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The lights fantastic.

Byline: Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard

It's definitely dark, even a bit gloomy, by late afternoon in most places these days, but starting Thursday, Shore Acres won't be one of them.

By 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, the 250,000 lights that have made the state park near Coos Bay famous will be blazing again - for the 22nd year - offering visitors an eye-popping array of colors and shapes more than capable of holding the winter night at bay.

There will be the perennial favorites, of course. The life-size gray whale still breaches and spouts while the orca leaps in the air. The stately herons grace their pond, and the sea urchins, jellyfish, squirrel, butterflies and all the other creatures still do what they do.

But there will be improvements, too, says Shirley Bridgham, who with her husband,

David Bridgham, has been overseeing the planning and execution of the massive, 7-acre light display since its humble beginings in 1987 with 6,000 miniature lights festooning one Christmas tree and a small garden area.

"This year, we have nearly 100 percent LED lights, and that's a huge change from the old miniature lights," Shirley Bridgham said. "The LEDs are much more reliable, last far longer and use about 80 percent less energy - and, with them we at last have a true purple instead of something that looks more like pink. But all the colors are truer, and they're much better for photographs."

Another big change with the LED lights is the effectiveness of the "moving" displays such as the leaping orca and the jumping frog, she said. "People who come to watch them will be excited - it's so much brighter and more visible now, even at dusk."

Except for the newer technology and the improved color and motion, most of the displays will be similar to previous years, with hundreds of "light sculptures" and nearly every shrub in the grounds decked out in some sort of colorful pattern. But at least one major new creature - a dragonfly - has been added to the menagerie, Bridgham said.

It's a scene that undoubtedly would have delighted Louis Simpson, scion of a 19th century timber and shipping company started in the Coos Bay area by his father, Asa Simpson.

The younger Simpson bought Shore Acres, on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean with a commanding view of the crashing surf, and built a huge, palatial mansion there as a Christmas gift to his wife, Cassie, in 1906.

Accounts of their lives at Shore Acres conjure up visions of guests lounging on a vast veranda overlooking the sea, dances in the third-floor ballroom, leisurely swims in the indoor Roman-style pool and baths, and rooms with huge fireplaces and massive furniture set off by lavish Oriental rugs, paintings and statues from around the world.

Outside, the original estate stretched for 1,600 acres, including spectacular formal gardens filled with exotic plants brought back to Shore Acres from all parts of the globe via the family's shipping fleet.

At first used just as a summer home, the mansion became the family's year-round residence in 1916. The same year, Simpson - known statewide as the "handsome stranger" - made an unsuccessful bid to become governor of Oregon. Four years later, his wife died of kidney failure at Shore Acres.

On July 4, 1921, a huge fire engulfed the house and destroyed it. After the fire, Simpson lived temporarily in the caretaker's cottage, which is still on the grounds at Shore Acres.

Simpson soon remarried, and in 1927 began building another house at Shore Acres. But work ceased - except for the completion of a few rooms - after he lost much of his fortune in the stock market crash that began Oct. 29, 1929.

When a wildfire threatened the property in 1936 - but did not burn the house - the family evacuated and never returned.

In 1942, Simpson sold what remained of the Shore Acres property, more than 600 acres, to the state of Oregon for $29,000. He had previously donated the land for Cape Arago State Park; Sunset Bay State Park also is part of the former Simpson property.

Simpson died just weeks after the state razed the second, derelict mansion in December 1948.

Although no longer an architectural showpiece and a retreat for the rich and famous, Shore Acres State Park plays host to up to 500,000 people each year who come for its walking trails and ocean vistas, summer gardens and winter light display. Nearly 50,000 people - from 47 states and 38 countries last year - flock to the park between Thanksgiving Day and New Year's Eve, when the light show ends for the season.

Let us know about your favorite holiday displays

From houses that light up the neighborhood to those displaying subtle decoration, the personalities of local residents shine this time of year.

Whether it twinkles, flashes, blinks or strobes, we'd like to know about outstanding holiday season displays in Lane County. And we'd like to tell readers about them.

Beginning Dec. 12, we'll publish a list of noncommercial light displays that celebrate the season - be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years or winter. The list will run Fridays in Ticket, Mondays in Personal Life and round-the-clock at through December.

You can nominate a display by sending e-mail to: Include a precise street address with ZIP code, plus your name and phone number.

You may also drop a note with the above information in the mail to: Holiday Lights, The Register-Guard, P.O. Box 10188, Eugene OR, 97440-2188. Nominations also may be faxed to 338-2813.

Holiday lights at

Shore Acres state park

This year's "light sculpture" display opens Thanksgiving Day and runs through New Year's Eve at the park near Coos Bay.

Where: 13 miles southwest of Coos Bay; from Highway 101 in North Bend, follow the signs toward "ocean beaches and Charleston" (Newmark Avenue) to the Cape Arago Highway; drive south and look for the signs to Shore Acres.

When: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day, Nov. 27 through Dec. 31.

Features: Walk-through display with more than 250,000 lights; open house with cookies, hot cider, punch and coffee; live entertainment; gift shop.

Special event: Drawing on Christmas Day (need not be present to win) for "Ultimate Bed and Breakfast" stay for two in the Garden House on the Shore Acres property on New Year's Eve, with a catered breakfast on New Year's Day; tickets $10 each with maximum of 150 sold.

Admission: $3 per vehicle or current annual parking permit from the Oregon Park & Recreation Division, current Oregon Coastal Passport or current campground receipt.

Information: Toll-free at (541) 888-3732 or (800) 824-8486;; or
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Title Annotation:Oregon Life
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 23, 2008
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