Christmas in July! Santa’s Workshop-North Pole, NY

When times were simpler, and kids still believed in Santa Claus, a magical new type of theme park began to pop up around the United States. In the 1950s and 1960s, Santa set up little sub-stations all over America. Once inside, kids could see Santa’s Reindeer, meet his elves, and touch a real “north pole” (or for unimaginative grown ups-a pipe covered in frozen water). The real treat usually came in a visit to see the man himself, Santa Claus! Little parks everywhere popped up to honor the Jolly Old Elf, and celebrate the non-secular Christmas traditions  that most American families were beginning to partake in after WWII. Santa'sWorkshop

Today we’re paying tribute to one of the many wonderful Santa Claus parks that still dot the American landscape. This one is in…well, North Pole, NY! Santa’s Workshop is one of the oldest continually operating amusement parks in the United States, but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. This well maintained treasure looks like it could have been built within the last 10 years, but it actually opened in 1949. The park was designed by Arto Monaco between 1947 and 1949, and if you are paying attention out there in Kiddieland, Monaco’s is a name to know-He worked on over a dozen parks primarily in and around the Adirondack Mountains, including the Enchanted Forest in Old Forge, Storyland in NH, and his own Land of Make Believe which eventually closed in 1979 after repeated flooding.

 

Santa's WorkshopSanta’s Workshop’s primary draw is its shows, featuring familiar characters like Little Bo Peep, Alice in Wonderland and two red-haired rag dolls named Sam & Sandy (Not to be confused with Raggedy Ann & Andy©®); as well as homegrown Characters like “Rowdy The Rascal  Reindeer”, “Miranda Mouse” and  “Chris Moose”!  The high point of my day was seeing Miranda Mouse perform over a 1971 track of Lynn Anderson’s Ding A Ling the Christmas Bell. (with Rowdy’s rendition of  the 1968 Buck Owens’ hit “Christmas Shopping”  a close second!) The park currently features 8 different shows daily.

Check out this 1988 commercial featuring some earlier incarnations  of these characters.

In addition to the shows, the park has a reindeer barn where you can feed Santa’s real reindeer; along with a variety of appropriately themed rides, like the Candy Cane Express, The Peppermint Swing, and the Christmas Tree Ride (where you get to sit inside a giant Christmas ornament and spin around a huge tree!) The most breathtaking is the Christmas Carousel, with gorgeous original 1940s deer that have flirty eyelashes and jingle bell saddles place of the usual boring horses.  Naturally the carousel plays Calliope Christmas tunes in place of the usual carousel music.  We’ve seen a few other Reindeer carousels in our travel, but non as sweet as this one.

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You can see the Christmas Carousel running around the 3:00 mark in this 1970 8mm family film:

One of our favorite things is that this park doesn’t hide its history. Although everything is modern and clean enough for even the most germ-phobic modern parents, the park houses a small history museum called “Santa Claus Memory Lane”. Inside you will find 65 years worth of vintage park merchandise, signage, and costumes. I could have spent hours in here looking around the cases! I’m lucky it was not a gift shop or I’d have come home broke and needing a second room!

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Regardless of your religious affiliations, or feelings on the Holiday season, there is no denying that these parks are just good old fashioned fun. They’re a part of our cultural history and we’re thrilled that a few of them still exist in the modern world. Have you ever visited Santa’s Workshop? If not, we highly recommend that you get yourself to the North Pole (New York, that is!) and take in this treasure!

 

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Memory Lane-Santa’s Village-Scotts Valley, CA

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In the redwoods of Northern California, the first franchised theme park was born. The first Santa’s Village opened in 1955 in San Bernadino, where it operated until 1988.  The park was so successful that Santa’s Village opened it’s second location in Scott’s Valley in 1957. Franchising was a relatively new concept, and something that had never been done before in the theme park industry. Using his formula for successful franchises, Glenn Holland opened a third location in Dundee IL in 1959. This location still operates today, and is on my shortlist of parks to visit!

Sadly, in 1979, Santa’s Village in Scott’s Valley closed its doors forever. ACE Norcal visited and filmed the remnants of the park, and found some amazing history there, including some buildings that are standing, and amazingly tickets and maps from 1979 that are still on the property but have since been reclaimed by nature!

K. Gordon Murray Fans will recognize the parks as the inexpensive backdrops for new scenes he had shot and inserted into Mexican films before turning them into cheap kiddie matinees for American children in the 196s. Santa and his Helpers, Santa’s Enchanted Village, and Santa’s Magic Kingdom all include new Santa’s Village footage cut into the original Mexican films to make for a schlocky record of the parks (and the awkward acting abilities of the park employees).

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You can watch Santa and His Helpers here to see some of the park elves making toys, the Easter Bunny riding the train, and some great shots of the park.

If you want to experience a bit of this park’s magical history yourself, hope is not lost. Macdorsa park is home to 2 original mushroom statues from Santa’s Village! But in order to fully immerse yourself in the memories, Sorensen’s All Seasons Resort now owns 2 of the original buildings which have been converted to cabins. You can actually stay in Santa’s House and the Chapel overnight, and they are working on construction on the Elves Workshop! I sense a trip to Northern California in my future!

Although Santa’s Village is gone in CA, it is nice to see Californians saving a bit of their history. For a walk down memory lane, don’t miss santasvillage.net where a rich history of the parks can be found; or you can always join up with the Santa’s Village Memories facebook group to share some of your own photos and help keep the park alive!

Definitely don’t miss the opportunity to visit the still operational Santa’s Village near Chicago, where you can step back in time and still enjoy the park today and make new memories.

Do you have any memories of Santa’s Village? Tell us about them in the comments!