City of Lights : A Sampling of the Area's Best- Dressed Neighborhoods and Spectacular Holiday Displays : City Smart / How to thrive in the urban environment of Southern California

Times Staff Writer

Here is a sampling of Los Angeles' best-dressed neighborhoods and spectacular light displays:

AGOURA HILLS

* 5831 Grey Rock Road

The Kaplans' theatrical 16th Christmas wonderland explodes with 225,000 lights, three video screens showing how the spectacular display was erected, a 300-watt stereo system, a laser show and animated characters. The Tudor mansion is a collection center for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots and Muscular Dystrophy Assn. campaigns. Lights go out Dec. 31.

WOODLAND HILLS

* Oakdale Avenue

Candy Cane Lane, a four-block neighborhood of ranch-style homes, is tucked away like a magical world, lighting up the community as it has for almost half a century. Its dazzling salutes using yuletide ornaments can be found within the boundaries of Oxnard Street, Corbin and Winnetka avenues and the Ventura Freeway.

BURBANK

* 513 N. Florence St.

Every year for almost a quarter-century, Dick Norton--a frequent winner in Burbank's annual holiday outdoor decorating contest--takes three weeks to assemble his array of snowmen, trains, Ferris wheel with dolls, teddy bears on flying swings and merry-go-round. But his neighbors haven't given up on trying to outdo him. Other winners are at 325 N. San Fernando Blvd., 529 and 1119 N. Florence St., 730 Clybourn Ave., 2009 W. Chandler Blvd., 721 E. Grinnell Drive, 1421 N. Naomi St., 454 S. Lamer St., 914 E. Magnolia Blvd., 2001 Richard St., 3500 Viewcrest Drive, 2901 Mystic View Place and 2931 Olney Place.

EAGLE ROCK

* 4364 York Blvd.

For 36 years, the Meltons, now in their 70s, have kept the holiday magic alive in their front yard with thousands of lights, Santa riding an old-fashioned bike with a big front wheel, a 10-foot angel and a nativity scene. Mr. Melton plays Santa on Friday and Saturday from 7 to 8 p.m. Several viewers have offered to pay the electric bill so the Meltons won't have to turn the lights off at 10 p.m., but the Meltons declined.

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE

* 4951 Indianola Way

Every Christmas for the past five years, 14-year-old Robert Illian has plugged in thousands of lights, a 15-foot Ferris wheel, a gondola that transports stuffed animals to the roof and back, a hot-air balloon and a sleigh that teeters on the edge of the roof. Meanwhile, his parents stand by, watching their electric meter spin. Robert constructed everything himself, including the fake snow couple, the cutout ice skaters, the gondola and the seesaw.

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* 1418 Descanso Drive

It's a magical Christmas at the Descanso Gardens Festival of Lights. Thousands of lights adorn the five-acre display. Costumed actors will perform Christmas tales Thursday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Educational Pavilion. The light show will continue from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. through Dec. 30, except Sundays and evenings with wind or rain. Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for children 12 and under or free if they bring a flashlight to be part of the show.

ALTADENA

* 1960 Mendocino Lane

Like a community castle, the 1922 Mediterranean-style mansion owned by ice cream magnate George Balian sits majestically aglow with thousands of lights at the fork of Mendocino Lane and Glenview Terrace during the holidays. Lights stay on through Jan. 1.

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* Christmas Tree Lane

Thousands of visitors' cars--with their headlights off--drive through what looks like an electrically enchanted forest of 111-year-old cedars, towering 100 feet high along a one-mile stretch of Santa Rosa Avenue between Woodbury Road and Altadena Drive.

PASADENA

* Upper Hastings Ranch

For 39 years, residents have put together showy displays to adorn their houses and yards, competing for prizes awarded by the neighborhood association. More than 1,100 homes in a 44-block area north of Sierra Madre Boulevard and west of Michillinda Avenue participate.

LA MIRADA

* 14371 Ramo Drive

Over the years, Tom and Chris Wilkinson's front yard has become a mecca for ornament lovers looking to be dazzled with dozens of decorated Christmas trees, two train sets, life-sized fabricated reindeer, sheets of ersatz snow, a miniature ski slope, a nativity scene and nearly 15,000 lights dangling from almost everything in sight. Onlookers are urged to donate to the Wilkinson's favorite charity, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Last year they raised nearly $8,000.

CERRITOS

* Castle Place and Kings Row Avenue

The Patterson and Kamppila homes are among the 30 households on this cul-de-sac caught up in a decorating frenzy. Between them, the two houses have a life-sized Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtle in a rooftop sleigh, nativity scenes, lights, reindeer and angels. Even the trees that line the street are wrapped with aluminum foil and spirals of plastic ribbon.

NAPLES

* Bay Shore Walk

In Long Beach, waterfront homes are elaborately decorated on one side and Christmas trees formed by strands of lights shimmer from water-borne platforms on the other side.

LONG BEACH

* Daisy Avenue

Christmas Tree Lane, a four-block stretch between 20th Street and Pacific Coast Highway in the Wrigley district, boasts artistic scenes, including hand-painted wooden cutouts of skaters on a plywood pond. The displays, primarily scaled-down Christmas cottages, have been erected between stately cedar trees wreathed in Christmas lights that stay on between 5 and 10 p.m., through Jan. 2.

TORRANCE

* Doris Way, Robert and Reese roads, Carol and Linda drives and Sharynne Lane

More than 200 homes in the Seaside Ranchos neighborhood sport unusually large displays of lights and decorations. This Sleepy Hollow area comes alive as neighbor vies with neighbor to display the most elaborate decorations. Flocks of children and carolers stop by the houses in the area bounded by Pacific Coast Highway, Calle Mayor, Anza Avenue and Sepulveda and Palos Verdes boulevards. PCH is closed from 6 to 10 p.m. nightly through Christmas to accommodate spectators. Enter Linda Drive by car from Palos Verdes Boulevard or enter Calle Mayor from Carlow and Vanderhill roads.

HAWTHORNE

* 4117 W. 138th St.

Gary and Dottie Williams are the talk of the town with the 11-foot Ferris wheel on their front lawn. A three-foot Santa turns the light-covered wheel, whose passengers are stuffed animals. Also positioned in the yard is a six-foot Santa and his workshop, a model train, lighted sleighs and reindeer, and 25,000 lights. A 22-foot Christmas tree stands atop a two-story garage.

INGLEWOOD

* 3rd, 4th, 5th and Hardy streets

Twenty arches of metal and plastic piping, decorated with red and silver garlands entwined with lights, span South 5th Avenue between Century Boulevard and Arbor Vitae Street. Most residents have sprayed their yards with fake snow and put up decorations, including nativity scenes and life-sized Santas and reindeer.

HANCOCK PARK

* 276 Windsor Blvd.

An invitingly chaotic display includes two full-sized sleighs filled with oversized gift boxes. Larger-than-life figurines of children, dogs, deer rabbits and other creatures decorate the northeast corner of Windsor and 3rd Street, as do Christmas trees and a small creche.

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* 301 Rimpau Blvd.

About seven blocks farther west along 3rd Street, sightseers come upon two giant nativity scenes, Christmas trees, deer, candy canes and figures of Santa, carolers and snowmen.

BEVERLY HILLS

* 9463 Sunset Blvd.

As they have for 13 years, the residents create a monument as they outline the contours of the mansion with single strands of lights. They plant poles in their yard and turn them into pyramids of lights to mimic a forest of glittering Christmas trees.

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