PHOTO: Bill Minneci stands at the base of his property, hours before darkness will show off his holiday light display // Photo by Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
On a chilly Sunday night around 10 p.m., three buses pulled up to Sunnyside Drive in Brentwood, dropping dozens of Christmas revelers at the end of a cul-de-sac.
Young and old visitors “oohed” and “aahed” at the Christmas lights display, encompassing four houses along the block.
Bill Minneci’s house, 1956 Sunnyside Drive, is the finale of Franklin Transit’s Holly Trolley, a holiday lights shuttle.
None of the lights on the tour, though, come close to the display Minneci, 72, has crafted over the past 35 years.
Fast forward to Wednesday at noon and Minneci is heading up his driveway in a golf cart. He said the cart is the most helpful innovation for putting together the lighting display. It reads “BJ’s Christmas Lights,” across the front.
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley as the son of Universal Studios production manager, Minneci said he fell in love with the holiday lights, particularly those near his Woodland Hills neighborhood.
“I still remember Lou Costello’s house, a three-story house, and every single window had stuff going in and out,” he said. “They got their stuff from the studios.”
Minneci, who owns Bellevue Florists Inc., originally moved to the Nashville area as a district manager for Pizza Hut, after his retirement as a naval captain.
The Minnecis began their holiday lighting display with 10,000 lights, but Minneci’s son, BJ, then 6 years old, insisted it wasn’t enough.
“Dad, we need to add more lights!” Minneci says his son said. “He said that every single year after that.”
In 1993 at the age of 16, BJ died in a car crash.
Each year, Minneci continues to add more lights. At the center of his lawn are the letters “BJ,” as he continues the display in his son’s honor.
In previous years, Minneci has decorated eight houses along his block, using up to 400 figures, which he bought from Gatlinburg and Springfield. “My emphasis has always been on the figures,” he said.
“My goal was to add between $1,000 and $1,500 worth of figures and lights each year,” Minneci continued.
And his background as a general contractor with an electrician’s license, he said, has helped with the practical aspects of using tens of thousands of lights.
He estimates that, over the years, he has put $40,000 into the display, not including the cost of electricity. But, Minneci said, “I never worry about that.” For him, it’s all about the people he can shine a light to. He meets several parents each year who have recently lost children.
“I don’t know anyone with children who have died that don’t want to talk about it, or hear their name,” he said.
Several years ago, Minneci said people began asking if they could contribute to the cost of the display. “I’ve always said, ‘no, that’s my gift to the kids,’” he said.
However, about 11 years ago he said, “I woke up at 3 o’clock in the morning and said, ‘well this is dumb!’” As a Shriner, Minneci said he decided to accept donations to the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
He estimates he has raised over $68,000 in donations to the hospitals in the past decade.
Minneci spends September and much of October mending figures and retaping lights in his workshop. “It’s an opportunity for me to spend time with my son,” he said.
As he works, “thoughts will all of the sudden come to me, that maybe I should move a figure over someplace else,” he said.
Does Minneci feel his son’s spirit in the space they used to work together? “There’s no doubt in my mind,” he said.
It’s Minneci’s final year going the whole nine yards with decorations; he plans to scale back to just his house next year, using only his very favorite figures. But lights will continue to shine on Sunnyside, Minneci promised.
“As long as I can stumble out there, I’ll be doing that,” he said.
Where: 1956 Sunnyside Drive, Brentwood
When: Every night, the lights will be turned on from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Santa will give out hundreds of candy canes beginning Dec. 15 up through Saturday, Dec. 23, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
What: Sunnyside Lights Display. Follow Minneci’s blog for updates at sunnysidedelights.com.