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Shooting Puts Holiday Display in Jeopardy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With 1999 drawing to a close, one of the most popular traditions in a San Fernando Valley neighborhood called Candy Cane Lane might also be at an end.

Every holiday season for the last 21 years, a house nicknamed “Toyland” has been delighting the young and old, drawing families from all over--even across the world--to the area famous for its elaborate holiday light displays.

But the house at Lubao Avenue and Calvert Street in Woodland Hills has been put up for sale by its owner, Hollywood stuntman Gary Davis, who plans to move to a small town in Northern California.

Davis has offered all his decorations for free to whoever buys the 4,000-square-foot home at its $769,000 asking price, but there haven’t been any takers so far.

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If the massive collection is inherited, the new owners will be working through the holidays. Davis diligently cares for the displays each night, walking his yard every 15 minutes, checking the lights for fire dangers, making sure all the moving displays are working.

Earlier this week, out of sadness for the brazen Christmas night shooting of a man who was visiting the display, Davis took the rare step of temporarily turning off the lights.

Francisco Javier Hernandez, 24, remained in critical condition Thursday at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. He had brought his wife and 2-year-old son to Toyland and was shot during an argument with another man. No one has been arrested yet.

While the fate of Davis’ colorful, handcrafted cartoon character displays remains uncertain, longtime fans of Toyland are bracing for the worst.

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On a recent evening, Deborah Nayar of West Hills stood in front of Toyland, sweeping a hand-held video camera over the scene.

“I can never get enough of this place,” said the 21-year-old woman, who had heard the decorations might not be around next year. She has made seven or eight visits to the house in the last few weeks.

“I’ve been coming here for years,” she said. “To have this house not have Christmas lights will tear my heart out.” She finally decided to record it, she said, to keep the images with her forever.

If the buyer does not want the decorations, Davis might sell the collection. Many people have inquired about it over the years, he said, and he could sell it as a set or in pieces to different families.

The idea that Toyland could be liquidated has people shaking their heads.

“It would be a tragedy if we lose this,” said Ignacio Castell, of Mission Hills, who carried his 2-year-old son, Jonathan, on his shoulders. The faces of father and son glowed from Toyland’s blazing lights. “It should be here for many years to come, if I had my way,” Castell said.

For Davis, 48, the time has come for a break, not only from big-city life, but from Toyland. He began the tradition after his family moved there 21 years ago. He started modestly, with a Santa on a motorcycle. His daughter, now in her 20s, delighted in the lavish decorating. But, he added, “it was more for me than anything.”

Over the years, Davis crafted more displays, carving and painting most pieces by hand. Now, his yard and rooftop resemble a wax museum of cartoon celebrities through the 20th century, from Snow White to the Flintstones, from Cruella DeVil surrounded by Dalmatians to Pikachu of Pokemon fame.

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Davis has spent countless hours erecting and dismantling his decorations. Most of the year, he keeps them in a 10-by-15-foot storage space in Canoga Park at an annual cost of about $2,000.

Over the years, Toyland visitors from as far away as Denmark have left thank-you notes for Davis. Recently, a Las Vegas family sent him a bottle of red wine.

“It’s a real gift he’s given to the community,” said Virginia Stallings, a retired auditor from Encino, as her granddaughter, 6-year-old Elizabeth, pranced about giggling.

When asked if he would miss Los Angeles or Toyland, Davis said: “I don’t think so.”

He yearns for the peacefulness of Loomis, a town near Sacramento, where he grew up. “The movies I make are all over the world. It doesn’t matter what airport I leave from,” Davis said. “It would be nice to relax one of these Christmases.”


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