Originally created 11/29/06

Home for the holidays



CLEVELAND - Ralphie Parker and Brian Jones know what it's like to want something.

For Ralphie, the object of desire was an official Red Ryder, carbine-action, 200-shot, range model air rifle. (Go ahead, say it, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid.")

For Mr. Jones, the gotta-have-it item was Ralphie's house - the one in A Christmas Story, the quirky film that's found a niche alongside holiday classics such as It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street.

Mr. Jones has restored the three-story, wood-frame house to its appearance in the movie and will open it for tours beginning Saturday. His hope is that it will become a tourist stop alongside the city's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and other destinations.

He's unsure whether he'll make enough money to cover his $500,000 investment, but as sure as a kid's tongue will stick to a frozen flagpole, he's committed to the project.

"I just want people to come and enjoy it as I have," said Mr. Jones, a 30-year-old former Navy lieutenant.

A Christmas Story wasn't a big hit when released in 1983, but repeat TV airings and, in recent years, a 24-hour run on TBS starting Christmas Eve have made its story of a boy's quest to get a BB gun for Christmas as infectious as the bespectacled Ralphie's eager grin.

"It just kind of sets the mood. In the Jones household, it's on all day once the marathon comes on," said Mr. Jones, who's married with an 8-month-old daughter.

Mr. Jones first saw the movie in the late 1980s and he and his parents became fans.

When the San Diego resident's dream of becoming a Navy pilot like his father was denied because of his eyesight, his parents sent him a package to lift his spirits.

Marked FRAGILE on the outside, it contained a leg lamp his parents built to look just like the one received by Ralphie's father, who proudly displayed it in the living room window, boasting, "It's a major award!"

Mr. Jones' mom said that he could probably make a business out of selling them. In 2003, he started doing just that.

"I tooled together 500 lamps in my 1,000-square-foot condo in San Diego and sold them all in the first year," Mr. Jones said.

And he's still making and selling them - $129.99 for the 45-inch model, $159.99 for the 53-inch "deluxe full-size" leg lamp.

When the house from the film was put up for sale on eBay in December 2004, it seemed like destiny to Mr. Jones.

"I said, 'Ooh, I gotta have that.'"

The auction price got up to $115,000. Mr. Jones, who shares Ralphie's unflinching enthusiasm, less than 20/20 eyesight and ability to speak at a breakneck pace, said he'd pay $150,000 if the owner stopped the bidding.

"It was mine. I sent him a deposit and flew out two days after Christmas just to make sure it wasn't a falling-down shack," Mr. Jones said.

He put in new windows and replaced the 111-year-old house's gray aluminum siding with mustard-yellow painted wood and green trim that perfectly matches Ralphie's house.

Although only a couple of interior shots were filmed there, Mr. Jones has re-created the 1940s feel of Ralphie's home with a brown-and-white tile kitchen floor, a wide cast-iron sink in the kitchen, a claw-foot bathtub and, of course, a leg lamp in the window.

He also bought the house across the street - Ralphie runs past it in the film's opening scene - to serve as a museum and gift shop. Several original items from the film are on display, including the infamous snowsuit ("I can't put my arms down!") worn by Ralphie's brother, Randy.

The house is in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood, just a few minutes from downtown, where the exterior department store shots were filmed at the former Higbee's.

The cooperation of the department store is what brought the filmmakers to Cleveland for the film based on author Jean Shepherd's stories of his upbringing in Hammond, Ind.

The house is well known in the neighborhood and neighbors such as Marlene Childers have watched the house change owners and go through ups and downs over the years. She's excited about Mr. Jones' tribute - even if it means more traffic.

"I love that story," she said.

Mr. Jones knows the feeling. He says stepping onto Ralphie's old street makes him feel as though he's in the movie.

Standing in front of the house holding a replica Red Ryder rifle, Mr. Jones discusses his plans - which could include a nearby bed and breakfast - when, seemingly on a director's cue, a motorist passes, stops his car, rolls down the window and shouts, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"

MAKING OF A CLASSIC

Overview: Based on the book by Jean Shepherd, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, the movie has become a holiday classic. The movie tells the story of Raphie Parker, played by Peter Billingsley, and his quest to get a Red Ryder air rifle for Christmas. The story is set in the 1940s and filled with nostalgic fun.


Facts and Figures: The movie was directed by Bob Clark and featured Jean Shepherd as the film narrator. Released in theaters in 1983, the movie has grossed more than $19 million.


Watch it: A special 20th anniversary two-disc DVD edition was released in 2003 or catch it on TV when TBS runs its 24-hour marathon starting Christmas Eve.


Go visit:Brian Jones, who purchased the Christmas Story house has turned it into a museum of the film. Mr. Jones started a business that reproduces the leg lamp made famous in the movie. The lamps vary in size from 46 inches to 53 inches and come packaged in a freight crate-style box.


Or visit online: www.redriderleglamps.com: In addition to leg lamps, the site also features pictures from the movie and shots of the house. Other novelty items such as Lifebuoy soap and leg lamp night lights also are available.

HOUSE SPECS

Originally listed on eBay in 2004 with a starting bid of $99,000.


Square footage: 1,792


Purchase price: $150,000


Built: 1895


Bedroom: 4


Bathrooms: 2