An old man in a striped shirt and tie sits in a red classic car laughing
Magnolia’s Tony Gullo has collected cars for 70 years and has more than 300 in his personal museum.

The third time was the charm when it came to naming the town of Magnolia. Originally established as Mink, the community about 44 miles northwest of Houston got a post office in 1885. Seventeen years later, the International-Great Northern Railroad built through the city, which was briefly renamed Melton. But local officials soon changed its name to Magnolia in honor of the trees that grow in the area. Today, the city has 2,800 residents, but the greater Magnolia area spans 12 miles in all directions and has a population of about 138,000. “I think it’s the greatest little small town in the United States,” says Tony Gullo, who moved to Magnolia with his family in 1968. The owner of five car dealerships, Gullo is known around town for being both a car and Christmas enthusiast. He’s been collecting cars since the 1950s, and as Gullo and his wife, Dolly, raised their children, he began adding more Christmas lights to their display each year. Today, the Gullo House features 5-and-a-half acres of animations and 1 million lights for the community to enjoy during the holidays from mid-November through Jan. 1. In 1992, he launched Gullo Christmas for Kids, a nonprofit that provides funds and scholarships for families in need. “It was always for the kids,” Gullo says.

Lights Fantastic

“We started adding lights over 50 years ago to our house in Magnolia. I played Santa Claus until COVID-19 came, and then I decided that it was maybe time to not do it anymore. It’s free of charge to walk through our display, and if you Google it, they say it’s a tourist attraction.”

In the Dark

“The funniest thing that ever happened is I was playing Santa Claus one night—that was usually the week before Christmas on a Saturday night. We’d have hundreds of people come through here. This particular time, it was around 5 p.m., and we lost all power. I thought it was gonna come on in 15 or 20 minutes, but it didn’t come on. My son-in-law was retired from the light company, and he happened to know some people. He drove down to Nichols Sawmill Road, and he found out somebody had knocked over the telephone pole. I had a generator and was able to light up the Santa booth, but everything was in the dark at 6:30 p.m. We had hundreds of people here at 7 p.m., and all of a sudden, the lights came on and there was a big cheer and hollering. Everybody was very congenial.”


Auto Aficionado

“As a teenager, I was very intrigued by automobiles, and I thought one day it would be nice to have a few cars. I didn’t dream that I would have over 300. I grew up with the 1950 model automobiles and thought they were pretty cool cars, so I started collecting those. In the ’60s and ’70s, I decided to build a [private] museum out of my house.”


Good Eats

“Believe it or not, we have quite a few eating places in Magnolia. Every Saturday morning, we go to Magnolia Diner for breakfast. Dolly orders an omelet, and I get scrambled eggs and bacon. And we have very good Mexican restaurants, like Las Fuentes and Rancho Grande.”


Historic Depot

“The originator of the Magnolia Depot, Celeste Graves, recently passed away at 103. They have a number of events at the Magnolia Depot; Lions clubs will meet there and host different functions throughout the year. They have a lot of people go through there.”


Growth Spurt

“Magnolia has absolutely busted out at the seams. It’s amazing to me that now we have two high schools, and they’re fixing to build more schools. With all the subdivisions that are going in, they’re talking about 1,500 to 3,000 more homes, and it’s hard to put your mind around that for a town that once had only about 800 or 1,100 in population. The first thing you notice about Magnolia now is the traffic.”

Town Trivia:


Number of Stoplights:

Year founded:

Nearest City:
Houston, 44 miles southeast

Marquee Event:
The Magic of Christmas Parade of Lights, the first Saturday in December

Map it:

Gullo House Christmas Lights, 30723 Old Hockley Road

From the December 2023 issue

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