December 18th in Seal Beach History

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.

Personally, I can share that the installation was wondrous. I was only 4 years old at the time, but it was magical and remains one of my all-time favorite Christmas memories.

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

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2 Responses to December 18th in Seal Beach History

  1. Carla Watson says:

    1966 was Perry’s & Carla’s first married Christmas.
    We thought the little “village” was magical & were amazed at
    the time & effort it took to create such a special Christmas

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael Dobkins says:

      It’s easy to romanticize the past — especially our younger years. Viewing the past exclusively through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia is a trap and can distort our memories and history.

      However, the more I uncover about SB in the late 50s and early 60s, the more I’m convinced it was a special golden time. The Arts Center, Kiko’s, The Ivory Tower bookstore, the Rouge et Noir/Cosmos, the Peppermint Playhouse putting on plays, foreign and art films at The Bay — all that stuff makes me believe it was a unique creative time in the city’s history.

      I don’t want to diminish the efforts of today’s Seal Beachers — there’s some great things happening, but it does feel like we’ve lost something. I wish our status quo was more audacious and imaginative and less ego-driven and status-seeking.

      Take Care,

      Liked by 1 person

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