on the first Saturday of December and ran 5k to a suburban house, a neat yellow-and-green home on West 11th Street – on a plot and with a porch that is familiar to millions.

This is A Christmas Story House – the façade used for the 1983 family holiday favorite that plays every year in countless households across America. Its renovation has proven a boon for Cleveland tourism and a treat for the millions of fans of all ages who want to experience a real-life piece of festive cinematic history – and it’s all thanks to a superfan who bought it on a whim.

Brian Jones’ continued obsession with A Christmas Story – started around the age of 12- had always been something of a joke between the California native and his fellow naval officers. A graduate of Annapolis, Jones had always planned on becoming a pilot – but he failed his vision test and instead became an intelligence officer. To ease his disappointment, his parents sent him a gag gift – a wooden box, marked ‘Fragile,’ containing a Leg Lamp, the gaudy ‘prize’ that’s essentially its own character in A Christmas Story.

The film follows the exploits of Ralphie Parker, a nine-year-old Indiana boy growing up in the 1940s. He has his heart set on a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle for Christmas – although the adults in his life seem united against this present, coining the now iconic phrase: ‘You’ll shoot your eye out.’ The Leg Lamp also looms large in the film – literally – as Ralphie’s father proudly displays the electric sex symbol (a high-heeled model of a woman’s shapely leg topped with a lamp shade) in the family’s front window, much to his mother’s horror and dismay.

The 1983 film A Christmas Story followed the exploits of 9-year-old Indiana boy Ralphie Parker and his family; growing up in 1940s middle America, he longed for a Red Ryder rifle for Christmas

The 1983 film A Christmas Story followed the exploits of 9-year-old Indiana boy Ralphie Parker and his family; growing up in 1940s middle America, he longed for a Red Ryder rifle for Christmas

The Parker home is a well-known site to fans of A Christmas Story, which is a popular marathon film on American screens and in 2012 was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress
The Parker home is a well-known site to fans of A Christmas Story, which is a popular marathon film on American screens and in 2012 was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress
Many of Ralphie's scenes take place against the backdrop of the house; the film is eminently quotable, especially known for the phrase: 'You'll shoot your eye out!'

California native and Christmas Story fan Brian Jones, 41, purchased the home in 2004 after his wife sent him a link; he says it took him 'about 20 seconds' to buy the Cleveland property, although he'd never visited Ohio and couldn't find it on a map

Brian Jones, center, with (from left to right) his daughter Cortlyne; father Wayne; mother Cindy; wife Beverly; and son Ian; the family still enjoys watching A Christmas Story together every year

Other favorite scenes involve a triple-dog-dare for a boy to touch his tongue to a freezing pole; Ralphie’s brother, Randy, refusing to eat food like a normal child and preferring to smash his face to the plate like a pig; and Ralphie being forced to wear a pink bunny suit gift – a onesie complete with ears – from his aunt.

For the past 20 years, a 24-hour marathon showing of A Christmas Story has aired on either TNT or TBS on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day each year. In 2012, the movie was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.’

But Jones’ affection for the film preceded all of those honors, and his naval colleagues teased him good-naturedly. He loved the lamp gift from his parents, but it also gave him an idea.

‘I asked my parents: “That was awesome; where did you get that?”’

They answered: ‘We had to make it. Nobody sells those.’

So Jones, sensing a demand, began to make them himself. He sourced materials and handmade 500 in his spare time; he could have easily sold more. Trying to work out a plan for himself as he left the Navy, the leg lamp idea eventually won out because he wanted to start his own business.

‘They all thought I was nuts,’ laughs Jones, now 41, about his fellow naval officers. ‘I had my exit interview with my commanding officer; he asked me what I was going to do. I said, “I’m going to sell leg lamps, sir.” [He was] just like, “What’s wrong with this guy?”

‘Everybody there was staying in the navy, they’re all getting a masters. I didn’t have any friends who were in business or owned businesses; they’re all military people and they’re all following their career paths along – or they get out and they get a corporate job. I just didn’t want to.’

