HORNER PARK — Christmas cheer has taken over an entire block near Horner Park on the city’s Northwest Side — and even helped bind a group of neighbors together.
The 4100 block of North Francisco Avenue near the Irving Park/Albany Park border has more than 80 Christmas-themed arches lining the sidewalks on both sides. The arches are brimming with lights, brightening the street at night and creating cheerful tunnels to pass under.
How it happened is a true story of neighbors working together.
And it started with the Heitz home.
“There is this one house on the block where they always go all out for Halloween and Christmas,” said Chris Kozak, who lives on the block.
Blake Heitz, a Lake View High School senior, is a big fan of elaborate holiday decorations, said his father, George Heitz.
This year, when Blake, 17, was setting up brightly-colored arches in front of his home, a retired firefighter across the street, Art Harris, suggested getting the entire neighborhood onboard so the whole block would be lit up for Christmas.
“They ended up putting flyers on the doors of neighbors on the block asking if we’d like to sponsor arches,” Kozak said.
“At first, we did just seven arches in front of our house and in front of our immediate neighbors, and it looked really nice,” George Heitz said.
Blake Heitz loves the technical aspect of planning decorations and his father enjoys buying the decorations and helping him set them up.
“Blake did all the lights on the arches out there because he didn’t ‘trust’ me with the lights,” George Heitz said, laughing.
About two-and-a-half weeks ago, while George Heitz and his son were busy assembling arches in front of their home, Harris asked if they could make a few for him. That’s when Harris had the idea of asking the entire block about setting up the arches.
“I thought that’s kind of crazy, but OK. He printed out flyers and asked if we’d make them at cost for people. I said ‘yeah,’” George Heitz said. “I didn’t think anyone was going to want these arches.”
The entire arch costs about $20 to assemble using rebar, PVC pipe and holiday lights. The arches they made with added plastic bell costs $25, George Heitz said.
Soon they were flooded with requests from the block to make the arches. So they formed a mini-assembly line to build them. So far, they’ve assembled more than 80 arches.
“We gave up a couple of weekends to build these arches,” George Heitz said. “And when we were building them we realized we were going to get the entire block covered with arches.”
They’ve mostly reached their goal on the west side of the street, said George Heitz, who teams up with neighbor Ignacio Martinez on the construction and the installation.
“It’s pretty crazy. But we actually had to turn people away. We were able to build four arches for people who wanted arches on the east side of the street,” George Heitz said. “But we ran out of holiday lights and when we went to buy more from the dollar store no one had them in stock anymore.”
Because of a light shortage in the neighborhood, their goal is to get the west side of the block completely lit up. Next year they’ll try to get both sides completely lit, he said.
“We went to four different Family Dollars and they were all out of lights,” he said.
The lights haven’t just brightened up the neighborhood during the dark December nights. It’s also allowed Heitz an opportunity to better connect with his neighbors while they work together to decorate the block.
“I thought I knew everybody on the block. But as we’re building these arches, I’m getting to meet people I didn’t know about,” George Heitz said. “I’ve heard stories. Like one lady down the street, she’s from Poland and was a little girl during World War II, and she’s telling me her story.”
In addition to sharing stories, neighbors were also coming out to bring George Heitz and the crew assembling the arches thermoses with hot toddies and warm soup while they worked.
“It’s been a great way to get to know all the neighbors,” Kozak said. “My wife wants to do something like Christmas trick or treating or something for it next year. It’s just been a great experience.”
George Heitz is also looking forward to hanging out with his neighbors and is said people on the block are interested in getting together for a block party or two once the weather gets warmer.
“There are people who live on the block from Greece, Pakistani, from Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Mexico. You name it, we have it. There’s such diversity on this block,” he said. “When we have a summer block party, it’s going to be amazing the kind of food we’re going to have.”
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