On this date in 1966, the Long Beach Independent ran a multi-page spread on that year’s Forty Miles of Christmas Smiles, including one photo of Seal Beach’s entry for the competition.
Forty Miles of Christmas Smiles was an Orange County tradition that lasted from 1932 to 1975. Businesses, residences, chambers of commerce, and entire communities along the coast “from Seal Beach to San Clemente” would participate in friendly competition by presenting elaborate holiday decorations and Christmas lights. Each year the Christmas decor was judged and prizes, gifts, and trophies were awarded, but the real aim was publicize all the cities along the coast with flamboyant displays of holiday spirit. For over forty years, touring the Orange County coast to view all the holiday decorations was a vital Christmas tradition for many Southern California families.
In 1966, Seal Beach won an award from the Orange County Coast Association, Inc. for the old-fashioned Christmas Village installation on the corner of Main Street and Electric Avenue. The installation was designed and constructed by Vern Leckman and Harold Chestnut (no jokes about roasting on an open fire, please!) on a vacant lot that is now occupied by the businesses at 224 to 250 Main Street.
It must have taken a few days to construct the entire village facade that faced Main Street like the real shops that line the street all year, but in my child’s memory, one day there was a vacant lot, and the next day this Victorian-style village mysteriously appeared. There were no shops or buildings to enter, it was like a Hollywood exterior set in that only the fronts of the village buildings built and wooden beams braced the front facades from behind.
The Christmas Village was intriguing and had a magnetic draw on my imagination that culminated in an evening performance of Christmas carolers dressed in Victorian garb. There must have been performances every night that the Christmas Village was up, but I only witnessed that one night. To this day, anticipation, mystery, ritual, and festive theatricality is the best part of Christmas to me, and I learned to treasure those qualities that holiday season.
On January 16, 1967, the Seal Beach city council passed Resolution #1508 to recognize Vern Leckman and Harry Chestnut for their efforts as shown below.
– Michael Dobkins