Sixty-square-foot gingerbread extravaganza tickles fancy of children and chocophiles; But the real genius lies in amassing the muscle to make it all happen
Saratoga, Calif. — With visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, a volunteer crew of grown-ups with better things to do has turned thousands of pounds of sugar, chocolate, gumdrops, gingerbread, and electronics into a candy-coated gingerbread house and amusement park, complete with moving parts and sound effects.
The 60-square-foot gingerbread extravaganza has tickled the fancy of everyone from latter-day Hansels and Gretels to their chocophile parents in this small town in the South San Francisco Bay Area.
The project is the idea of Jock McCoy, a carpenter, excook, and former college rugby player who not only envisioned the impossible, but enlisted that aid of dozens of volunteer "elves" to turn his Christmas dream into a reality.
Mr. McCoy's first gingerbread house, built in the early 1970s, was his statement against the commercialization of Christmas, and an attempt to do something for the local children. Since then, he has built a gingerbread house every other year, each one slightly more elaborate than the last.
This year, his creation stands in a street-level window in C. B. Hannegan's, a small restaurant in neighboring Los Gatos, where it was the star attraction at a benefit for a local charity on Dec. 15. McCoy's masterpiece stands 6 feet tall and 15 feet wide, and features a computer-con-trolled and chocolate-coated roller coaster, Ferris wheel, and carousel, hundreds of individually sculptured hand-painted "people," dozens of chocolate and gumdrop yum-yum trees, and a gingerbread replica of a famous Victorian mansion in Eureka, Calif.
Though McCoy takes credit for conceptualizing the project, his real genius lieu in amassing the muscle to make it all happen. "The biggest appeal of the project is that there is no good reason, monetary or otherwise, for building it -- other than the rekindling of the Christmas spirit," says Randy Reedy, an attorney and friend who acts as liaison between McCoy and the demands of the real world. "It's like the electric train set under the Christmas tree."
On one particular night, the crew of "elves" included an orthopedic surgeon, a 20-year employee of Ringling Brothers, one journalist, two attorneys, three teachers, a number of housewives, and an enormous black Labrador retriever named Faust, doggedly determined to munch on the mansion.
In the kitchen, a staff of five cut 3-by-4-foot slabs of green jelly into squares of candy turf. In the living room, Gary Post, a high school art teacher , sculptured blocks of clay into intricate gnomes and elves.
"The best thing about the project is that it makes you feel that everything else you are doing is less important than this," Mr. Reedy continues. "Jock is the ultimate idealist. For him, fantasy is reality."
At Christmas, his childlike spirit is contagious.
Like the labor, many of the materials for the project have been either donated or supplied at cost. Out-of-pocket expenses have been picked up by the owners of C. B. Hannegan's, where the extravaganza has displaced six of the best tables. It will remain there until mid-January.
What happens to it after that is anybody's guess. Should the ants prove to be too formidable an enemy, says Reedy, it may suffer the same fate as McCoy's last effort.
"We took it to the Guadaloupe dump, filled it with explosives, and blew it to smithereens."