Some of you may remember taking holiday road trips to visit your relatives for Christmas when you were younger and your first time at the adults table. Inevitably, while you were sitting at the table, one of the old timers would take notice and say something like:
“Gosh, Jimmy, you sure are growing like a weed. Boy, I tell you, when I was your age I wish I was as tall as you. Back then though, Dad had to work seven jobs and we still couldn’t afford milk. That’s why I’m so short today. Yeah, I tell you… we didn’t have all these fancy things you got today. You’re mom tells me you got a television in your room. Back then, I tell you, we had to entertain ourselves! We used to whittle our toys out of broken furniture. Course when dad lost his mining job, we had to throw them in the fire for heat in the winter. Yessir! We had it rough.”
Well, today’s blog post is going to be about one of those old timers who had it rough. And since it’s that time of year again when we sit around listening to stories about angels and elves and holiday miracles , we thought today we’d tell a Christmas story to get you in the spirit of the season. So, grab a cup of hot chocolate and your Stuckey’s Pecan Log Roll – that’s right, the big 10 oz. one because this is going to take a while – and sit back and enjoy today’s Christmas story.
Glenn Holland was a real estate developer from California and a pretty successful one at that. However, it wasn’t always that way. You see, Glenn grew up during the depression and never celebrated one Christmas while he was growing up. To make things worse, Glenn’s parents died when he was 18 and he was left to take care of his younger sister. He didn’t let that get him down, though; he just worked harder to get himself out the situation he found himself in. Eventually, Glenn had a wife and children of his own, and the one thing he always promised himself was they’d always have a Christmas.
In the early 1950s he started sketching out all of the details for a theme park called Santa’s Village after he heard of a similar idea called North Pole. He then set out looking for investors, even talking to one young man by the name of Walt Disney, who was building a theme park of his own. After finding enough investors, Glenn found 230 acres of land for rent near Lake Arrowhead, California, in an area called Skyland, and on 15 of those acres he started building Santa’s Village.
Theme was important Glenn and everything about the park had to make it seem that you were actually in Santa Claus’s hometown. There were old log cabins, character experiences, a Ferris wheel, a petting zoo and live reindeer that roamed about the park until one unfortunate day a child was bitten by one.
That children believed in the myth of Santa Claus paramount to Mr. Holland. In fact, money never even exchanged hands inside the park. Rather, a small passport ticket was used to keep track of the guest’s expenses. The passport would be checked out at the end of the visit in the exit shop. The village was even designed with toadstools and mushrooms because, according to Norwegian legend, that’s where the pixies and fairies lived.
Santa’s Village opened on May 28, 1955 and was a huge success. It’s said that cars were lined up from the park at the top of the hill and stretched 20 miles all the way down to the town limits.
The park was open year round the first year. After that it was only open weekends and closed altogether in April, May and June, and then open every day again during the Christmas season.
The park also featured a small monorail – a new transportation idea at the time. Painted to look like bumble bees, the monorail was built in 1962 by the American Hoist and Crane Company as a prototype for the one they would build two years later for the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair – the AMF Monorail .
Now, let’s go back for a moment to the days when Glenn was first pitching the idea to investors. Besides Walt Disney, Glenn had also met with two brothers – Richard and Maurice McDonald – founders of a small burger joint in San Bernardino. The brothers gave Mr. Holland one word of advice: “Franchise!”
Taking their advice, Holland leased land belonging to a dairy farm in Scott’s Valley, California, and opened up another Santa’s Village in 1957. This Santa’s Village was pretty much like the first with lollipop buildings, mushroom and toadstools for the elves and pixies and Santa’s house complete with a huge mailbox that you could put your letters to Santa in. In fact, the first Santa at the second park was a Norwegian man by the name of Karl Hansen who would go on to play the clown named Hocus Pocus on television for 10 years after his Santa gig.
The admission for the second park was free and visitors only had to pay to ride the rides.
With the second park open, Santa’s Village became the first franchised theme park in America. However, after seeing the success of the two parks, Holland wasn’t finished yet and set his eyes on a third Santa’s village this time halfway across the country outside of Chicago, Illinois.
Santa’s Village in Dundee, Illinois opened on Memorial Day 1959.
By now all the parks pretty much looked the same with small exceptions. For instance, this Santa Village has “Penny Peck – the educational chicken”. However, there was change that the owners of the Santa’s Village made that would eventually lead to the downfall of the Santa’s Village franchise.
