Yes, Virginia, there was a Santa Claus in Arizona. Today most travelers whip past the vacant buildings of this icon ghost town without a blink of the eye as they dash off to adventures in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The tiny town of Santa Claus was established around 1937 when the enterprising real-estate owner planned to use the location as a land office. Nina Talmot believed she could easily market the barren landscape by using the Santa Claus theme pitted against the arid desert surroundings. Candy striped Swiss chalets decorated in a Santa’s Workshop theme were constructed to attract land buyers into purchasing acreages near the misplaced North Pole.
By 1942, Santa Claus was a popular and very busy tourist stop along US Highway 93. It was located just 14 miles northwest of Kingman, Arizona and 70 miles southeast of Las Vegas. Sadly, the marketing of the land sales never succeeded as planned, therefore, the owner gave up on the venture by 1949. But, the tourist visits to Santa’s Desert Retreat became a popular event for both children and their parents. The youngsters loved the fact that they could check in with Santa Claus in the town anytime of the year. The adults came for the big family style breakfasts that were served for a mere 75 cents a plate at the Santa Claus Inn. The restaurant was famous for Dasher and Dancer omelets, Santa Claus Burgers and its delicious Rum Pie.
The Santa Claus post office boasted a service where mail and packages could be stamped with a postmark bearing Santa’s name. Imagine the delight of a child receiving a card or letter addressed to them with the traditional Santa Claus postmark.
But like many things in a simpler time, the popularity of Santa Claus began to decline in the 1970’s. The parents of the speeding cars didn’t give those few extra minutes to stop so their children could experience the same magic they felt as a child. By the 1990’s, Santa Claus did not appear on most Arizona road maps. By the 2000’s the town became difficult to locate. The few remaining structures are weather worn or in ruins.
This writer misses driving past Santa Claus and not seeing the blinking Christmas lights in July. All that remains are empty buildings marked with graffiti. Gone is the dining hall that showcased a portrait of Santa hanging over the fireplace, the Cinderella Doll House chalet, and the empty gas station where you could fill up with gas and Christmas cheer, too. The wishing well, old advertising signs, and the pink derailed kiddie train—The Old 1225 are hidden behind wire fences.
Santa Claus is abandoned and merely a ghost town now. But, for many of us who traveled the old highway in the family station wagon during the 50’s and 60’s, we will continue to be mesmerized by the mirage of the North Pole in the Arizona desert within the spirit of our hearts and minds.
You can still take a road trip to reach a Santa encounter!
The North Pole Experience
The Polar Express