Home Decorating Contest Explained by Judges

Judges and sponsors posted after the house on Ocampo was declared the winner (left to right) Rich Wilken, Susan Montgomery, Violetta Hargitay, Steve Guttenberg, Rob Weber and Daphne Gronich.

The contest, which started in 2008, was seen as a way to encourage people to decorate homes in a patriotic manner for the 4th of July. The process is easy, one decorates a residence prior to July 2 and submits a photo on the Palisades4th.com website.

Photos are examined and the top houses are selected for a final viewing on the afternoon of July 3. A band of merry judges hop in golf carts and tour the homes before voting on who should receive first and second place and honorable mention.  There is also the Joan Sather award given to the home for its outstanding use of homemade decorations.

In conjunction with the Palisades Americanism Parade Association (PAPA), a local realtor helped host the contest. Until her passing in 2022, Sotherby’s Joan Sather was accompanied by Susan Montgomery in judging perspective residences.

This year Montgomery and colleague Violetta Hargitay were joined by Kent Sather, Parade Marshal Rich Wilken and Grand Marshal Steve Guttenberg in the 2024 contest. They were accompanied by non-voting guests PAPA President Matt Rodman, treasurer Daphne Gronich and board member Rob Weber.

Little did homeowners know that they faced judges with critical expertise. Despite the fact that Guttenberg is a well-known actor and an author of three books and a former Palisades Honorary Mayor, he also has significant judging experience. He was part of a panel for two Halloween home decorating contests in New York City, in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

This was to be his third July 4th decorating contest, having previously served as a judge in Massapequa and Sag Habor, New York.

Asked what major qualities were needed to be a judge, Guttenberg said, “discernment. One has to have a great amount of design excellence, but most importantly you have to be able to be bribed.” He claimed to have received a Bulova watch as payment from a prior contest.

Judge Steve Guttenberg takes a break from the arduous job of judging.

Wilken, an architect, chimed in with characteristics of a good judge, “You have to have a fantastic eye and there has to be proportional dynamics with the decorations.”

He added, “Any house I once designed that’s entered in the contest, gets extra points.”

Judge Rich Wilken tallying points.

The prizes were significant and included two gift cards to Casa Nostra, to Pearl Dragon and Garden Café; a gift card to Taj Palace and Café Vida: a pizza party to Flour Pizza; three gift cards to Viktor Benes Bakery; four classes with Neighborhood Pilates; three gift cards to Ogden’s Cleaners; three gift cards to Anawalt; two gift cards to Palisades Barber; and a card for Black Ink.

Golf carts went up and down the streets of Pacific Palisades, before judges tallied their choices.

First place this year went to the Borgesons on Ocampo (see story). Second went to Cali Senkpiel and her husband Paul Ben-Victor in the Highlands. They promised they were going to try for first place in 2025.

This home in the Highlands took second place.

The Joan Sather Memorial Sponsor’s Award went to Ann Vitti and Don Bragen for the “patriotic” joke tree. Located on Fiske one can walk by daily to see the joke of the day, a tradition that Vitti started during Covid and has continued.

The decorating around the joke tree, won the Joan Sather Award.

The two honorable mentions this year went to the Taper family (Almar) and Cindy Kirven (Radcliffe).


Home Decorating Winners:

2008 Hoffman family (Via de la Paz)

2009 No contest held

2010 Mercer family (Toyopa)

2011 Almaraz family (Sunset)

2012 Hassett family (De Pauw)

2013 Mercer family (Toyopa)

2014 John Riley and Bev Lowe (Kagawa)

2015 Sutton Family (Galloway)

2016 Hassett family (De Pauw)

2017 Simon family (Toyopa)

2018 Trott/Connolly (Haverford)

2019 Farnham/Robletto (Via de la Paz)

2020 Simon Family (Toyopa)

2021 Mercer Family (Toyopa)

2022 Marschall Family (Altata)

2023 Mass Family (Alma Real)

2024 Borgeson Family (Ocampo)


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