His wife – who was also in the navy – kept asking him when he was going to get a job, and the amusement about Jones’ Christmas Story passion also spread amongst her colleagues.

‘We’re still friends with a lot of people from my wife’s ship who are like, “I remember thinking you were just insane … we all laughed at you. Then YOU’RE laughing all the way to the bank.”’

One of them jokingly sent her a link to the on-the-market Christmas Story house, located in Cleveland though the film was set in Indiana. She sent it on to Jones, and his ideas immediately grew bigger than leg lamps.

‘It took me maybe 20 seconds to decide to buy it,’ Jones says – and he contacted the seller, who was asking just under $100,000 on eBay.

‘I said, “Would you sell it to me for $150,000, then stop the bidding?”’ Jones says.

The offer was accepted, and the house became his in December 2004.

The exterior shots of the Parker home were filmed in Cleveland, Ohio, though the movie was set in Hohman, Indiana; the interior shots of the house were filmed on other sets

In one of the most famous scenes from A Christmas Story, one of Ralphie's friends is triple-dog-dared to stick his tongue to a frozen pole - subsequently getting it stuck and necessitating the help of the fire department

In order to recreate the Parkers' living room, Jones took stills from the film and gave the contractor a copy of the Christmas Story DVD - instructing him to 'make this'

Ralphie, played by Peter Billingsley, is an iconic presence on American television screens across the country during the holiday season; the movie is a marathon favorite

Video playing bottom right…
 Jones initially considered turning the home into a bed and breakfast but then settled on a museum; now, however, fans can stay overnight in the iconic house

‘I did have to email my wife and tell her the house is mine,’ Jones laughs. ‘She wrote back: “Hahaha – very funny.” I was like, “No, actually, I bought it.” I just got one back like, “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”’

‘I just spent $150,000 on a beat-down rental property in Cleveland, Ohio that was in a movie. I bought this house sight unseen.’

He adds: ‘I didn’t have a clue where Ohio was, to be honest. I had to Mapquest where Cleveland, Ohio was. So I was like, okay, this’ll work, it’s on a lake, I’ll make it work.’

The first time he saw the house was on December 28, 2004, when he and his sister flew out to Ohio. The house was instantly recognizable to the film fan, though it was painted a different color.

‘I felt like I was on a movie set,’ he says. ‘I’m starstruck by a house!’

He initially considered turning the home into a bed and breakfast, but soon he came up with a new idea. He decided to turn the house into a living replica of the Parker household inside as well as out, and he bought the house across the street to turn it into a museum and store.

In order to properly reproduce the interior of the house – those scenes had been shot on a separate set – Jones says: ‘We went through the still frames of the movie; I think I had like maybe 30 or 40 of them, and a copy of the DVD.’

He gave those ‘to the contractor and said: “Make this.”’

And when it came to outfitting the house and museum with appropriate items, Jones said, ‘a lot of it found me.

‘Once people know you have the house, they’re interested in doing stuff,’ he says. The props and the costumes were found by a Canadian gentleman named Tyler Schwartz, who made [the documentary] Roadtrip for Ralphie, where he went around a lot of Canada finding where the scenes were shot in Canada.

‘The lady who made the film still had her three-ring binder with all the polaroids, and most of the costumes were in her warehouse. You could just go in there, a quarter century later, and just rent them out … it was a huge warehouse. It took us more than a day to go in there and find everything.

Among those items were snowsuits and all the pajamas from the film; Jones ‘bought it all off her.’

He was also contacted by the father of a woman who had attended the Naval Academy around the same time as Jones; they stuck up a friendship, and the man turned out to be friends with a toy collector who had loaned all the original toys for the film to the production company.

‘So I ended up buying those off of him,’ Jones says.

‘Then the BB gun … somebody on our facebook page was like, “Hey, did you see this BB gun for sale?” I was like, “No, but thank you, and yes, I will take that please,”’ he laughs.

