Read On: Maintaining the power of Christmas

In a world where cutting back on our energy consumption is a matter of honor — where reducing one’s ecological footprint has become a vital measure of humans’ responsibility to the planet and its dwindling resources — one couple defiantly bucks the green trend.

Longtime Burbank residents Dick and Pam Norton don’t just have an elaborate Christmas display on their front lawn at 513 N. Florence St. They have a veritable city of lights: About 20,000 of them, drawing about 90 amps of power to operate for three hours each night (6 to 9 p.m.) during most of December and setting them back $700 to $800 on their power bill.

PHOTOS: The Norton family's annual Christmas decoration extravaganza

It requires so much energy that the city of Burbank added a transformer on the Nortons’ block a few years back to serve the power needs of a street-wide voltage spectacular.

“No, we’ve never had anyone complain that we’re sucking so much power,” Dick Norton maintains. “We’ve added a lot more LED lighting this year. It takes significantly less power. But we have a lot to run here every night, and it isn’t cheap.”

The depth of that understatement is fully measured only by a visit to the house that the couple proudly calls Nortons Winter Wonderland. You can see it in all its glory at www.nortonswinterwonderland.com, which features a YouTube video of the setup as well as abundant photos and a pair of live streaming webcams (one positioned on the roof and another in a tree).

No matter where you view the famous display, it’s truly a feast to behold. The extraordinary layout features a blend of hi-tech digital lighting and old-school analog props, including a North Pole train with a steam engine, an 8-foot moving Ferris wheel, a twirling merry-go-round and a double-hammer.

That’s just the big stuff. There’s also a plane featuring Snoopy chasing down the Red Baron, a pop-out Santa-in-a-box, a huge variety of standing snowmen, lifelike reindeer, toy soldiers and neon, all blending with a tuneful digital Christmas soundtrack.

In front of the Nortons’ glowing home, night becomes day. And if you walk a few doors down, there’s a similar, though slightly more modest, display on the lawn in front of the home of Keith LaPrath, whose comparable taste for yuletide extravagance has generated a friendly competition between LaPrath and Dick Norton for better than 20 years.

About the Nortons and their setup: It’s been around in some form since 1970, when Dick Norton started down the road of magnificent overkill. He explained that he’s always had an aptitude for electronics and a love of animation. The Wonderland simply grew and grew until it now attracts thousands of visitors annually.

It’s all become computerized, too. The display basically runs itself, clicking on at 6 p.m. and signing off at 9 p.m. each night until, well, probably Dec. 27. Rainy nights are an exception.

As the unfailingly gracious Nortons sat with an unexpected visitor in their living room this week, a dozen or so spectators milled around out front, laughing and snapping pictures and generally bonding with a frosty fantasy in sunbaked Burbank.

“That’s why we do it, you know,” Dick Norton said “It’s for the young families who walk up and say, ’Our parents starting bringing us here 20 years ago, and now we’re bringing our kids.’ They say it’s their family tradition and they couldn’t miss it.”

The truth, however, is that pulling this thing together every year requires a tremendous amount of effort for a couple of retirement age. It takes five weeks to construct —beginning the day after Halloween — and days to take apart. That’s not to mention the hassle of lugging all of the pieces back and forth between several storage spots.

While their kids and grandkids help out a little, it’s basically just the two Nortons who have to erect and maintain it. Pam shared the duties two years ago even while riding around on a scooter following double hip-replacement surgery.

Have they ever considered, say, faking their own deaths or changing their identities so they might finally get a little rest?

“No, because we honestly can’t imagine not doing it,” Pam Norton admitted. Then she began to tear up while explaining how just that night, two families from Mexico who come to see the Wonderland every year had finally procured a visa and brought along their mothers to see it.

“It just tugs at your heart that you can bring this kind of happiness,” she concluded.

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RAY RICHMOND has covered Hollywood and the entertainment business since 1984. He can be reached via email at ray@rayrichco.com and Twitter at @MeGoodWriter

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