A photo from last year's Holiday House Tour. (Photo by Steve Feistel)

A photo from last year’s Holiday House Tour. (Photo by Steve Feistel)

by Laura Lucas

As our calendars fill with holiday plans, we hope you will include the 22nd Annual Chestnut Hill Christmas-Holiday House Tour on the first Saturday in December (Dec. 5).

Five beautiful area homes decorated for the holiday will be opened to the public. Thanks to the generosity of these homeowners, visitors will have the chance to see some of Chestnut Hill’s finest homes while gaining inspiration for their own decorating. In the coming weeks, we’ll present clues about these homes and the homeowners as well as details about the tour from Jack McMeekin, chairman of the House Tour.

The Holiday House Tour is a tradition that started in 1978 when the Chestnut Hill Community Association started “Art & Design,” which transformed one estate into a designer’s dream and was open for tours three weeks in the fall. (Think HGTV’s Dream Home before there was HGTV!) The 1978 featured home was High Hollow (also known as the Paley House) on 101 West Hampton. In 1979, the Chestnut Hill Hospital Women’s Auxiliary became involved with Art & Design and the featured home was The Highlands in Fort Washington.

In 1989, the Art & Design committee started a new fund-raising event for the Chestnut Hill Community Fund and Chestnut Hill Hospital, which took place the first weekend in December called “Designer’s Touch Holiday Tour” (or “Designer’s Touch House Tour”). In 1990 this changed to “Designer’s Holiday Touch House Tour” – that’s a mouthful! The annual event to ring in the holidays experienced a five year break from 1994-1998, so this year marks the 22nd year for this great tradition.

Prior to the break, funds were raised for the benefit of the Chestnut Hill Community Association and the Women’s Auxiliary. In 1999, Susan Pizzano, then vice president of CHCA’s Social Division, brought back the tradition and for four years proceeds raised were used to create the Fountain Plaza at the Top of the Hill. A memorial plaque with her name is now placed at the fountain.

In 2003, funds were raised to benefit the CHCA and the Chestnut Hill Historical Society. All other years, the funds were raised to benefit the Chestnut Hill Community Fund or Chestnut Hill Community Association and its programs directly.

We owe a great deal of gratitude to the 1989 co-chairs Pat Hughes, Andrea Imperatore and Sally Beil for their vision in creating this holiday event. Early attendance for those first few years was 1,000 visitors for a daytime and evening candle-lit tour with a preview party. The show stopper in the inaugural year was the Wharton Sinkler Estate in Wyndmoor and included a holiday lunch. The lunch itself was a longstanding tradition in this area. Two hundred volunteers worked tirelessly to make the event a huge hit.

Over the years, the holiday tour included cookbook sales, cooking samples, lunch at the Exchange at Chestnut Hill Academy, post parties at Woodmere, lunch or discounts at area businesses and restaurants, art and craft sales, fashion shows and demonstrations. It was and continues to be the social event of the season. Make sure to join us this year for the best ever Chestnut Hill Christmas-Holiday House Tour. Tickets, photographs from last year’s tour and more information are available at www.chestnuthill.org; follow the link on the home page to Ticket Leap.

Many thanks for Pete Mazzaccaro at the Local and Alex Bartlett at the Chestnut Hill Historical Society for letting me access their archives last week. We invite anyone who was part of those early efforts or attended them, to share your memories with us this holiday season on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ChestnutHillHolidayHouseTour

Laura Lucas is vice president for operations of the Chestnut Hill Community Association.