How an Ordinary-Looking House in Cleveland Became a Tourist Attraction
On West 11th Street in Cleveland, the line of camera-toting tourists stretches around the corner. A man in an orange vest directs traffic. It is an unlikely sight in this neighborhood, which borders on a steel mill and has definitely seen better days.
The tourists come from as far away as Texas and Arizona to make their own walk-on appearances in the house where the film “A Christmas Story” was set. The quirky holiday movie about a young boy’s obsession with a BB gun now rivals seasonal favorites like “The Grinch” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Now, thanks to a 30-year-old California man’s obsession with the film, the Cleveland house has become the city’s hottest new tourist destination.
“It’s like seeing a movie star, and it feels like you stepped onto the set and that you’re actually reliving the movie when you come to see the house,” said Brian Jones.
Jones bought the house — sight unseen — on eBay for $150,000.
“The first time I got here I felt like I was on the set. I’m running around like a little kid,” he said.
Jones brought “Nightline” inside the mustard-colored three-story home, and it felt strangely familiar.
The Old Man’s coat rack, the waist-high wooden radio where Ralphie and brother Randy listened to the Orphan Annie show. It’s all here.
The Leg Lamp
And there, shining in the window — is the leg lamp. The “major award” won by Ralphie’s Old Man and scorned by Ralphie’s mother — the glowing replica of a woman’s shapely leg, adorned in fishnet stockings and a high-heeled pump, and wearing a fringed lampshade as a skirt.
Few props in moviedom have had this kind of stature … this kind of glow, if you will.
“It all started with the leg lamp,” said Jones, a former Navy officer who dreamed of going to flight school but couldn’t pass the vision test. Like the bespectacled Ralphie character in the movie, Jones’ eyesight isn’t good. As a consolation, Jones’ parents built him a prop from his favorite movie — a leg lamp.
When it came time for Jones to leave the Navy, that gift took on new meaning. “It hit me one day like an epiphany. I should sell leg lamps.”
Jones’ wife thought he was crazy — until the unusual business started making a six-figure profit.
Open for Business
Now Jones has used the proceeds of leg lamp sales to help renovate the house — watching the film frame by frame, so that contractors could re-create the movie set inside the house. It wasn’t easy, since the interiors were shot on a Canadian soundstage.
For instance, the stairway on which Ralphie reluctantly models his pink bunny suit pajamas didn’t exist in the house.
“We actually had to re-create this part,” said Jones. “They look exactly like the stairs in the movie, right down to the spindles.”
Jones paid close attention to the authenticity of every detail. Each of the brown and white tiles on the kitchen floor had to be hand trimmed.
“We actually had to cut these down from 12 by 12,” the size that’s made now, “because in the 1940s the tiles they made were 9 by 9.”
Outside, the line of tourists grows.
Travis and Lisa Campbell drove 2½ hours with their 8-month-old daughter, Zoe.
“I was relieved. I wasn’t the only person out here,” said Travis Campbell.
Hardly. Since the “Parker House” opened for business three weeks ago, more than 10,000 movie buffs have lined up for the $5 tour.
They recite lines from the movie, and snap an endless number of photos — posing in the living room with the leg lamp.
“Fra-jee-lay, it must be Italian,” said one woman, quoting the Old Man’s famous line from the film.
‘We’ve Touched Something in the Heart of the People’
Jones also bought the house across the street and turned it into a museum and souvenir stand, where he sells his leg lamps for $199 apiece.
Fans can also buy Xeroxed copies of the script for $40 and original pieces of siding from the house for $60.
Photos from when the movie was shot adorn the wall.
A glass case displays the toy blimp Ralphie got for Christmas, along with his cartoonishly restrictive snowsuit in which he whined, “I can’t put my arms down.”
Bob Clark, who co-wrote and directed the film, is not surprised at the popularity of the movie or the house.
“We’ve touched something in the heart of the people, and I think it’s the craziness, the integrity, the realness of the movie.”
Outside the house, locals who played small roles in the film mingle with the crowd, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
“I had no idea we would be riding the wave all these years. It’s absolutely incredible,” said Patty LaFountaine, a local actress who played one of Santa’s sadistic elves. “Who would have ever thunk it?” exclaimed Jim Marelovitz, who lived down the street and played a bit part — literally — in the film.
“You could only see a side view as I come in the door,” he told a group of movie fans. Marelovitz pushed the hand truck that delivered the infamous leg lamp.
‘It’s ‘A Christmas Story’ …
This brings us back to Brian Jones and his unusual career.
“It will work out. It’s ‘A Christmas Story.’ How can it fail? Everyone loves ‘A Christmas Story,'” Jones figured.
He figured right. From the size of the crowds, Jones is obviously on to something.
His affection for the house and the movie helped to re-invigorate this neighborhood.
Cable did the same thing for the film. When “A Christmas Story” first opened in 1983, it was hardly a box-office hit.
The film premiered just before Thanksgiving and didn’t even last until Christmas in theaters. Critics thought it was too sarcastic. One reviewer called it “as authentic as wax fruit.” But that was before Turner Classic Movies and other cable channels started airing “Christmas Story” marathons — leaving a younger generation of fans stuck on this unusual film.
Twenty-three years after the movie’s lackluster release, Jones has reaped the rewards.
“Do you believe this?” he said, gesturing toward the crowd with a broad smile.
Take that, movie critics.