December 05, 2021

Photo Essay: Hark! The Blow-Mold Choir Sings at Lilley Hall (Or, "The White Christmas House")

In 1954, Joseph J. Lilley saw the release of the classic holiday film, White Christmas, for which he served as musical director and vocal arranger. 

That same year, he bought a two-story Tudor Revival home built in 1927 in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Toluca Lake, just on the other side of the Hollywood Hills in the San Fernando Valley.

It's now called Lilley Hall—after the Oscar-nominated former music director for Paramount Studios who resided there for the last 17 years of his life, until his death in 1971.

But thanks to its current owners, former CBS executive Glenn Geller and his husband Jim Maresca, Lilley Hall gets a lot of attention as the "Blow Mold House"—because of its impressive array of, well, decorations called "blow molds" that are arranged under a number of mature cedar trees.

In October, they decorate their lawn and front entrance with a plastic pumpkin patch and a few blow-mold ghosts and other spooky ghouls. But by Thanksgiving night, it's been transformed into a musical Winter Wonderland, with a light-and-sound show that runs nightly from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Blow molds have been used to decorate lawns across America for 80 years, starting at least in the 1940s, perhaps earlier—from pink flamingos (which debuted in 1957) to pumpkins and of course Santas and snowmen. 

Lilley Hall's decorations also include carolers (some designs of which date back to the 1960s)...

...and plastic wooden toy soldiers with fast food mascot faces.

These molded plastic forms—which are "blown" into shape, in a technique akin to glass-blowing—have became even more collectible after the biggest manufacturer of new ones, General Foam Plastics Corp., shut down its Norfolk Virginia factory and warehouse in 2018. Another manufacturer, Union Products, had its final season in 2006.

As demand remains relatively high (at least for their cult status), you can still buy new versions of some "light-ups" at Walmart, Home Depot, local hardware stores, Amazon, and more. 

But collectors and fanatics tend to prefer the older ones. Some older and rarer blow molds go for hundreds of dollars on auction sites like eBay and via online retailers like Etsy.
At Lilley Hall, the sheer scale of it is impressive...

...but for me, what packed the biggest punch was the Christmas choir, ostensibly singing Christmas hymns from their songbooks.  
I didn't hear "White Christmas" during my visit this year—but the Christmas spirit was definitely in the air.

According to a Lilley Hall Instagram post, the blow-mold candle that are lined up in front of the choir adorned the entrance to Kentucky Fried Chicken's headquarters for a Christmas party in 1970—and were held in storage ever since. 
With all of these singers to store, it's no wonder that the owners ran out of room in their garage and attic. 
This year, the owners/decorators of Lilley Hall had to build a house addition for extra storage.

And they're adding to their collection all the time. 

While their focus is on antiques...
...and rarities... time even unknowingly engaging in a bidding war with each other on eBay... 
...they also sometimes acquire new blow molds as well. 

Now, "White Christmas" won for Best Song at the Academy Awards in 1943 (for its appearance in the film Holiday Inn, which Lilley also music directed) and is the best-selling single of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. 

And Irving Berlin deservedly gets accolades for it. I mean, it is his composition, after all.  

But it seems like Lilley deserves at least some of the credit—not only for the success of the original, award-winning duet version, but also the better-known Bing Crosby re-record from the movie White Christmas, for which he assembled and conducted the orchestra and chorus. 

Then again, Lilley Hall isn't officially named "The White Christmas House"—and that's because Lilley had plenty of other musical successes, too, including an Oscar nomination for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture for Li'l Abner in 1960. 
He also cowrote the #1 Billboard hit song "(I've Got Spurs That) Jingle Jangle" by Kay Kyser, also famously sung by Gene Autry. (Its title makes it sound like a Christmas song, but it isn't.)

Though most of Lilley Hall's visitors don't know about Joseph J. Lilley or his musical accomplishments, the holiday attraction at the home has become so popular, it now extends through New Year's Day.  

You can find Lilley Hall—decorated or not—at Moorpark and Mariota in Toluca Lake, Los Angeles and on Instagram at @lilley_hall_toluca_lake. 

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