Several weeks back I was in Seattle Washington visiting friends. During a stroll near the downtown Monorail station I made an off the cuff comment about wondering what happened to the giant Santa. My friend Janet said “Oh my god. I’m about to cry. No one else remembers giant Santa.”
I personally hadn’t given Giant Santa much thought over the years and I don’t know why he popped into my head that day.
Janet said she did a little research but was unable to come up with any information regarding the Giant Santa. She started questioning if she imagined the Giant Santa because no one else could verify it. Of course, I made it my mission to uncover something for her.
What we remember:
For a handful of years, perhaps the mid to late 1970’s, a large Santa Claus was assembled around 5th and Pine at the south end of the Monorail Station in downtown Seattle. Being so young at the time my memory (and Janet’s memory) of Giant Santa is vague at best. What we do remember is he was very large, perhaps several stories. He had a loudspeaker in him somewhere which was voiced by someone – perhaps located in the Giant Santa or a nearby building. As children would walk by Giant Santa would speak to them and the children could speak back. I remember being downtown as a child and yelling at Giant Santa but he ignored me. It must have been break time for the voice of Santa.
I’ve been spending a big of time researching Giant Santa and hoping to uncover some information about him. I only vaguely remember what he looked like so a picture of him next to the Monorail would be perfect. I have not been successful in getting any real tangible evidence of Giant Santa… until today.
I received an email back from Carolyn Marr at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle. In part it says this:
“Thank you for contacting the Museum of History and Industry about the Santa downtown. Our photo curator remembers the Santa, too, but we have not found much about it.”
Her email contained some information and a few leads.
It appears Giant Santa was the brainchild of John Gilmore – then President of Seattle Downtown Development Association. He is quoted as saying;
“We decided we wanted to build a four-story high Santa Claus as big as the Nordstrom building there at Westlake. The Santa had to be assembled by crane. It usually took about a week.”
It appears Giant Santa was built by a currently unknown company in Enumclaw Washington and shipped to Seattle on semi trucks. He was on display in Seattle for about 10 years. At one point they were unable to store Giant Santa so he was sold to Anchorage, Alaska. At this point I do not know if he was sold to the city of Anchorage or a company located in Anchorage. The details are sketchy at best.
His current status and location is unknown but, yes Janet, there is a Giant Santa Claus.
Janet did discover a Giant Santa located in North Pole, Alaska (North Pole Alaska is about 15 miles south east of Fairbanks – 370 miles north of Anchorage). It is sitting outside of a place called “The Santa Claus House, North Pole”. I have an email to this company requesting more information.
UPDATE #1: The Santa in North Pole Alaska has been confirmed to be the Giant Santa in question. I received an email from the owners today. In part it reads;
Our Santa was built in the 1960’s by Wes Stanley of Stanley Plastics as a prototype for three giant Santa statues constructed that year (the whereabouts of the other statues is unknown). Our Santa was displayed in Seattle by a department store for a few years, then was purchased by a group of businessmen in Anchorage, Alaska as a civic pride initiative. Con Miller, our founder, purchased the statue in 1978 for $4500. Santa was then driven by truck in four pieces (so he could fit underneath the overpasses on the Parks Highway) to North Pole. Upon his arrival, Santa was found to be in very poor condition. However, after extensive repair, Santa found his permanent home at Santa Claus House in 1983.
A little more research and I discover Wes Stanley has created a couple more Seattle icons. Currently in front of the Pacific Science Center sit two large dinosaurs – a stegosaurus and a triceratops. There is a third large dinosaur, a pteranodon, hanging inside the center. These three creatures, along with other dinosaurs were designed by Wes Stanley in 1968. They were commissioned by a man named Richard Fisher for his dinosaur theme park in Sequim Washington. The park opened in 1975 and closed a year later. The dinosaurs moved back to Enumclaw and lived in Wes Stanley’s field for several years. They were later moved and stored at the Fisher’s property in Bellevue Washington until the majority of them (11 in all) were restored and donated to the Science Center in 1991. Wes Stanley did the restorations himself.
This makes me wonder about the old giant pink martini drinking elephant at the Seattle Center. Where is that thing?
UPDATE #2: The following pictures were in my email inbox today. These were provided by Carissa Brown the business manager of The Santa Claus House.
I also received a handful of scanned Seattle Times newspaper articles from the 1970’s care of the Seattle Public Library. I’ll wade through those and put up what I can.
UPDATE #3: Here is some more information I found out about Giant Santa.
