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SANTA’S VILLAGE, LAKE ARROWHEAD, 1958

Santa's Village

Two lovely young ladies clad in sleeveless blouses and capri-clam digger-pedal pusher-toreador pants rest on giant cement mushrooms in front of the “Welcome House,” of Southern California’s most bizarre theme park. The first of three Santa’s Villages — the others were in Santa Cruz and Dundee, Illinois — it opened just months before Disneyland in 1955. The fifteen-acre, larger-than-life toyland was designed to keep the legend of Santa Claus and the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year. Oddly, it was open every day but Christmas

Spectacular cartoon-like storybook buildings made from logs cut from local ponderosa pine trees were sugar coated in bright colors and artistically detailed inside and out. Employees costumed as elves sold tickets and souvenirs, operated the rides and served food and refreshments. Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, the Easter Bunny and “Jack-the-Pumpkinhead” roamed the grounds and greeted guests. The best rides were the bumble bee monorail, candy cane sleigh pulled by “Dancer, Prancer, Donder and Blitzen,” a spinning Christmas tree — you rode in the ornaments — and miniature train ride “through the enchanted forest.” There was also a petting zoo, the Chapel of the Little Shepherd, Wee Marionette Puppet Theater, Santa’s House where kids could check to see if their name was in the “good book”, a “help yourself” lollipop tree and the North Pole, where the ice never melted, no matter how hot it ever got.

I had the privilege of visiting the park only twice, once as a child and once just before it went out of business in 1998. What impressed me the most as a kid, besides the shocking pink shake roof and bumble bee monorail, were the giant cement mushrooms. As an adult, it was how many employees had missing teeth.

Here’s to Santa’s Village and YOU!!