Ah, the Hallmark universe. Where snowflakes are never wet or inconvenient. With charming little towns straight out of a snow globe. He’s a handsome architect/novelist/entrepreneur. She’s a bakery owner/novelist/journalist. These are the key elements we know and love from each year’s crop of holiday Hallmark movies. And, yes, I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. But bear with me as I explain how these movies can soothe the soul of the preservationist.
I am very aware of the predictable plots, the same actors showing up in every movie (hello again, Candace Cameron Bure!) and so much hot cocoa (and not nearly enough coffee, in my opinion). Whether you’ve never watched a single one or, the other extreme, you’re embarrassed to admit you watch every one of them and the app you downloaded to keep track is already full, let me explain why these movies are a gift for every preservationist during the holiday season. Before you know it, you’ll be able to justify curling up on the couch with a warm blanket, a warm beverage, and escape for two hours.
Things are hard right now. 2020 has not been quite what we hoped for as we rang in the new year almost 12 months ago. The work we do is often difficult and often disappointing. Saving our historic resources is challenging in normal times. Right now, it is even more challenging. Any preservationist has a long list of contentious meetings, disappointing outcomes, and lost history. Success stories are rewarding and are welcome bright spots amid the ones that didn’t quite work out as we hoped. Sometimes it feels like we are the lone voice speaking on behalf of old buildings, historic neighborhoods, and legacy businesses. The grind can wear down even the most stalwart soul. And so, my friends, have I got the fix for you. Imagine a world where your preservation efforts come with cocoa and are resolved in just two hours!
Hallmark movies (and now Lifetime Christmas movies too) offer stories that aren’t scary or violent. The plots will proceed along in a predictable way and the big crisis, when all seems lost, will happen about 10 minutes before the ending. Rest assured though, in the last five minutes, the couples come back together, the crisis is resolved and there’s a kiss and a happily ever after moment. Yes, it’s predictable but doesn’t it feel good to have everything work out in a two-hour neatly wrapped gift with a bow? I think that is something we can all appreciate in 2020 where every day seemed to present a new concern.
Hallmark may not be Emmy Award-winning media, but it is encouraging that small towns, local shops, legacy businesses, and the town rallying to save a landmark are part of a feel-good holiday movie. (Know what I mean, you wonderful ol’ Bailey Building & Loan?)
As we navigate working remotely, attending planning commission meetings virtually, and working to preserve our rich and diverse historic resources no matter what challenge comes our way, it can be comforting to watch other people come together to save these special places all within two hours, with a little romance and a lot of hot cocoa.
Here are my five top recommendations for a little preservation encouragement at this time of year
#1 Christmas Tree Lane (2020)
Meg Reilly works at her father Benjamin Reilly’s music store along Christmas Tree Lane in a historic shopping district in downtown Denver. All the stores on the lane are independently-owned. The street has seen better days economically with much of the commercial business having moved to the suburbs. So, when all the tenants along Christmas Tree Lane receive eviction notices from Cloverfield Investments, who plans to tear everything down and build modern office towers in their place, Meg decides to mobilize all the neighbors to come up with a plan to save Christmas Tree Lane from the wrecking ball.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania…
How to live the Hallmark movie in the real world: Wherever you live in Pennsylvania, you can’t be too far from a delightful small town or a big city that’s chockablock with marvels to admire. Pictured is Easton’s historic town square, where the war memorial transforms into a peace candle each holiday season. Visitors find much to delight with special events and promotions organized by the Main Street Initiative.
#2 Christmas By Starlight (2020)
When her family’s beloved eatery, The Starlight Café, is slated for demolition, Annie vows to put a stop to it before Christmas. William Holt is the heir apparent to the top job at Chicago-based Holt Enterprises upon his father Jim Holt’s imminent retirement. Worried about leaving the company in Will’s hands, Jim has posted a position for a lawyer to shadow Will in handling any of those messes of a legal nature. In a characteristic mix-up, lawyer Annie agrees to pretend to be his lawyer for a week until Christmas, in return for Will stopping the building demolition and associated evictions.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania…..
