'Santa house' shines with holiday cheer

Posted: Friday, December 25, 2009

The North Pole isn't at Jeff and Terri Campbell's house on West 11th Street, but perhaps it should be. With an unimaginable amount of Christmas-lighted cheer adorning the residence, even Ol' Saint Nick could mistake it as his own. The home is fondly known by locals as "The Santa House."

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"AEL&P should send me a Christmas card," Jeff Campbell laughed. "We try to increase our electric bill every year. That is our goal."

With more than 9,000 lights, about 20 Santa decorations and more than 70 others that require 100 amps and seven dedicated circuits, his electric bill triples during the holidays.

At the downtown home, soldiers march in the yard, reindeers prance, Christmas music plays and, of course, Santa jollies.

Campbell, who works for the state surplus warehouse, began collecting the decorations nearly 15 years ago. Garage sales and Salvation Army trips helped defray the cost. As his reputation grew, so did donations of old Christmas lights. Some were even the newer LED style, but Campbell sticks with older, cheaper stock. The more stuff he accumulated, the more he used to decorate.

"Tackiness was not a problem," Campbell said. "There was nothing that said I just had to start doing it, stuff just accumulated."

For the Campbell family, Christmas decorating starts right after Halloween decor is taken down. To remember where each piece goes, each is labeled and stored in the attic or garage. The garage had to be reinforced last year, as it was succumbing to the weight of its treasures. This year's inclement weather postponed the set up until Thanksgiving.

Campbell's sons Nick, now in college, and Alex, in high school, and wife, Terri, enjoy the display, too.

"I think it's great for him and a joy for our community," Terri Campbell said. "It keeps the holiday light and bright."

The only thing he tries to do differently each year, besides additional lighting and such, is to put a character on a wall that depicts that year's hot movie. For this season it is the animated film "Bolt." He also has done "The Grinch," the M&M peanuts, Chicken Little and last year was "Wall-E." Kids come around all year, and Campbell asks them for suggestions.

During the holidays, kids guess how many Santas are up, but Campbell won't say how many until Christmas is over. Last season, a large group of revelers rented a bus to stop and enjoy the scene during a dinner cruise, he said. They had pizza and drinks on board and brought slices to the Campbell family. The decorations will stay up until "Little Christmas," the Russian Orthodox Christmas through mid-January.

"I enjoy doing it," Campbell said. "It takes a while getting them up but I like it."

The spirit is catching on with his neighbors as well. For Halloween, Campbell strings up a ghost that flies from his house to neighbor Chris Mead's. Within eye-sight, neighbors Liam Higgens and Fred Weiler also have ghostly haunts and are starting to get into the Christmas decor as well.

Higgen's home features a Santa from the chimney and Fred Weiler's home has an array of lighted columns.

But it's Campbell's residence that has drawn comparisons to the Griswold home from the Chevy Chase holiday comedy "Christmas Vacation."

"I aspire to be like the Griswolds," Campbell said with a grin. "Hopefully we'll have a nice competition going. We always want more lights. You have to have fun doing it, too.

"Next year I am going to wear a Santa suit and pass out candy canes."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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