The original design concept for Giant Santa was a 4 story tall animatronic Santa. The Downtown Business Development Division wanted him to move his arms and head, smoke his pipe and speak. When completed Giant Santa only spoke. This might explain why this Giant Santa is referred to as a prototype. I wonder if the other two built by Wes Stanley moved?
Lee Ross, a display business owner at the time, was the man who suggested going to Wes Stanley. Apparently he heard of Mr. Stanley by way of the dinosaur project I mentioned previously.
Alice Stanley, (Wes’ wife) was responsible for the original concept of Giant Santa. Apparently she worked on many of the other projects with her husband.
To build the Giant Santa, Mr Stanley needed to construct a special shed for it at his Enumclaw plastics shop.
Construction started in 1968 and by November 1969 Giant Santa was complete. He was 42 feet tall, weighed 900 pounds and had a 33 foot waistline. He was displayed for the first time Christmas 1969.
In 1971 Giant Santa received a new paint job in warehouse space on Pier 37. Under the supervision of Walter Atkinson, boys from several Boys Clubs throughout Seattle volunteered to paint him.
Giant Santa was stored in Seattle for another year. During this time the Downtown Anchorage Association bought him. On Tuesday November 8th 1977 Giant Santa boarded the ship Portland at Sea-Land Services en route to his next home in Alaska.
Giant Santa made his debut in front of the Federal Building in Anchorage that Christmas.
I have a few pictures from this time. I’ll see if I can secure permission to put them up.
I have been unable to find any other documentation of Giant Santa’s two siblings.
—-I will update this page as I discover more.
Cool site – thank you soo much.
Someone was asking about Giant Santa at https://www.facebook.com/VintageKingCounty and your blog came up in a search for more information. Thank you for sharing your research!
thanks for posting this. i too grew up in seattle and have vague but haunting memories of a giant santa from the early 70’s. i have been curious about this for years. my recollection is possibly one in white center? but we did as a family go down town to what is now westlake center (back when is was much more of an exciting street vendor atmosphere and the monorail stop. fredricks and the Bon would compete for amazing kinetic window displays and there would be a roped area in front to shuttle the kids through into the human santa inside for pictures.
as far as the Giant santa, i recall thinking humans were inside up in the head but i dont know if i ever saw anyone up there. i do remember a door in the back which i had thought was access to get up into that head. i also recall his arm moving simply up and down and candy dropped from the hand… could be wrong on this.
he was Scary!
I’m very thankful to you for your research. I remember way back when, we used to go downtown in Seattle at Christmastime. After a Monorail rail ride, we would shuttle through one of those department stores and there was the gigantic Santa Claus outside in the courtyard. We would stand on the balcony in the cold and that huge statue would bellow, “What would you like for Christmas?” and we’d yell back at it. That Santa statue was heavy duty too, like concrete and fifty feet tall. I’ve long been wondering what they did with it. Mostly I remember standing there at the railing, holding onto the cold metal of it, and usually there was rain coming in. Yelling across to that big temple Buddha-sized statue. What a weird construction that was! (One of the wonders of growing up in 1970s Seattle.) I think I remember a door in back too. I do remember watching for people up in his eye slits, looking for motion in there.
Just saw your story about Seattle’s giant Santa which I guess is an old one. I was the marketing director for the Downtown Seattle Association in those days and I came up with the idea. Found Stanley and the Santa was built at his shop. Nearly all of your story is correct and Santa is now at the North Pole. He waved his arm, spoke to the children and smoked his pipe. However complaints about the pipe forced us to remove the pipe. As far as I know there was only one Santa built.
That was a excellent article!
Union, Missouri had one of these giant Santas as well. We have been trying to track down information on him, too. I tried to post a pic of ours but couldn’t.
Tammy: In my research I found Wes Stanley has created one or two other Santas. Maybe Union Missouri has one of them?
I remember the Giant Santa very well. My mother would take me downtown at Christmas time to shop and get a photo with Santa at The Bon or Frederic and Nelson. We would often take the Monorail and have lunch at Bartel’s triangle soda fountain. I was always very excited to see the Giant Santa. I sure wish there were pictures of how he was back then. Very glad to see he still exists and appreciate the research done to uncover this elusive piece of Seattle history. Merry Christmas!
Actually I had a giant Santa in a Shopping center in southern California and found Wes to build an even bigger one for me to place on the Westlake Park in Downtown Seattle.
Santa’s arm waved, smoke came from his pipe and he talked to the children. Later there was an objection to Santa smoking and the pipe was removed.
At the time I was the marketing director for the Central Assn.(now the Downtown Seattle Assn) and that organization built and promoted the Giant Santa. I later was named president of DSA