Balboa Island Holiday Home Tour
There is no place like home for the holidays. And, there are no homes like those on Balboa Island. Each year, the quaint seaside cottages and homes deck the halls and hang the holly to create a festive display incomparable to any other Christmas presentation in Orange County.
Hosted by the Balboa Island Improvement Association, with the help of the volunteers of the Home Tour Committee, this year’s Balboa Island Holiday Home Tour takes place on Sunday, December 13. Running for more than 19 years, the tour has become a highly anticipated annual event for residents, both on and off the island.
“The idea of opening homes to the public for the purpose of recognizing the talents of homeowners in decorating their homes for the holidays, as well as sharing with the public the unique architectural details of our islands’ homes, was the primary motivation for the creation of the Holiday Home Tour,” says Jeff Herdman, who served as chair of the event for the past 8 years.
“Many times we have new home owners who just want to showcase their beautiful new homes, while others just like to participate and really decorate to the hilt,” says Terry Janssen, this year’s chair.
The home tour is also the only annual fundraiser the Balboa Island Improvement Association holds, and they count on the tour to provide the association with operating funds for the year.
Since the holiday traditions inception, the home tour has exhibited 228 homes on the Big and Little Islands.
“Typically, we gather eight houses and they can either be apartments, single family homes or duplexes, and they can be owners or tenants,” says Janssen. “My goal this year was to do 10. And, we have a record number this year; we have 12.”
Some homeowners volunteer to showcase their homes, while other homes are recruited by personal invitation from the chair of the home tour, or a home tour committee member.
“We have reached out to some people and asked them if they would like to participate, but that is less then half of the 12,” Janssen says.
Businesses located on Marine Avenue, the island’s main thoroughfare, also participate in the holiday home tour by offering special items and discounts to home tour participants.
“This year we a have a new business, and it’s a mermaid shop, where kids can dress up as mermaids,” Janssen says, referring to Once Upon An Island at 118 Agate Avenue. “They are going to be on the tour, decorated in the holiday theme, and I think that will be a great draw.”
Musical groups are also hired to perform in some of the homes and at least one residence this year will feature a live Santa Claus. Home tours of Christmas past have included performances by the Balboa Bachelors, Sweet Adelines and the St. John Viannay Choir.
Each guest is provided with a map and a list of the houses on the tour, though there is no set route for the tour, as guests are encouraged to explore freely.
“You can start on the West end or you can start on the East end, whichever is your preference,” Janssen says. “It actually works better that way because it doesn’t seem to get backed up as much.”
Usually, only a portion of the home is opened for viewing, and a number of volunteer docents are assigned to each home, depending on its size. The head docent and the committee chair meet with each homeowner to determine the traffic pattern through the home, as well as establish any “off limits” areas within the home. The head docent also holds an orientation in the homes before the event to familiarize the team with the houses.
“The docents have information about each home and are able to explain the features of the home,” says Janssen.
Some homeowners, however, choose to be in their homes when the home tour takes place.
“Last year, we had a few homes that were restored homes and it was really kind of cool to have the owner explain why they did certain things and why they retained certain things,” Janssen says. “Some of the houses have been in the family for a long time and they were very proud of what had been passed down in their family and what they were able to do to the home.”
Commemorating the unique structures on Balboa Island is one of Janssen’s favorite things about the home tour.
“A couple months back, there were 21 houses on the island that were under construction,” he says, “and every one of those homes that were under construction were probably an old cottage at one time.”
Initially, when Janssen decided to head up the holiday tour, he wanted to feature mostly over-the-garage apartments, as those homes tend to be older. The tour does include a few of them, and Janssen is pleased with the assortment guests will find.
“This year we have a wide variety of homes,” Janssen says. “We only have one new house, and I believe it is about a year and a half old and is spectacular from the outside as well as the inside. There will actually be four houses on Agate Avenue and that includes the Balboa Island Hotel Apartments, which gives a flavor of the old Balboa Island.”
Two years ago, the Balboa Island Museum was added as a stop on the home tour and has remained a permanent part of the tour roster ever since.
“The museum provides refreshments for home tour participants and a fabulous display of island history,” Herdman says.
Balboa Island and its homes are a significant part of Orange County’s rich history. The island itself is man made and was dredged and filled before World War I. Original lots sold for just $250, while today property sells in the millions range.
The Balboa Island Home Tour is a festive tradition that brings residents, tenants and visitors together in a truly historic neighborhood.
“It is really cool for me to see all the folks dressed up in their Christmas outfits going to the next home on the tour,” Janssen says. “In addition to being a fundraiser for us, I think it is also a community event. “
Tickets are priced at $25 and are available for purchase at multiple businesses on Marine Avenue, including Caldwell Banker, The Persimmon Tree, Heart of the Island Gallery, Island Home, and Balboa Island Museum. The Museum will also sell tickets the day of the event.