Bloody hatchets and manikins chopped into bits decorated the windows at Ace Hardware store in Hillcrest this past Halloween. Some patrons liked the concept; others complained about the gore. The same feelings surfaced when-for a spring display two years ago-the windows were decorated with lawnmowers swooping through a 2-foot-high wheat field, chopping off the heads of innocent, plastic pink flamingos. Some patrons laughed at the sight; others thought it was horrendous-poor little pink flamingos, they wailed.
The Ace windows aren't always violent; they're mostly just creative, sometimes even political. It's a tradition owner Bruce Reeves started when he opened the store 10 years ago.
"I like to push the envelope with my windows," said Reeves, who, for the first eight years in business, did most of the envelope-pushing himself. One of his most memorable displays was during Gay Pride last year when he asked his customers to contribute pictures of their "alternative" families. One window was filled with pictures of gay women and their children; the other, gay men and their children. The preamble to the U.S. Constitution ("We the people...") was superimposed onto the front of the glass.
Reeves said the window was in response to President Bush's endorsement of a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to straight couples only.
"I wanted to show who our families really were," said Reeves.
And, of course, when Christmas rolls around and it's time to put politics aside, Reeves makes sure his windows are absolutely fabulous.
The Christmas windows this year aren't as fabulous as last year's upside down windows-there's a piece of a manikin's forearm in what's supposed to be the "all red window" this year that has flesh tones showing through-but the windows are still better than most others around town.
Reeves and his windows appear to be anomalies, at least in San Diego. SDers don't get to enjoy the holiday displays that people in other big cities do. Take New York, for example-for most New Yorkers, Christmas isn't complete until they take a trip down to Macy's at Herald Square to gawk at the holiday window displays. It's a tradition that's been in place for more than a century. This year, the windows at Macy's are spectacular-done up like giant pop-up books representing six New York City Christmas traditions, including the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and New Year's Eve at Times Square.
In Chicago, Marshall Field's on State Street sets the bar for window displays. Its 2005 holiday windows are decorated as scenes from the beautiful, old-fashioned Cinderella storybook.
"I'm so used to Chicago's windows and New York's windows," said Erin McDonald, the designer who took the reins from Reeves and decorated all the windows at Ace Hardware during the past year. "They really say something about the city. Unfortunately, [San Diego's] downtown area isn't as rich as it could be right now. They don't have that aspect of the windows that they used to."
McDonald's "used to" refers to Marston's Department store, which many San Diegans remember as having the best window displays in the city's history.
Marston's (1873-1969) moved to three different locations before it ended up on the corner of Fifth Avenue and C Street downtown. The place is remembered as being extravagant because the founder, George Marston, is said to have stressed aesthetics. A trip to the San Diego Historical Society's Archives, tucked away in a basement in Balboa Park, uncovered a photo dated August 1948 of a detailed Marston's display-two gussied up manikins riding a bicycle built for two. Another photo showed Marston's during the holidays. The entire inside of the store was decked out in Christmas gear. A Nov. 23, 1953, Union-Tribune article said Marston's used more than 10,000 poinsettias during the course of just one holiday season.
These days, a few poinsettias here and there are the height of the holiday décor you'll find in San Diego. Besides Ace Hardware's windows, and a few modest attempts at decorative displays at Wear it Again Sam and Flashbacks in Hillcrest and Swoozy's in Ocean Beach, all you'll find in most San Diego shopping districts are merchandise-oriented windows and cliché Christmas decorations-wreaths, tinsel and cheesy snowmen painted on shop windows.
There are some signs that the city is trying to change all that. The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce held its first-ever WinterWalk at the Westfield UTC shopping center in La Jolla last weekend. The shopping corridors were assigned different themes and stores were encouraged to compete for the best holiday window display.
It's a step in the right direction
Reeves said he plans to keep up the tradition as long as he can, and, to keep the windows fresh and exciting, he's even opening up the windows to anyone interested in lending a creative hand.
"I hope maybe some artist will read this article and give me a call and say, "Hey, I'd like to do one of your windows.'"
And this reporter would like to see more abuse of lawn decor.
If you're interested in designing Hillcrest Ace Hardware windows, contact Bruce Reeves at email@example.com or 619-291-5988.