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Santa Claus: an abandoned theme town in the middle of the Arizona desert~

4 min read

The Mojave desert, with its (very) hot summer sun, Joshua trees and rock formations, would not generally be the place one would choose to honor a man whose traditional home is the North Pole. Yet standing in the desert there is the ghost remnants of Santa Claus, Arizona!

It all started in the early 1930s when Nina Talbot and her husband moved from Los Angeles, California, to nearby Kingman, Arizona, to operate a motel. Calling herself “the biggest real estate agent in California,” the name originated from Talbot’s girth (over 300 pounds) rather than her business acumen even if she, clearly, had a flair for public relations.
The Talbot’s founded Santa Claus in 1937 approximately 14 miles (23 km) northwest of Kingman, as an attempt to attract buyers to the desert location. Her plans for the town included subdividing the 80-acre (32 ha) site into lots that would form a resort town centered on a Santa theme in the desert, featuring several Christmas-themed buildings so visiting children could meet Santa Claus at any day of the year. The town’s post office became very popular in December as children and parents could receive mail postmarked with the town’s name. Until 1961 remailing service advertisements offered to postmark letters from Santa Claus, for a small fee.
Even though the town did become a popular tourist destination, no one ever bought land there, and the only people living there were the ones working in the town. Failing to see how she would make her real estate profits, and with the town in decline, Talbot sold Santa Claus in 1949, having failed in her attempt to convince people to move to the desert.

One of the places in town that was genuinely successful was its local restaurant, the Santa Claus Inn (later renamed the Christmas Tree Inn).
The restaurant served “a big farm breakfast” for $.75 in an air-conditioned room and offered menu items such as Chicken à la North Pole and Rum Pie à la Kris Kringle. The “French Room” part of the restaurant was highlighted in vintage postcards and a photo of Santa Claus himself placed over the restaurant’s fireplace. Critic Duncan Hines, who would later become popular for the brand of food products that bears his name, described it as being of the best in the region, and in 1950 science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wrote a short story about a sumptuous gourmet meal served there by Mrs. Claus. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes star Jane Russell even threw a dinner there in 1954.
Santa Claus received a significative attention in 1961 when several advertisements appeared in the 1961 issue of Popular Mechanics, an American magazine devoted to science and technology. The advertisements offered remailing services where Christmas cards and letters would be remailed from Santa Claus, Arizona, at a cost of $.25 plus the postage for the remailing.
But even this was not enough to save the town and by the 1970s, it had already begun to fall into disrepair. In July 1983, owner Tony Wilcox listed the entire town for sale. He sought $95,000 for the 4-acre (16,000 m2) community, and when he had received an offer of $50,000 turned it down, convinced that the town was worth much more.

When writer Mark Winegardner visited the area in 1988 for his new book, the town had already become a sad shadow of its former past with “Styrofoam silver bells, strands of burned-out Christmas lights, and faded plastic likenesses of Old Saint Nick. A lopsided, artificial twenty-foot tree whistled in the wind beside a broken Coke machine and an empty ice freezer. Two of the three buildings were padlocked; through their windows, encrusted with layers of sand and decade-old aerosol snow, Jim and I saw dusty, overturned fiberglass statuettes of elves and reindeer.”

The last gift shops and amusements was closed in 1995, becoming little recognizable, except for a few vandalized buildings, a wishing well, and the “Old 1225,” a derailed, pink children’s train covered with graffiti.
In 2003, the population of Santa Claus was 10, divided among five houses, one of which had a buffalo, and just one year later the town had become difficult to locate.
Since 2015, very little remains of Santa Claus: just two boarded-up, vandalized and graffitied buildings. The train is gone, there is little that remains of the town, and someone even stole the face of Santa off the front sign.

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