Visitors to Weaver’s Winter Wonderland in Rohnert Park were sad to see Scott Weaver retire his Christmas display after 23 years and now have reason to rejoice. Jeff Milani, also in the C section of the city, has taken over the castle and many of Weaver’s decorations and will carry on the Winter Wonderland tradition.
The Milani family are not newbies to putting on a large Christmas display. About 12 years ago Jeff Milani started putting up Christmas decorations in front of his home on 7333 Circle Drive and has been adding to it every year. About eight years ago he built a large, life-size Santa sleigh and asked Scott for ideas in decorating it. Ever since, the two men have collaborated on their Christmas displays and helped each other build and assemble each other’s decorations, lights and wooden Christmas cut-outs.
“It’s gotten bigger and bigger,” Milani says. “I started out with just a bunch of lights and then I started building things.”
Even though Milani decided to take over Weaver’s castle and other Christmas accouterments, this year has proven to be especially difficult because his position with Argonaut Constructors, a general engineering contractor that manages grading and paving, underground pipeline and mechanical systems projects, has him working non-stop at the fire damaged sites. His shifts have been running from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week, and are expected to continue that way for the next three months. The company was retained to clear debris and get the lots ready to be rebuilt as soon as possible. This has made getting the Christmas house ready in time for the holidays extremely challenging. He hopes to have lights ready to turn on around December 1, but may continue to work on it even after that. Thankfully, Weaver as well as two of Milani’s sons have been helping as much as possible.
“I like helping,” says Milani’s ten-year old son Joshua who also hopes to open a cocoa stand during the holidays to save up for a Riddell SpeedFlex helmet with InSite (meant to reduce the risk of head trauma) for playing football. “I like the painting and screwing in some of the boards.”
Milani’s 18-year-old son Jason who has helped put up the display every year is an artist himself, and has helped illustrate some of the Christmas characters.
For Weaver, helping Milani get his display ready for the holidays has been a good way to hand over the reigns of hosting the winter wonderland.
“I have a lot of mixed emotions,” says Weaver. “I’m not unhappy about not doing it, but I feel kind of guilty. I don’t want to feel like I’m sloughing it off on him because we’ve become such good friends. We know each other’s drive. We get excited about it and I’m still excited about it.”
Weaver had received offers to purchase the makings of his winter wonderland, but declined. It was important for him to have the decorations go to a friend and to keep it in the neighborhood. With Milani and Weaver truly working on many of the decorations together over the years, it felt like a natural transition for the materials to find a new home at Milani’s house.
“I’ve had a person offer to buy everything from me for a place in Napa, but I just didn’t want to sell it,” says Weaver. “For me, it’s more important that Jeff had it because Jeff and I have collaborated over the years. His kids have helped me, I’ve helped him, and so it’s a joint effort.”
In light of the recent disasters, it seemed even more important for the Milani family to continue the Christmas display to help bring joy into people’s lives.
“That was one of the reasons why I wanted to take it over so bad and keep it in this area,” Milani said. “It’s been over there for so long and so many people have come year after year after year. When I’m out here setting up Santa and the sleigh I get people coming up saying ‘I love it so much. We’ve been doing this every year since you’ve had this sleigh and our book is filled with these photos. I think about how many people from Coffey Park and Fountaingrove lost all those photos. I could not do it this year. Maybe they just want it one more time. Or maybe they wish they still had a photo of Scott’s castle. And they can - they can still come up here and it will still kind of look like Scott’s castle and they can still have that memory.”