From 1991: Richard Roeper visits the ‘Home Alone’ house in Winnetka
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As “Home Alone” marks its 25th anniversary, here’s a look back at a story from Jan. 9, 1991:
On a still winter Monday in the beautiful North Shore town of Winnetka, the Abendshien family is enjoying a night home alone. John fiddles with his new VCR, while his wife, Cynthia, makes postdinner coffee and their 7-year-old daughter Lauren plinks “Heart & Soul” on the piano.
They seem oblivious to the cars pulling in and out of their circular driveway, the excited chatter of strangers standing on their porch and the sporadic light bursts caused by popping flashbulbs piercing their windows.
Of course, this has been going on every night for two months now. It’s the way life goes when you live in the “Home Alone” home.
I’m invited inside, and the first thing I notice is the staircase used as a sledding hill in the movie by Macaulay Culkin. We take the stairs up to the third floor, and glance out the window that led to the tree house in the great escape scene. I half expect to see the mysterious and scary Marley next door, shoveling his sidewalk and casting ominous glances in my direction.
“They really built a tree house out there,” says John, “but I decided to have it taken down because it was so high up. Didn’t want anyone to get hurt.”
We go back downstairs to the kitchen, which was completely redone for the movie. In “Home Alone,” the wallpaper was done in shades of red and green, as a background reminder of the Christmas theme. In reality, Cynthia prefers more subtle shades.
“They made quite a few other changes,” John notes. “The back stairwell in the movie doesn’t really exist. They just dug a hole and built some steps. On the other side of the ‘basement door’ is the foundation for the house. And they expanded the kitchen to include our screened-in back porch.”
Outside, another car pulls up. Daryl Smithers, a young woman from Chicago, steps out and gazes up at the famous white twinkling holiday lights, which are nearly identical to what is seen in the movie.
“Awesome!” she says as she dashes up to the front steps so her boyfriend can take a picture.
“We’re still getting about 35 cars an hour,” says Cynthia. “On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, there were more than 400 cars each day. I think a lot of people brought their out-of-town relatives by.”
Over the past decade, the North Shore has become “Hughesland” — the setting for many of John Hughes’ wildly popular films. The “Uncle Buck” house is in Evanston. “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” Kenilworth. “The Breakfast Club,” Northfield. “Sixteen Candles,” Highland Park.
But in “Home Alone,” the Abendshien house isn’t just featured, it’s a co-star in the story of a 10-year-old boy (Culkin) who is left behind by his vacationing family over the Christmas holiday. The majority of it was filmed right here last February.
“I was hesitant to turn my house over to 120 strangers,” says Cynthia, “but I read the script and I did like the idea of it being a holiday movie.”
“She thought of it as an adventure. I thought of it as a business transaction,” says John, who’d rather not say how much they were paid for the use of their home. “Anyway, she was right, I was wrong.”
The Abendshiens knew their home would gain some notoriety; as far back as last summer, after a sneak preview, some sleuthing North Shore youths stopped by to take a look at the “Home Alone” home.
But what no one could have predicted is the monster success of the film, which has grossed $168 million and has been No. 1 in each of its eight weeks in release.
The “Home Alone” home is destined to go down in movie history, but unlike famous dwellings from movies such as “Animal House,” “Psycho” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it doesn’t sit on a Hollywood lot; it rests at the end of a quiet street in Winnetka. And the visitors just keep on coming.
“They’re nice; they don’t cause any trouble,” says Cynthia. “I think sometimes they’re surprised when they see real people moving around inside.”
“Home Alone” has an outside chance to overtake “E.T.” as the highest-grossing film in history. At the very least, it will be a popular family Christmas movie for years to come.
“I’m thrilled that our house will be a part of so many holidays,” says Cynthia.
On my way out, I carefully navigate the front steps, mindful of how slippery they were in the movie. A group of teenagers pile out of a car, their faces shining in the bright white lights.
“This is it,” says one of them. “The ‘Home Alone’ home.”