Lawrence couple’s Christmas light display grows in scope, popularity

Mary Ann and Gary Martin, who live at 1132 Parkside Circle, have an LED Christmas light display that lasts about 18 minutes and is accompanied by music on 96.9 FM.

Other animated displays in Lawrence

The Howe family’s display at 2920 Pebble Lane broadcasts its musical accompaniment on 98.5FM. The show has a “Deck the Halls” theme and a lot of white lights and “snowflakes” falling. There are also several other elaborately decorated houses on the same block.

The Fisher family’s lights at 909 Stonecreek Drive have accompanying music on 96.7FM. At this show, rock out to “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” and Coldplay, as well as traditional Christmas tunes. And that’s not a real Santa dancing in an upstairs window, though you’d be forgiven for thinking it was (he’s animated). The family also encourages motorists to donate $10 to Lawrence food pantry Just Food by texting “justfood” to 80888.

Gary Martin doesn’t keep track of how many hours he spends planning and setting up his animated Christmas light display in Lawrence. He just knows it’s a lot.

But he hopes people appreciate the effort when they pull up to the front of his home, tune the radio to 96.9 FM and bask in the Christmas cheer.

Since 2008, Martin and his wife, Mary Ann, have been illuminating their west Lawrence neighborhood with an animated light display that is now visited by thousands of vehicles a year. Theirs is among a handful of animated displays in the area.

From Thanksgiving to the first week of January, every night from 5:15-10 p.m. (11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday), people can park in front of the Martins’ home at 1132 Parkside Circle, tune in to the radio and watch the show, which typically lasts 18 minutes. It is a spectacular, colorful, hard-rocking show, though it can be crowded and hard to find a parking spot up close.

The Martins have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars over the years on their display, which is almost completely built by hand. The couple say it’s now much more polished than when they started. They’ve added new songs and items to the show. They now control the entire setup with a computer. And they’ve replaced the 110-volt, incandescent bulbs they were using with low-voltage, digitally controlled LED bulbs. “l now use less power than most people who have the old lights on their bushes,” Martin said.

The Martins don’t even try to promote their lights anymore because word of mouth has already spread to the point where, in some years, traffic has spanned for blocks. Sometimes, tour buses and stretch limos show up, exacerbating the congestion. Still, they say neighbors aren’t disturbed by it. In fact, Martin said, more and more have been setting up their own displays. The couple put up traffic cones as well as signs instructing drivers to turn off their headlights and not to park in front of driveways.

Martin said he’s long been an avid Christmas decorator, since his days growing up in Atchison, where he said it seemed like everybody did it. He became interested in developing his own animated display after a video of an Ohio display synced with a Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas song went viral in 2005. He also had the technical expertise: By day, he’s a systems engineer with Lawrence Paper Co.

The Martins are cordial with the other owners of animated displays in Lawrence. Gary even loaned one of them equipment the other day. After all, they aren’t really competing for much more than eyes.

“I love seeing that kind of spirit and display of the celebration of holidays,” Gary said. “People are really getting back into decorating — it’s been steadily improving for the past few years.”