The annual chore of outdoor Christmas decorating, joyous and optimistic as it might be, has been subjected to fads over the years with people tired of the usual strands of old-fashioned bulbs lining the eaves.
Some innovations have been relatively short-lived, such as the ultra-patriotic post 9/11 themes that all but featured the Christ child wrapped in a swaddling flag, or the longer-lasting trick of twisting strands of miniature white lights into ersatz icicles, once ubiquitous but which now has largely fallen out of favor.
But this increasingly popular holiday lighting tradition of putting up sidewalk-spanning illuminated arches which, if enough consecutive houses install them give the effect of a tunnel of holiday cheer, seems to have the legs to become a standard Christmas decoration for years to come.
The arches first began springing up a dozen years ago in Long Beach’s Plaza neighborhood just north of Willow Street between Palo Verde Avenue and Studebaker Road.
And Ground Zero for the arches may well be the home of Tom and Susie Donahue on Parapet Street.
Tom is a plumbing contractor who doesn’t really take credit for inventing the holiday arches—arches are nearly as old as architecture—but he certainly sparked the tradition by putting a group of them along the sidewalk in front of his home.
“I’m not gonna say I invented it, but I got it started in the neighborhood 13 or 14 years ago,” he said.
Last year, as the neighborhood, along with the rest of the country, was emerging from the COVID lockdown, the arches exploded in popularity, as some of Donahue’s neighbors, including those on nearby blocks, erected the arches in huge numbers, drawing crowds of visitors driving into the area to gawk at long stretches of homes illuminated by white or multicolored lights.
Being a plumber, Donahue has no shortage of PVC pipes, which are the key component in the construction of the arches. The pipes are anchored on each side of the sidewalk using rebar posts and are gently bent and coupled together at their peak, with strands of lights wrapped around them.
Four or five individual arches per house lot is normal and the effect with just one house is somewhat charming, but it grows more spectacular as multiple houses join in.
“People on our block are friends with a lot of people on another block nearby and the decorations started turning into sort of a competition,” said Donahue.
Now the streets of the Plaza, particularly in Donahue’s neighborhood, are full of the illuminated walkways—from Hackett to Studebaker between Wardlow Road and Monlaco Avenue are the best places to see the arches, but they have leapt from neighborhood to neighborhood like wildfire over the past two seasons.
Now, there are numerous people on NextDoor offering to install them for a price, and home improvement stores such as Home Depot carry them, but they tend to be pricey. If you have the wherewithal to build your own, you’re better off. There are many instructional videos on YouTube.
“It’s good to see so many of the arches out there now,” said Donahue. They’re popping up elsewhere throughout the city and beyond to the South Bay and even farther afield:
“I’ve heard from many people who have left our area for other states, like Idaho and North Carolina,” said Donahue. “And they’re bringing the arches wherever they go.”