How to live the Hallmark movie in the real world: Pennsylvania is filled with family-owned eateries. Support them by telling a friend, ordering food to go or buy gift cards to help them get through the tough winter ahead. This snowy scene by Sarah Moore (follow her on Instagram @saguarosally) captures the picture-perfect Village Diner in Milford (Pike County). Looks like something right out of a Hallmark movie, doesn’t it?
#3 Christmas in Evergreen: Letters to Santa (2018)
When Lisa takes a last-minute Christmas trip to her hometown of Evergreen, she finds that the historic general store has been closed. Using her skills as a professional retail designer, Lisa decides to keep local tradition alive and help the good people of Evergreen bring the store back to life. As Lisa charms a local contractor named Kevin into working with her, the pair find themselves facing one surprise after another as they restore the store to its former glory.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania…..
How to live the Hallmark movie in the real world: Open the door and step back in time as you enter the Adams & Bright Drugstore in Hamburg. Have a seat at the restored 1920s soda fountain and order an ice cream sundae. While you’re waiting, browse the cabinets featuring vintage medicines—all original to the store and discovered hidden away upstairs. The inscription in an old textbook on display hints at the personality of May Bright, a store namesake, who received her pharmacy degree in 1918 and installed the soda fountain in 1929. “May Bright, 431 Island St., Hamburg, Penna., United States of North America, of the Western Hemisphere, of the planet Earth.” Today, there’s still a woman filling prescriptions and proffering advice, as owner Loralee Heckman, Pharm.D., carries on the tradition. You can find other customer-oriented small businesses like this all over Pennsylvania. Support them or lose them!
#4 Christmas at Pemberly Manor (2018)
As Christmas approaches, Elizabeth Bennett, an event planner, is sent to a quaint, small town to organize their holiday festival. When the original location becomes unavailable, she convinces William Darcy, a high-profile billionaire lacking in holiday spirit, to allow the event to take place in his historic family estate. He is in town to sell the building to the highest bidder. When complications arise and the festival is unexpectedly shut down, Elizabeth hopes for a Christmas miracle to revive the festival and save the estate.
How to live the Hallmark movie in the real world: Support your local historic house museum, such as the Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) House in Northumberland (Northumberland County), pictured above. This National Historic Landmark features Priestley’s manor house with its laboratory. (While living in England, Priestly discovered oxygen. Imagine that! Discovering OXYGEN!) The site keeps going thanks to the hard work of volunteers, who clocked 1,429 hours of service in a recent year. What historic house museums are in your area? Be sure and visit. Use the grounds. Volunteer. Donate. Attend the events and festivals. Find ways to support their work so you don’t end up in the sad version of the Hallmark movie where the house is torn down and the land ends up covered in townhouses.
#5 Looks Like Christmas (2016)
Carol Montgomery is a single mom in charge of everything Christmas-y in town. When newcomer Terry Evans moves to town with his teenage daughter, he instantly clashes with Carol. He’s her opposite, letting work come before Christmas and winging his behavior, rather than planning it. The situation escalates when she learns he has come to town to tear down the historic library and develop the land.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania…..
How to live the Hallmark movie in the real world: Preservation Pennsylvania is working behind-the-scenes on a couple of these scenarios right now, but as in real life, these are years-long efforts we can’t really talk about yet. So let’s focus on the library aspect of “Looks Like Christmas” and suggest you spread some love at your local library or historical society. JaQuay Edward Carter, founder of the Hazelwood Historical Society (Allegheny County), will be spending the new year transforming his local Carnegie library building into a headquarters for the society and a place of community connection. He’ll be working with former veterans like himself to get the work done. Sounds like a great movie, doesn’t it?
P.S. I peeked at the plots of a this year’s Lifetime Christmas movies and there a few that look promising. (wink wink)
Is there a place you love to visit this time of year that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy with historic preservation happiness? Share! Tell us about it in the comments. (Comments are held for moderation and will appeared once approved.)