We’re flat-out addicted to the allure of abandoned places. So we’ve sent Liz on a mission to hop alphabetically from state-to-state exploring bygone structures steeped in history and mystery. ‘Tis the season to visit Santa Claus, Arizona!
In the spirit of the holiday season, the States of Ruin column traveled to Santa Claus, an abandoned, approximately four-acre Christmas-themed town located in the Mohave Desert in Arizona. Santa Claus originated in 1937, when a California real estate developer, Nina Talbot, purchased the land and incorporated the small town, hoping to sell off parcels of land to subdivide and build homes on. Talbot believed a Christmas-themed town would be a lucrative idea to attract potential residents to her land office. Talbot’s elaborate scheme included the construction of an inn, originally named Kit Carson’s Guest House, a U.S Post Office, and several outbuildings which were Christmas or fairy-tale themed. Many of the structures were built to resemble Swiss Chalet style homes, complete with brightly painted weatherboarding, decorative carvings, steep gabled roofs, and exposed beams both inside and out.
Santa Claus, Arizona.
The smallest of the buildings included “The House of the Third Little Pig,” a one-story brick structure with eyebrow windows and a wooden, hinged door just big enough for a child to fit through. Situated nearby and surrounded by an approximate two-foot white picket fence was “Cinderella’s Doll House”, a one-story gambrel roofed building with lopsided windows and a crooked metal chimney. The “Land Sales Office,” used by Talbot to attract potential buyers, is a two-story structure with one-story covered porch. Exposed wood beams support the shingle-style sloped roof. The largest of the buildings constructed in Santa Claus was the “Kit Carson’s Guest House.” The building featured a centralized exterior brick chimney, gabled roofs accented with red and white weatherboarding, and exposed beams, also painted red.
Cinderella’s Doll House, 1940s. Photo courtesy of Roadside Pictures.
While Talbot’s vision of selling off parcels of land fell through, Santa Claus did become an undeniably popular tourist attraction during the 1940s. The place changed after 1949, when Talbot sold the town to new owners. The Land Sales Office became a Texaco station, which drew even more passersby to the kitschy scene. Kit Carson’s Guest House was renamed the Christmas Tree Inn. Christmas-themed menu items such as Eskimo Fruit Cocktail, Poinsettia Tomato Soup, and Kriskringle Rum Pie were offered to weary, hungry travelers looking for a bit of Christmas magic in the hot Arizona desert. In addition to the restaurant, Santa Claus garnered fame during the month of December, when thousands of children sent letters to Santa. For a small fee of .25 plus the cost of a stamp, employees would respond back to children, who would then receive letters from Santa postmarked from Santa Claus, Arizona.
The Christmas Tree Inn, 1950s. Photo courtesy of Roadside Pictures.
The Christmas Tree Inn, 1940s. Photo courtesy of Roadside Pictures.
By the latter half of the twentieth century, Santa Claus had begun to decline in both appearance and in visitorship, and was removed from the state map of Arizona. In the coming decades, the buildings that made up the town of Santa Claus fell in to even more disrepair. Having no restaurant or roadside attractions to operate, the employees, who were also the town’s only full-time inhabitants, left for other jobs. By 1995, all businesses in Santa Claus had closed, and by the beginning of the twenty-first century, the town was officially abandoned.
The Christmas Tree Inn today. Photo courtesy of Flickr.
The Christmas Tree Inn today. Photo courtesy of Roadside Pictures.
Four buildings, a derailed children’s train, and a stone wishing well are now the only remnants of the town of Santa Claus. Santa Claus is now appropriately designated as a ghost town, more suited for haunted Halloween adventures than enjoying milk and cookies by a toasty fire. A metal sign emblazoned with “This is it! Santa’s Land” hangs precariously on the Land Office/Texaco Gas Station building where candy-cane striped poles still support the sloped, shingled roof. Present-day photographs of the interior of the Christmas Tree Inn show an interior still painted red, green, and white. The original stone fireplace is still present, and carefully stenciled red words, “Mr.” and “Mrs.” denote which bathroom patrons would have utilized. Cinderella’s Doll House is no longer standing, and the windows and door to the House of the Third Little Pig are boarded up. Graffiti covers extensive amounts of the interior and exterior of the structures. Not all hope has been lost for these abandoned buildings, however, as the town is still for sale. Now you know what to buy that quirky, roadside attraction-loving person in your life this holiday season!
Santa Claus for sale! Photo courtesy of Drive to Five.
AUTHOR LIZ BEEMAN
Liz was raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the home of New Hope, Doylestown, and several other idyllic, flawlessly-restored and preserved towns. Upon returning to the Philadelphia area post-grad school, Liz purchased a circa 1940’s, Normandy-style row home which features the original wood floors, vintage glass door knobs and slate roof from when it was constructed. She is on the board of a historic Swedish cabin and working in the real estate development field while making a go of a career in preservation.