The debate was heated between the 4th of July Home Decorating Contest judges: Susan Montgomery, Joan Sather, Rob Weber, Matt Rodman and Honorary Mayor Eugene Levy. They tried to decide whether to give the top prize to the Mercer home or the Simon home, both of which are located on Toyopa and were pronounced exceptional.
Judges had nothing but praise for the artistic vignette designed by Cindy Simon that depicted life in Pacific Palisades. But the total house decorations at the Mercers, including an eagle, finally led Mayor Levy to swing the final decision.
“The stronger message and the overpowering decorations are tough to beat,” Levy said about the Mercer house, and added, “And I’m not just saying this because they said they entered the contest to meet me.”
Rounding out the top three were Tim and Lisa Marschall. Honorary mention went to Tahitian Terrace’s Wendy Anderson and Carol Pernin in the Palisades Highlands.
This year, home decorating sponsors Montgomery and Sather (who are realtors with Sotheby’s) simplified the contest, selecting the top three homes in Pacific Palisades. Last year, during the Covid-19 restrictions, prizes were given in five categories: Hometown Style, Grand Champion, In this Together, Americana Award and Proof Through the Night.
To enter the contest, one only had to decorate their home and then upload a photo to Palisades4th.com. On July 3, the judge drove up and down the streets of the Palisades in a golf cart looking at individual houses.
At one home, the sole decorations were an American flag and a Canadian flag. “That’s the winner,” Levy, who is originally from Canada, jokingly proclaimed.
A second home in the Alphabet streets also had the two flags, and Levy remarked, “I love this holiday.”
Judges noted that there were some exceptional house decorations that had not been entered in the contest, such as the brilliant nighttime effects in a front yard on Chautauqua.
The contest started in 2008 (no contest was held in 2009) and the Mercers won in 2010 and 2013.
The Simon family won in 2017 and took the Grand Champion award last year.
The only other family that has won three times in the contest’s history has been the Hassett family (on DePauw).
MERCER HOUSE ON TOYOPA
Vicki Mercer was told that they had won by email and said, “Wow, that’s a shock. I saw Cindy’s banner and asked if we tied.” Then a local paper reported it as a tie, which was incorrect.
Mercer said modestly, “But honestly, I thought Cindy deserved it. Hers was quite creative.”
Jim and Vicki Mercer, who came to Pacific Palisades in 1993, moved to the parade route on Toyopa about 12 years ago.
In 2008, Jim and son Sam, who were at home alone, entered the inaugural contest at the last minute and then placed second (the Hoffman family on Via de la Paz won). Jim said, “We went to Party Pizzazz on Sunset and purchased anything that resembled patriotic decorations and put them up.” Then Jim vowed, “Now that we know what it takes to get first, we’ll spend that extra $16.”
They indeed placed first two years later. Although they continue to decorate every year, and parade marchers enjoy the festive decorations, they hadn’t entered the contest in recent years, until this year.
Vicki, a retired pediatrician who still does medical consulting for television, told Circling the News, “Our entire family enjoyed ‘Schitt’s Creek,’ and I, without telling Jim, entered the contest in the hopes of meeting our mayor.”
Eugene Levy won numerous Emmys for that popular sitcom. Vicki said, “I have been a fan of his since ‘Best in Show.’”
She added, “Jim did all the decorating, by himself. He loves our neighborhood, as do I and we both love the Fourth of July.” Jim is the managing director for TCW.
She was asked about one of the judges’ favorites touches — an eagle in a tree, with a sign below it that bore the message: “Hate Has No Home Here.”
The eagle was a gift from friends Diane and Michael Ziering, who annually come to watch the parade from the Mercers’ front yard and then enjoy the barbeque.
“Supposedly, I complained that it was too large and a headache to store,” Vicki said. “But we have come to love our eagle. Our daughter Molly found the sign on the internet and printed it for us.”
In addition to Molly, the Mercers have three other adult children: Katie, Nick and Sam.
Katie and husband Jorge Fernandez plus their children William and Josie spent the Fourth with Jim and Vicki, but the rest of the clan was out of state. Nick and Emily have moved to Maine, where Sam also lives, and Molly is in Houston.
“I would encourage others to enter the contest,” Vicki said. “It is festive and fun and adds great spirit to our wonderful community.”
SIMONS DISPLAY AN ARTISTIC GEM
“The fireworks are my favorite,” Honorary Mayor Eugene Levy said about the clever artistic work that was displayed on the front fence of the Cindy and Bill Simon home on Toyopa.
On July 3, as Cindy was walking out of her home to mail a wedding invitation for her daughter Lulu’s wedding, she was told that the family had placed second. She instantly alerted the family in the backyard, and Lulu ran out and introduced herself to Levy, excitedly telling him how much she loved his work.
Cindy, who calls herself a cardboard artist, upcycles “found” objects such as plastic bottle caps, plastic newspaper bags, string and cardboard. “My half of the garage is filled with things everyone else would throw out,” she said, adding “May I mention I also have a very patient and supportive husband who delights in each of my crazy creations!”
For the contest, she had assembled 34 separate scenes of unique Pacific Palisades locations or events—all done in red, white, blue and gold and silver paint.
It took about two months to create, but Cindy said, “I didn’t work on it every day.” She said she got the idea for the small box collage idea when she was in Mexico several months ago.
“On the wall above the hotel’s ‘check-in counter’ was a large sculpture that was basically little boxes stuck together, and each box had a little figure in it. Some figures were sitting down, some were standing, some leaning to the side,” Cindy said. “The receptionist said that guests liked to move the figures around from one box to the next.
“I started with a few cardboard boxes glued together and it grew to over 30. There was no rhyme or reason as to which shops or parks or whatever I decided to include. It was whatever came into my head. Early on I also sent out an email to my neighborhood lady friends asking them what they thought should be included and they gave me lots of good ideas. After I put up my display, I realized I’d left out a few favorites which, because it’s just cardboard boxes, I can always add.”
It is such a nice piece of art, Cindy was asked if there was a place to display it, such as the Village Green. “I would be flattered if asked,” Cindy said. “It would be special to have it displayed for a few weeks or so in an enclosed space, like the library if it ever opens again – to keep it safe from the elements.”
Cindy loves to do public art and her creations have been displayed in Simon Meadow.
She told CTN, “I decorate the lamppost in front of my house with all kinds of different found objects every month just for fun. People tell me it makes them smile when they walk by and that makes me happy.”
In addition to Lulu, also helping the Simons celebrate the Fourth were son Griff and his wife Taylor and dog Archie. Their son Willie was on the East Coast.
Simon urges others to enter next year’s contest or the parade because “When people do anything that contributes to the building of a strong community in their neighborhood, it’s a good thing.
“I think the 4th of July activities in the Palisades are an excellent demonstration of community pride and the coming together for the better good,” Cindy said. “Bill and I love living in the Palisades for that very reason – being a part of an active, concerned and motivated community which supports their schools, church, sports, community council, and general quality-of-life issues. I’m proud of that.”