Festivus became famous after being featured on a 1997 "Seinfeld" episode
The holiday was created by the family of a writer on the show
The show's set, complete with Festivus decorations, has been re-created in Los Angeles
Beneath a string of holiday lights, they rest by the dozen in the unusually chilly air.
Some are arranged in pots; others rise from the ground. All of them represent a season of sharing … grievances, that is.
This Festivus pole “garden” is a star attraction at Hulu’s “Seinfeld: The Apartment” fan experience, which is open again after a summer run in New York. For its Los Angeles event, the streaming TV service – which recently acquired all the “Seinfeld” episodes – is capitalizing on the enduring “holiday” born from the show.
“After Festivus dinner, you gather your family around and tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year,” explains George’s father, Frank Costanza, in the 1997 episode introducing the strange holiday.
There’s no Festivus tree; only an aluminum pole that “requires no decoration.”
“I find tinsel distracting,” says the elder Costanza, played by Jerry Stiller.
The pole was added in the TV script and is not a part of the original holiday. That’s right, the December 23 celebration does have its roots in reality.
Festivus was created by the father of “Seinfeld” writer Dan O’Keefe, and although the airing of grievances was true, the official decoration wasn’t a pole but a clock in a bag nailed to a wall.
“I didn’t want to put (the holiday) on TV, because it was sort of a family disgrace,” O’Keefe said in 2013. He relented after his brother leaked it to the writing staff.
“I was not forced to wrestle my father,” O’Keefe said of the “feats of strength,” another made-for-TV element where father and son rumble until one of them is pinned. “If I had, I would’ve been raised by the State of New York.”
The Festivus pole lot is just one attraction fans can see through Sunday at the “Seinfeld” pop-up installation at 8445 Melrose Ave. Along with a replica of Jerry’s apartment (down to his favorite cereal boxes), star Jerry Seinfeld opened his personal archive for the event. On display is iconic memorabilia like the coffee shop booth where the main characters commiserated, the Superman figure on Jerry’s bookshelf and a script for the final episode signed by the stars.
“It’s like walking through your old college fraternity,” said Larry Thomas, who played the “Soup Nazi” in season 7. “I see all these things, and I feel like I belong. And it’s hard for a guest character to feel like you belong to anything, because you do a good job and you’re gone.”
Thomas says he has signed 18,000 headshots of himself since 1995, when he uttered the iconic phrase “No soup for you!”
Though it took place in New York, “Seinfeld” was almost entirely shot in Los Angeles, making this exhibit a homecoming for people like Suzanne Feller-Otto, a set designer on the show for five seasons.
“I’m thrilled about it,” said Feller-Otto, who plans to take her daughter, who was born after “Seinfeld” went off the air in 1998. “We’ll be able to relive the happiest work experience that really changed the course of our lives.”
Feller-Otto, a native New Yorker, was among those who transformed Los Angeles into New York, thanks in part to a “New York street” built on the CBS backlot in Studio City, California, where the show was taped.
“We were using a half-block location in the back, and as the show grew,” the street grew, recalls Feller-Otto, now a teacher at Emerson College and the American Film Institute. A New York set on the Paramount lot was also a favorite of the production team (it’s where Kramer rode his Beefarino-fed horse and carriage).
Another sleight-of-hand: Though Seinfeld’s Manhattan address is said to be 129 W. 81st St., the façade used to set up scenes in Jerry’s apartment is in Los Angeles’s Koreatown neighborhood, the palm trees carefully cropped out of the shot.
But New Yorkers can claim at least one Seinfeld location as their own: Monk’s Coffee Shop. Its real name is Tom’s Restaurant, and though its interior wasn’t used, the exterior at 112th and Broadway has become an icon, drawing fans daily.
“It’s a part of me,” said Connie Taylor of Syracuse, who stopped by with her family last week to take a photo. “It’s exciting to see something right in front of me that I’ve watched on TV for years.”
It’s the same feeling the Seinfeld fan experience hopes to create back in West Hollywood – even for those who are more than fans.
“I’m so associated with that last name,” Thomas, the “Soup Nazi,” said while standing in the shadow of more Festivus poles than have probably ever been assembled.
On a recent commercial shoot, Thomas had a chance to catch up with Seinfeld for the first time since the show ended.
“I told him, ‘your name is my life,’ ” Thomas said.