The colorful, well-orchestrated Christmas magic with 10-foot lighted candy canes came aliveduring December in the Schorsch Village neighborhood from 1955 to 1973. It became famouslyknown as “Candy Cane Lane,” a legendary slice of Americana tucked into Chicago’s northwestside where 29 homeowners banded together to brighten both sides of North Nottingham Avenue between West Belmont and West Addison Avenues.
On those frosty December nights, Candy Cane Lane drew huge crowds that included a steadystream of tour buses and cars, and at least one newspaper reporter. Traffic cops were dispatchedto the neighborhood to try to keep the vehicles moving, albeit at a slow pace so the wide-eyedpopulace could visually drink in the four-block-long spectacle. Longtime Candy Cane Lane fansknew the best way to enjoy the lights at their own pace: They parked blocks away, bundled upand walked along North Nottingham Avenue.Among the three Candy Cane Lane originators was August Guarino, now 101 years old and aHome Instead Senior Care client. Of course, August couldn’t help organize the feat without theunwavering support of his late wife of 76 years, Lena. She passed away March 31, 2018, at age99, after battling congestive heart failure for several years. Lena also was a beloved client of theowner Kelly Hutchison’s award-winning Home Instead Senior Care franchise in Elk GroveVillage. Their scrapbooks have been a source of amazement for their CAREGivers.“Everybody enjoyed it, and it was worth the time and effort,” August said. “Kids loved everyminute of it. Neighbors invited the children and their parents to see the houses. Candy Cane Lanemade a lot of lasting memories for many, many people. Over the years, people have called meand wanted to talk about it, reminiscing long after it ended. They remembered Candy Cane Laneas children,” he added.The former master electrician and Lena moved to Schaumberg in 1995, leaving a middle-classneighborhood lined with English Tudors, bungalows, and ranch-style homes. August and Lenahad lived at 3226 N. Nottingham Avenue for 45 years, moving there in 1950 after nine years ofmarriage. Although they had no children of their own, August and Lena helped draw anunimaginable number of children and their families to their neighborhood for 18 straightDecembers.Marian “Robbie” Bowers, the new client engagement director for Home Instead Senior Care ofElk Grove Village, easily remembers the vivid images of Candy Cane Lane that she saw whilegrowing up near Harlem and Irving Streets. Her family home was just a short hike northeast ofthe Schorsch Village neighborhood.“As a child,” Robbie said, “we’d walk over and see Candy Cane Lane because it was closeenough. It was famous – everyone talked about it. We could not drive down those streets becausethey were so congested. All in all, it was a simply stunning series of streets with themedChristmas lights. The Chicago Tribune newspaper wrote about it. I was told that everyone in theneighborhoods wanted to participate. But if someone couldn’t afford the Christmas decorationsfor their yards, August would, quietly and without any fanfare, buy them.”Before Candy Cane Lane evolved, August said a nearby Schorsch Village neighborhood onSchool Street already had organized to put up Christmas lights. August and his neighbors wantedto make it a competition on Nottingham, so they went house to house to ask other neighbors ifthey’d participate in a Christmas light campaign. “I knew everyone who lived on my street,”August recalled, “and a pair of brothers helped me organize it. Everybody came together anddecorated on their own. They each got similar-sized lighted posts that cost $20 each and becamethe candy canes that were anchored at 60-degree angles by rods. There were spotlights.”In addition to Candy Cane Lane and the School Street displays, August mentioned the themesfrom other nearby Schorsch Village neighborhoods that later joined in with their own Christmaslight projects. August explained, “There were Reindeer Lane and Poinsettia Lane; there weresheep figures in the yards and helicopters on the lawns. There was a ‘Merry Christmas’ theme onone side of the street and a ‘Happy New Year’ on the other side.”August also made a spectacular roof display that included a star with a rotating light on aChristmas tree. In all, there were 75 lights on the star. August described the celestial production:“It was a 100-light Christmas tree anchored on a crescent moon. There were 30 lights inside thearea that represented the moon,” he said.The Nottingham Avenue lights began going up two to three weeks before Christmas, and thelighted candy canes usually followed a week before Christmas. August sometimes kept his lightson until 4 a.m. each day, but many homeowners turned out their lights at 2 a.m. “It wasn’t a lock-step thing, and the neighbors individually took down their lights after Christmas when theywanted,” August said.As the years went on, people began to cut down because of the cost to run the electricity. ButAugust observed: “Electricity actually costs more nowadays. During the Candy Cane Lane days,my bill was about $30 extra in December for the lighting. I did not budget for Christmas lighting;in fact Lena and I never had a budget, period. I had money coming in all the time, but we werecareful spenders. The neighborhood had good people who had good jobs. Everyone worked at agood trade.”Candy Cane Lane ended after 1973. “A year earlier, Consolidated Edison told us to cut down onthe electricity because it felt there were too many decorations, and that caused problems. Theremay have been too many spotlights,” August said. “The overhead transformers sometimes wereoverloaded, overheated and blew up. At the start, in 1955, no one ever said if they struggled withwhat we did. Everybody said, ‘Keep it up,’ but as time went on, some of the older neighborsdidn’t want to continue. The candy canes broke and had to be fixed or replaced. So theneighborhood wasn’t decorating like it used to, even before Con-Ed said much. Some neighborsalso just got tired of it.”Asked about drawbacks other than increased electricity use, August said, “Really, there werevery few. There was no crime, no vandalism or much theft, generally speaking. Someoneunscrewed 30 lights off my 75-light star. To me, it was nothing – if they needed them more thanI did, that’s OK. The lights were 15 cents each. Weather was never a factor, and snowfall didn’tprevent us from putting them up. Some decorations stayed up for a whole month, coming downmaybe two weeks after Christmas.August was asked if he missed it. “I wish I was younger. I would do it again,” he said with achuckle.All Home Instead Senior Care CAREGivers are screened, trained, bonded and insured. For inquiries aboutemployment, please call (847) 690-9825 or apply online at https://www.homeinstead.com/205/home-care-jobs. For furtherinformation about Home Instead Senior Care, visit our website at https://www.homeinstead.com/205 .To learn how Home Instead Senior Care’s CAREGivers impacted clientsAugust and Lena Guarino with their compassionate assistance, please click onto theselinks: https://www.homeinstead.com/205/about-us/featured-stories/august-lena-love-story.
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