The fortunes of the house, and eventually the immediately surrounding area, began to change in the early 1980s when director Bob Clark began scouting for a location.
The film takes place in a fictional town called Hohman, Indiana. Most exteriors were shot in Toronto. Interior scenes were done on a stage set. But in every sense of the word (no, not the “fudge” word) Ohio’s Tremont neighborhood is where Ralphie Parker and his family experienced A Christmas Story.
3159 West 11th Street, just south of Clark Avenue, is A Christmas Story House. Across the road is A Christmas Story Museum and a gift shop. All three locations are open 365 days a year for tours, along with a chance to buy everything from leg lamp nightlights and pink bunny suits to Lifebuoy Soap and faux Red Ryder carbine-action, two-hundred-shot, range-model air rifles. Be careful not to shoot your eye out!
The house was built in 1895: a colonial-style home in an area comprised largely of families whose men worked in the nearby Flats. The Mittal Steel plant (formerly J&L and Republic Steel) can be seen from the house’s back yard. The neighborhood’s arc mirrored that of Tremont—clinging to working-class status for much of the 20th century and floundering in the 1960s and 1970s when suburban flight and freeway construction desecrated the area. Spurred by artists and urban pioneers, Tremont began its upswing several decades later, but Ralphie’s neighborhood—well outside the borders of “hip Tremont”—has remained solidly blue collar. According to staff at the Christmas Story House, 3159’s basement used to host many an illegal cockfight.
The fortunes of the house, and eventually the immediately surrounding area, began to change in the early 1980s when director Bob Clark began scouting for a location in which to set A Christmas Story. Clark visited more than 20 cities looking for the perfect house. Since a vintage department store was needed for the parade and Santa-line scenes, Clark also sent letters to about 100 department stores around the country. Only Higbee’s in downtown Cleveland responded, but that was okay because both the department store and 3159 West 11th were ideal. Clark also liked the way the Tremont neighborhood had looked in 1978’s The Deer Hunter. Local auto club members lent Clark their antique cars. To thank the city, the producers named the house’s fictional thoroughfare Cleveland Street.
A mild sort of cinematic history was made in 1983 when A Christmas Story was released. The film was marginally successful at the outset, but its accolades and popularity increased over time. Leonard Maltin gave the film four stars, calling it “delightful” and “truly funny.” AOL, IGN, E! Entertainment, and at least one viewer poll have cited A Christmas Story as the top holiday film of all time. The movie earned Bob Clark two Genie Awards and in 2012, A Christmas Story was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Every year, TBS runs A Christmas Story for 24 consecutive hours beginning on Christmas Eve.
Twenty-one years after the film was released, entrepreneur Brian M. Jones, a native of San Diego, bought the house on eBay for $150,000. He used revenue from his business, The Red Rider Leg Lamp Company, for the down payment. It was, in the words of Old Man Parker, a “major award”: an opportunity to create a new kind of museum in Cleveland. Watching the movie frame by frame, Jones drew interior plans and spent $240,000 to reconfigure the structure as a single-family dwelling and a near-perfect replica of the movie set. Jones then stocked the interior with movie props. Entering the house, visitors now are greeted by the infamous leg lamp, the Parker’s decorated tree, a kitchen stocked with Ovaltine, and the sink where Randy hid. Upstairs, they can see the bathroom where Ralphie’s decoder ring and a bar of Lifebuoy soap reside. The back yard, where several scenes were filmed, looks just like the movie. Near the front entrance is a memorial bench dedicated to Clark. It sits on the exact spot where he had a cameo as a nosy neighbor.
The house and museum opened to the public on November 25, 2006, with original cast members attending the grand opening. The site drew 4,300 visitors during its opening weekend, and tens of thousands of faithful fans have made the pilgrimage since. Most went because they, like many pundits and critics, believe that A Christmas Story is one of Hollywood’s best. A few, however, may have been “double-dog dared” to attend.