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A Christmas Story House opens

CLEVELAND -- Ralphie Parker never slept here. He did, however, take aim at imaginary nemesis Black Bart from his perch on the kitchen sink. And he was spotted through the front window once, caressing a tarted-up leg lamp. This is A Christmas Stor...

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CLEVELAND -- Ralphie Parker never slept here.

He did, however, take aim at imaginary nemesis Black Bart from his perch on the kitchen sink. And he was spotted through the front window once, caressing a tarted-up leg lamp.

This is A Christmas Story House, the real Cleveland home that housed the fictional Parker family in the movie "A Christmas Story." Now, it's Cleveland's newest tourist attraction.

San Diego resident Brian Jones bought the house in February 2005 and has poured his heart -- not to mention $240,000 -- into renovating it to make it resemble the house in the movie. He's opening it for tours and has created a gift shop and a museum in another house across the street.

In reality, A Christmas Story House is only part of what viewers remember as the Parkers' home, the place where Ralphie schemed to get a Red Ryder BB gun. It's really the house's exterior that stars in the film; with the exception of the aforementioned scenes, all the interior shots were filmed on a set.

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The house is in a working-class cluster of closely spaced homes dating to the turn of the 20th century. Drive through the streets, and you half expect to see Ralphie and his buddies darting down the sidewalk, fleeing bullies Scut Farkus and Grover Dill.

The house is instantly recognizable to fans of the movie, thanks to the meticulous restoration of the exterior and the iconic leg lamp glowing in the window. Gray vinyl siding was removed, rotted sections of wood siding replaced and the porch largely rebuilt. ICI Paints matched the exterior paint colors, so the yellow siding and green trim wear the precise shades they did in the 1983 movie.

In the backyard, the shed that was swarmed by Black Bart's gang still stands, overlooking a gray vista dominated by a steel mill.

Inside, however, the match is less exact. Although Jones, 30, said the set was designed to roughly fit the house's general footprint, the rooms were bigger and the set had features the real house lacked -- a dining room, for example, and a staircase with two landings.

So Jones hired Mike Foster, a contractor recommended to him by the Cleveland Restoration Society, to renovate what had been a duplex and make it resemble more closely the interior of the Parker home. It's more a suggestion of the movie set than a replica, but Jones and Foster have taken pains to re-create it as faithfully as possible.

The construction crew took out a first-floor bedroom and cut a hole in the ceiling to put in the stairs, and a fake fireplace was installed to mimic the one in the movie. A bathroom was gutted to allow for widening the kitchen, which is outfitted with a brown-painted wainscot, the same model of White Star stove that appears in the movie and a sink with doors below, just like the ones Ralphie's brother, Randy, hid behind.

The house gradually is being furnished, largely with donations from fans.

Jones' wife, Beverly, alerted him to the house in the first place. A U.S. Navy officer, she was headed to the Middle East aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard when her captain told her he'd seen the house for sale on eBay. She thought that might amuse her husband, a fan of the movie who made a living making and selling leg lamps, so she casually dropped a mention into the e-mail she sent him four or five days later.

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Jones was more than amused. He e-mailed the seller immediately and offered $150,000 -- $35,000 more than the high bid at the time -- if the seller would take the house off the auction block. The seller agreed and even honored that deal after someone else called and offered $200,000, Jones said.

Jones also bought a house across the street to serve as a ticket-sales center, gift shop and museum. Here, visitors can browse a collection of "A Christmas Story" memorabilia that includes Randy's snowsuit and toy zeppelin, a reproduction Red Ryder BB gun with a compass and sundial in the stock, photos snapped during filming by neighbors and actors, and framed reviews of the movie, not all of them complimentary. A display of blooper scenes points out such goofs as the visible trampoline that boosted Black Bart over the backyard fence and the dual flagpoles that appear in the movie, one in the front of the school and one in the back.

Visitors also can take home mementos from the movie, from a $6 Little Orphan Annie decoder pin to a $595 painting of fictional Cleveland Street by artist Paul Landry. Among the other items for sale are bars of Lifebuoy soap, jars of Ovaltine, copies of the script, T-shirts, posters and Higbee elf hats crafted and signed by actress Patty Johnson, patterned on the one she wore in the movie. And, of course, there are leg lamps in every conceivable form -- ornaments, night lights, light strings and the full-size replicas that Jones sells through his company, Red Rider Leg Lamps. One thing the store doesn't sell is BB guns. The restrictions for retailers are just too strict, Jones said.

You'll have to hope Santa comes through. If he does, just don't shoot your eye out.

A Christmas Story House is at 3159 W. 11th St., Cleveland.

Tickets to the house are $5 for adults and $3 for children younger than 12. Group discounts are available for parties of 20 or more.

Hours for the house are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Starting Jan. 16, the house will be closed Mondays through Wednesdays.

For more information, go to www.achristmasstoryhouse.com or call (216) 298-4919.

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