This Halloween was unusual in many ways, but one thing that remained unchanged was the creative spirit that annually transforms Toluca Lake’s peaceful streets into a colorful wonderland of monsters, ghouls and creepy-crawlies. If anything, extra time at home, cancellations of large gatherings and a yearning for good old-fashioned fun motivated residents to pull out all the stops this year, and the results were awe-inspiring.
Take Sarah and Stephen Whitney’s yard on Clybourne Avenue, which won best in show in the fourth annual Toluca Lake Halloween House-Decorating Contest sponsored by Tina Smith Homes. “This year especially, we wanted to do something bigger to bring the neighborhood some much-needed joy,” Sarah explains. The spectacular display of skeletal sailors (complete with ghostly shipwreck, tentacled sea monster, glimmering treasure chest, low-lying fog, lightning effects and a musical soundtrack) was inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland — an apt choice, since not only does Sarah work at the Walt Disney Company, but their house was once owned by Roy and Edna Disney. “When guests enter the Pirates ride, they are transported into a dark, immersive, magical pirate world, and they are able, if even for a moment, to forget reality,” she explains. “We wanted to provide our neighbors the same escape and experience this year!”
The Whitneys’ masterpiece was a long time in the making, Sarah says. “When we moved to this neighborhood in late 2018 and saw the décor of our neighbors, we knew we had a lot to live up to.” The couple spent the next few years buying and building props for their own display, with the goal of creating a fully involving experience down to the smallest detail. “We loved that the large mast of the shipwrecked boat lay perfectly askew and the sails would catch the wind at the perfect time,” Sarah notes. “And of course our animatronic skeleton who kept watch over the entry to our home.”
The thrilling effects won the Whitneys their first honors in the house-decorating contest, but the best part for them was the reactions from friends, neighbors and passers-by. When passing cars lined up to see the spectacle on many October evenings, “it was like the Twilight Zone,” Sarah exclaims. “We couldn’t believe people were enjoying what we had created so much! I think it all comes back to people wanting to feel connected and still have that sense of community.”
The graveyard in front of Matt Kamin and Phillip Leclair’s Toluca Lake Avenue residence took the award for spookiest décor for the second year running, with an uncanny array of spiders, high-wire skeletons, clowns, ghosts and other apparitions. There was a tie in the category of most creative: Repeat winners Todd and Irina Gallopo once again wowed with their ghoulish display of rock-‘n’-roll skeletons on Mariota Avenue, while on Whipple Street Mckenzie Allyn and her family staged a darkly hilarious Trader Joe’s shopping scene with masked skeletons and clever signs such as “Fearful Flyer” and “Stand 6 Limbs Apart.”
On the afternoon of Halloween, more than 100 bike riders (safely masked and distanced) toured the neighborhood to take in the award-winning displays and other decorated houses. Organized by the Toluca Lake Homeowners Association, the event also featured a costume contest and a scavenger hunt along Riverside Drive where participants searched for and took selfies with various items, including a skeleton, a pumpkin and, naturally, a swan.