Enjoy Halloween the Mid-Century Way

Mid century modern Halloween
Mid-century modernism and our modern take on Halloween developed during the same period. Above, artist El Gato Gomez combines sleek architecture with creepy yet jocular imagery in one of many artworks she has created to spooky themes. Courtesy of El Gato Gomez

It wasn’t till the late 1940s, early 1950s, when Joe Eichler was building his neighborhoods, that Halloween became the easygoing hand-out-candy-to-cute-kids holiday we love today. In earlier days it was often more trick (vandalism) than treat. The holiday remains wildly popular in modern neighborhoods built at the time, as revealed in ‘Houseful of Halloween,’ in the new fall 2022 issue of CA-Modern magazine.

That story's author, Adriene Biondo, provides a lively portrait of Halloween as it was celebrated in Eichler neighborhoods back on the day, revealing how the popularity of Universal Pictures monster movies from the 1930s and ‘40s, and the ‘Munsters’ and other monster-filled TV shows of the 1960s, added to the spooky atmosphere.

We also meet Christine Bahr, who lives in the Eichler tract of Fairwood in Redwood City, who says the Halloween tradition there is strong.

Candy chute
Charles Christy and Julie DeNeve focused on Cruella and the 101 Dalmatians, a Disney franchise, for their 2021 theme above. This chute delivered treats to the trick-or-treaters. Courtesy of Charles Christy and Julie DeNeve

“I love the spookiness of it, the veiled moon, witches, spells, potions, people dressing up,” she says of one recent Halloween celebration. “One neighbor came dressed in one of those big dinosaur suits, as a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and galloped through the dining room and kitchen. It was hysterical!”

Today, any number of mid-century modern neighborhoods play up the holiday in a family friendly way that attracts visitors from miles around. Biondo visits several such hosts, including Rick Polizzi in Sherman Oaks and Denise Albertini in San Rafael.

Another such couple are Charles Christy and Julie DeNeve, who live in a mid-century modern Mackay home in Santa Clara. What began for them as simply handing out candy to local kids has grown over the past few years into a Halloween extravaganza that, they say, attracted 3,000 visitors last year.

  Skeleton Crew
Here is the Skeleton Crew area from the Christy-DeNeve exhibit lst year. If you attend this year’s, park a few blocks away to avoid traffic jams. Courtesy of Charles Christy and Julie DeNeve

Their 'Cruella Catwalk & 101 Dalmatians Halloween' won the Best of the Best 2021 prize from the city of Santa Clara. And this year, they say, their new display, based on Disney’s Incredibles movies – which are set in a mid-century modern neighborhood – will be even grander.

In fact, they have been spending all year on it, staying home due to Covid, and using funds that would otherwise have gone to the travelling they have deferred.

“The thing that is the biggest change this year is almost all the characters are going to be carved in foam by me,” says Julie, not bought off the shelf.

“Now, I have never in my life carved a thing. And I took the gamble this year that I could carve. And this is my first one. This is a little Jack Jack,” she says. “This is a superhero theme for the little kids. And right here is one of the most powerful superheroes of any superhero ever created.”

“There will be over 20 characters that I carved,” Julie adds. “I am feverishly working 16-hour days right now, carving and creating these things.”

Creators and Jack Jack
Charles and Julie pose with Jack Jack, which Julie carved by hand, as she is doing for about 20 other ‘Incredibles’ characters. It is a labor of love and a gift to the community. Courtesy of Charles Christy and Julie DeNeve

Charles emphasizes that their displays are family friendly – not designed to scare. The display will be up starting October 22 through Halloween, in front of their home on Atherton Drive at Kellogg Way, Santa Clara.

There will be action every night, with a large screen displaying “our special video.” Halloween night will of course be special, with hired actors performing in costume.

The hosts suggest watching 'The Incredibles' and 'Incredibles 2' before visiting, if you are not already familiar with them. On Disney+, they advise watching two shorts, 'Aunty Edna' and 'Jack Jack Attack.'

As they did last year, Charles and Julie will take photos of youngsters and families with the characters. Last year, Julie says, “We had a line 30 deep waiting for family photos.”

“We would let the families in one at a time -- in a specially set-up family photo area where they could sit in with all the Dalmatian puppies in the barn escape scene -- and have their photos taken,” Julie recalls.

El Gato hearse
Female vampires enjoy a ride in, what else, a hearse. Courtesy of El Gato Gomez

And of course Julie and Charles hand out candy. Last year the candy flew towards the kids through a long chute. “The kids are just super-excited about getting candy that way,” Julie says.

Throughout the early days of the pandemic, when people craved entertainment, Charles and Julie provided it to their neighbors with ever-changing displays of two friendly skeletons and their pet. That inspired them to become more involved with Halloween.

In 2020 they did a take on the Disney animated version of the 'Hunchback of Notre Dame.'

“So we had a Paris theme,” Julie says. “We had a ten-foot Eiffel Tower. We had the Louvre Museum with the Mona Lisa. And I drew a 16-foot-tall Notre Dame cathedral and made the skeletons into gargoyles.”

For more about mid-century modernism and Halloween, make sure to check out 'Houseful of Halloween' in the new fall '22 CA-Modern.

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