A Christmas Story House: Cleveland, Ohio
This post comes late, as I made this trip the third weekend in July. I didn’t have to tell you that, but now it’s out here on the internet. No regrets.
What can I say? I only started watching A Christmas Story once it got regular play on TNT during the holidays. It cracked me up, because by the time I saw it, the movie already looked really dated and the premise was absolutely ridiculous. It wasn’t the smartest movie I’ve ever seen, but it is quirky, sarcastic, and just the right kind of cheesy. I tell you this because I wasn’t all that sure if I needed to visit the Christmas Story House. A number of friends gently suggested I would lose valuable body parts should I return to New Jersey without visiting the house.
So I went to the house.
The Christmas Story house is indeed the house used in the exterior shots of the movie. It was purchased in 2004 by Brian Jones, a man whose only tie to the film is his undying love of The Christmas Story. Once inside, you realize that the interiors were by and large filmed on a soundstage; the interior has been recreated meticulously by Jones to match the film. The downside to this is the disappointment that nothing is real. The upside is that you can actually sit in the old man’s chair in the living room. Honestly, hoping for reality on a recreated movie set is probably a bit silly anyway.
The guided tour is really a 30 minute lecture given by one of the docents, after which visitors are turned loose in the house for fifteen minutes. The docent regales the captive audience with the entire story of how Cleveland was chosen as the location for the movie, how the house was selected, and its purchase and renovation in the past few years. I won’t go so far as to say the talk was boring, but I will say that the two young adults sitting next to me on the couch fell asleep, twice.
It was informative, and all the stories were good and told with an enthusiasm I’m sure I couldn’t match, but we sat and sat and sat. That’s boring my friends. One possible solution would be to have a limited number of timed tickets, have one docent upstairs and one downstairs. Start the first part of the tour outside on the covered porch and have the second part inside while moving through the house. I think the “sit here while I talk at you” model probably works really well at Christmas when they are undoubtedly inundated with visitors. It does not work at any other time.
Once visitors are allowed to roam through the house, it becomes clear very quickly that there isn’t much to see. Don’t get me wrong, it is really cool to see Ralphie’s and Randy’s bedroom—each bed draped with a pink bunny costume, the bar of soap on the bathroom sink, the old timey washing machine in the kitchen, or even the push-button light switches. I grew up with those! It is SMALL. That’s all I mean.
When you go, and you really should, park on the street. Do not shell out $15 to park in the neighbor’s yard, there is street parking aplenty in Cleveland. Do visit the museum across the road. They have some great behind the scene snapshots from the filming, the original costumes worn by the waiters at the Chinese restaurant, and a number of promotional movie posters from around the world.
There is one danger spot in the museum, in the toy room. There, stationed by a television screen playing a Christmas Story documentary is Jim Moralevitz who delivered the major award to the old man. He is a perfectly nice man; he was warm and open to questions. He was also very chatty. Sometimes I just want to walk through unmolested. He is a dedicated volunteer however, and soldiered on in his spiel despite an expression on my face that bordered on rude. Might have even tiptoed into rude once or twice, even.
It is worth the admission price—$10/adults, $6/kiddos 7-12, $8/Seniors—so long as you don’t fork over the fifteen clams for parking. It would likely be more exciting as one gets closer to Christmas than it is in the dead of one of the hottest Julys on record. Take that into account.
If you’re going to take kids, make sure they’ve seen the flick, otherwise, it is just another house full of stuff they aren’t supposed to touch. The docent isn’t necessarily going to help make it exciting, so you may have to step up.
The Christmas Story House is open Thursday-Saturday: 10am-5pm and Saturday: 12pm-5pm (Closed major holidays). According to the website tours run every half hour, but I’m almost positive they were running every hour when I was there.
The website is craziness, but jammed full of pictures, clips, blogs and news. If you are a Christmas Story freak you’ve probably already gone there, but if you haven’t do so now.
Bac is billed as the official Chinese restaurant for the Christmas Story House and is open for business just down the street. Finding the Chinese food (and honestly most of the Asian food) in Cleveland a bit disappointing, I skipped it. Go to Melt instead. Besides, Bac isn’t even the Chop Suey Palace. The original Chop Suey Palace and the William G. Harding School scenes were filmed on location in Toronto. Higbee’s was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 as part of the Union Terminal Group, and has since become the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland.
Go. Sit in the old man’s chair. Buy a major award in the museum shop.
Just don’t pay for the parking.