on location

Fan's love turns house into 'Christmas' present

When it comes to Americana, Cleveland has collected a number of calling cards. It is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It is the birthplace of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. And it also is the setting for the 1983 holiday classic "A Christmas Story," directed by Bob Clark.

This weekend, Brian Jones, a fervent fan of the movie, is making a daring bet that the main exterior location used in the movie can become a veritable Cleveland tourist attraction. Last year, he bought the Cleveland house used in the movie, which told the story of a boy named Ralphie and his quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. (The movie's interiors were shot mostly in Toronto.) On Saturday, Jones is opening the house to the public.

Jones, 30, fresh out of the Navy and already showing his love for the movie by creating his homegrown business, Red Rider Leg Lamps, originally saw the house selling on eBay for $99,900. As the bidding climbed to $115,000, he called the owner and offered him a flat $150,000. The seller accepted.

When Jones e-mailed his wife, who was stationed overseas, and told her what he had done, she replied, "I don't know whether to laugh or cry."

"I wanted to go see it," Jones said, explaining his impulsive purchase. "And if I wanted to see it, then other fans would want to, too. Why not make the house a tourist attraction?"

It's not out of the question, he says, pointing to the field in Dyersville, Iowa, used for "Field of Dreams," which draws thousands per year.

But Jones' gambit proved to be a more costly venture. The house had changed over the years and was a duplex. Restoration was in order. On the outside, Jones replaced the vinyl siding with wood; inside, he put down new wood floors and even gutted parts of the structure to make room for the original staircase. In all, he spent $240,000 on the renovation.

But even as he worked, Jones saw that people came from all over the country to see the house, affirming his notion that he might be on to something. "Once, when we were working, these college kids showed up in a car. They had driven nine hours one way just to see the house," Jones says. " 'Star Trek' has Trekkies, I have Ralphies. I'm a Ralphie myself."

Actors from the film will be among those in attendance Saturday, including Ian Petrella, who played Ralphie's brother Randy, and Zack Ward, who played bully Farkus. Across the street, Jones is opening a museum and gift shop. He expects 3,000-5,000 people on the first day.

" 'Christmas Story' is like this generation's 'Miracle on 34th Street' or 'It's A Wonderful Life.' It's something important that needs to be preserved and saved," he says.

Sometimes a location makes a movie, but Jones is hoping that this is one time the movie makes a location.