The attraction brings in tourists year round; Jones says A Christmas Story House and Museum welcomes 200,000 tourists a year. There’s a knock-on effect for local businesses and restaurants; it’s not unusual to see premises proudly displaying leg lamps, a nod to the film which has spurred a bit of a cottage industry. The neighborhood bar and tavern across from the house, Rowley’s, has fared particularly well, and more tourists are brought in annually by the fundraising run that takes place every December – and further contributes to the Tremont neighborhood.

‘We renovate houses in the neighborhood, so anything you need for exterior repairs – roof, siding, fences, landscaping, driveways – we’ll do that,’ he says. ‘We’ll make grants. We spent about $300,000 so far for grants or projects, raising another $100,000 this year,’ he says.

The Christmas Story industry has undeniably helped boost Cleveland’s profile and contribute to its ‘world-class arts, culture and rock-and-roll’ scene, says Emily Lauer, senior director of PR /communications at Destination Cleveland.

‘You’ll see, particularly around this time of year, but also year-round, a lot of businesses with a leg lamp in the window,’ she tells DailyMail.com. ‘It’s something we’ve embraced, that we’re proud of. It’s a little bit quirky; that’s Cleveland. We’re very proud that scenes from the film were shot here in Cleveland. It’s the only place that people can come to and get their Christmas story fix.’

An adult Ian Petrella, who played Ralphie's brother - the food-averse Randy - in the movie, poses in the Christmas Story house

Fans can rent the home, which sleeps six people, overnight; in the off-season, prices start at $395, while Christmas Eve and Christmas Day - which must be rented together - cost $1,995

Jones daughter, left, wife, center, and mother, right, are just three of the thousands of people who dress up to participate in the annual run fundraiser used to benefit the Tremont neighbhorhood where the Christmas Story house is located

She says: ‘I think we’re very, very fortunate that Brian’s wife pointed out the house was up for sale, and that he took the chance and made an investment in Cleveland – because no doubt, when we’re talking to visitors as well as to other journalists, it’s something that no one else can say they have. So we have the world’s only Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame and the world’s only Christmas Story House.’

Fans of the film can even stay in the house, as well; they have the run of the entire place from after closing until 9am the next morning, when the house reopens. Prices range from $395 on a Monday through Wednesday in the off-season and the high price is $1,995 per night for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; you have to book both. Every Saturday in December next year is already taken, Jones says, and Christmas Story fanatics are trying to book as far away as 2020, he adds.

The accommodation includes one full bathroom and one half bath downstairs, a queen pullout and the two twin beds in the boys’ room. The type of guest, Jones tells DailyMail.com, ‘runs the gamut’.

‘We had one guy on business who stayed three days just himself,’ he says, in addition to groups and families.

This weekend, the attraction will hold a massive street party and watch A Christmas Story Live, which is airing on Sunday on Fox and starring Matthew Broderick and Maya Rudolph. Jones’ own two children, ages 9 and 11, will be flying in from Florida, where the family is based; he visits Cleveland every six weeks or so and spends more time there during the holidays, the busiest season.

He says he’s noticed a change in the atmosphere in Cleveland since he first began his relationship with the Ohio city 13 years ago, and he’s keen to do anything to help bolster its image and popularity.

Initially, he says, ‘it was really funny – everybody in Cleveland was like, “Yeah, Cleveland sucks; we’re terrible.” I was just like, who says that about their city? I thought it was decent.’

Now though, after revitalization – and not forgetting the explosive popularity of A Christmas Story house – he says: ‘The city’s on the rise’ and has ‘a different feel to it. It’s much more positive – “Yeah, Cleveland Rocks.”

He jokes that this was always his end game, that the A Christmas Story house has a special place amongst the city’s charms.

‘I think there’s LeBron James and there’s Brian Jones,’ he laughs.

Behind it all, though, is the special place that A Christmas Story holds in so many hearts, evidenced by its rise from cult favorite to national treasure.

‘I think it’s about being a kid,’ he says simply. ‘You can watch A Christmas Story and you don’t have to see the whole movie to enjoy the scene that’s on.

‘The biggest thing when you were a kid was Christmas,’ he adds. ‘All your childhood memories strung together.’

 

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