In 1962, Santa’s Village in Dundee decided to build the Polar Dome, a 40,000-seat ice rink that would be the largest air supported dome in the world at that time. And they did draw a crowd with some top ice skating acts a speed skating competitions taking place there on a regular basis. Glenn wasn’t too happy about the idea. He felt it didn’t go along with the theme he envisioned for all of his Santa’s Village franchises.
Glenn also made a mistake when he built Santa’s Village in Dundee – he didn’t take into consideration Chicago’s famously brutal winters. Because of that, he had a Santa’s Village that was closed at Christmas. Though he had plans to build two more Santa’s Villages – one in Richmond, Virginia, and one in Cherry Hill, New Jersey – Glenn Holland quickly grew tired of the politics of corporate franchises and got out of the Santa’s Village business in when he retired in 1963.
Sometimes in the 1970s, a terrible storm ripped off the roof of the Polar Dome and the new owners had it replaced with a flat roof. A few years later the owner died and it was bought by a new company who changed the name of the park to Worlds of Fun which was made up of three areas or “worlds”: 1.) Santa’s Village World, 2.) Old MacDonald’s World, and 3.) Coney Island World. The new name didn’t catch on, however, so they changed it to the 3 Worlds of Santa’s Village.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, 3 worlds of Santa’s Village built the first waterpark in the Midwest at the former Santa’s Village and by 1998 they had their first looping rolling coaster. Unfortunately, after going through several owners, the park just didn’t make enough money to stay open and its gates closed in 2005 after 46 years in business.
Meanwhile, back out in California, things weren’t much better. The original Santa’s Village went bankrupt and was sold in 1977. It’s new owner sold all of the rides and simply renamed it the Village where open air flea markets were held for awhile.
In 1979, Santa’s Village Skyland closed its gates.
Glen Holland died in 2002.
So, that’s our Christmas story about things we used to visit but aren’t there anymore.
And while we’re on the subject, with today being Christmas and everything, if you haven’t gotten your shopping done yet and your on your way to Uncle Elmers’s and Aunt Doris’ house for Christmas, then stop in your nearest Stuckey’s location and pick up a few of our Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls (now available in the “Yule Log-Sized” 10 inch version – our biggest yet!) They make great stocking stuffers along with just about all of our Stuckey’s merchandise like our fine pecan candies, flavored nuts, and our branded t-shirts, hats and mugs. And while you’re decking out your halls, don’t forget to add our one-of-a-kind Stuckey’s Christmas ornament to your tree this year.
If you happen to be living in an area that doesn’t have a Stuckey’s yet, then head over to our website to find out how you can have all of Stuckey’s pecan-y goodness delivered right to your front door. Visit stuckey’s.com for more info.
Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again
Oh, wait… we’re you waiting for the “Christmas miracle” art of this story? Well, you’re in luck, because like every good Christmas story, this one does indeed have a happy ending of sorts. You see, two of the three Santa Villages have been resurrected!
Santa Land at Skyland/Arrowhead Lake, California, is now called Skypark at Santa’s Village, and according to their website:
“Restoring the historic qualities of the Park are paramount in our efforts as well. Bringing Santa back to his Village is also very important to us. He is why we are here in the first place! Santa is at the Park all year. He will be actively participating in our outdoor activities. Every year, SkyPark at Santa’s Village transforms into a dazzling Christmas Wonderland. Experience the nostalgia of an ‘Old World Christmas in the Woods’ with your family and friends and create memories that will last a lifetime.”
Want even another miracle? After extensive rehabilitation, Santa’s Village in Dundee reopened in 2011 under new ownership. Renamed Santa’s Village Azoosment and Water Park because of the shared focus on both rides and animals, the Azoosment Park has nearly twenty rides and attractions, and hundreds of exotic and farm animals in an interactive environment.
So, it seems that Glenn has still kept his promise and another great holiday story ends with another Christmas miracle.
Merry Christmas from all of us at Stuckey’s!
Whether your next road trip is by car or by rail, it’s not really a road trip without taking Stuckey’s along. From our world famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls to our mouthwatering Hunkey Dorey, Stuckey’s has all the road trips snacks you’ll need to get you where you’re going.
For all of the pecany good treats and cool merch you’ll need for your next big road adventure, browse our online store now!
Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!