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Southern Californians Buy Their White Christmas

December 23, 1988

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) _ Shortly after 9 a.m., a freak snowstorm hit the Stewards’ house with fury, burying the green lawn and blooming rose bush and plastering the windows with white stuff.

For $500, Gregg Steward had bought his family a white Christmas.

Since Dec. 13, the Riverside Ice Co. has shaved dozens of tons of ice to cover more than 20 green Southern California lawns with inches of pure white snow. Under blue skies, palm trees and basking in 70-degree temperature, children who have grown up with surfboards and skateboards have tried out sleds and toboggans for the first time.

While sun, sand and surf might sound attractive to Northerners shivering in their hats and mittens, Southern Californians apparently tire of the tanned life at Christmas time.

An Arcadia shop sells plastic icicles that customers use to cover the front of their homes, and sales of spray-can snow are up.

″They like a little taste of the Midwest,″ says Chuck Carter, general manager of the ice company, which usually blows its ice on vegetable trucks traveling to the East Coast in hot weather.

As ice company owner Gary Wittenmyer directed the blasting snow onto the Stewards’ yard Thursday, 6-year-old Brett waited, wearing puffy blue mittens and Amazing Spiderman boots.

Beside him, in pink ribbons, pink turtleneck, bib-overalls and Reeboks, was his girlfriend Ashley Cunningham, 6, who already knew what the snow was for.

″I’m going to snow fight Brett,″ she said.

Gregg Steward, 31, said he had taken Brett and his wife, Bobby, 31, to the mountains the year before for Christmas, and they had enjoyed playing in the snow. But this year’s schedule - Steward works as both a Costa Mesa firefighter-paramedic and a Riverside real estate agent - didn’t allow the time.

″So we decided to bring the snow here″ to the family home close to the Mojave Desert, he said.

By 9:30 a.m., his New England-style home was sprinkled with five tons of snow that coated the roof and windows. It lay 6 inches deep on the lawn, blocking the front door. Brett and the neighborhood kids attempted a snowball battle.

″Some of his friends coming over have - what do you call them? - those little round things,″ Steward said.

There’s just not much need to know what toboggans are here, 50 miles inland from Los Angeles.

The company that coated Steward’s yard has had calls from 60 miles west in Beverly Hills and Manhattan Beach, since news broke of their mini-blizzards. They are booked solid for Christmas Eve and have lined up jobs for New Year’s and Valentine’s Day.

The minimum snow-job costs $300 for 20 300-pound blocks of ice that are shaved into three tons of snow. Last week, the company put 15 tons of snow on a Moreno Valley lawn for a neighborhood block party.

The snow, which consists of fine ice pellets similar to snow cone ice, lasts for two to three days without rain, about one day with rainfall. The green grass usually survives despite the cold shower.

Wittenmyer said the ice company has made more snow in the past two weeks than in all his 15 years at the company, all because his wife, Sandy, ran an ad for the usually low-key business in the newspaper.

″It’s just gone wild,″ he said.

But as a transplanted Ohioan, Wittenmyer sees the irony in his new business.

″I came to California to get out of that stuff,″ he said.

What would the folks back home think now?

″They’re going to think I’m really a whiz kid selling ice and snow to Californians.″

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