Santa’s Workshop…the Beginning, North Pole Colorado History
It was announced on March 10, 1955 that a 25 acre Santa’s Workshop was planned to be built on the slopes of Pikes Peak. The village was to be identical to the one built in Lake Placid, NY. The village in NY was designed by Arto Monaco, a former Walt Disney artist. In the 1940’s an eight-year old girl told the artist what she believed Santa Claus’ home and village looked like. Mr. Monaco then translated her image of the magical land into blueprints for an actual village.
A village of 12 alpine buildings was in the plans to be constructed. A home for Mr. & Mrs. Claus, 3 workshops, a blacksmith shop, gate house, reindeer barn, souvenir shop, show house, Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and a miniature chapel with nativity.
One of the main attractions is a frozen North Pole that is in the center of the village. No matter how hot the temperature the pole remains frozen. A small lake enhances the village setting. Water winds a course over 2 waterfalls into the lake and then out onto a water wheel.
June 16, 1956 that young girl’s dream came true when Santa’s Workshop/North Pole opened for the season. Our Santa (Howard P. Meehan) certainly didn’t need any extra padding when wearing his red suit. He was 5’6 ½” tall and wore a size 54 suit!
College girls in colorful gnome costumes were stationed in the artisan, souvenir and toy shops. Costumes were fashioned in grays and greens that blended into the woodland setting at the workshop. It wasn’t an easy task to become one of Santa’s 50 gnomes. You had to meet very strict qualifications to even be considered. Santa’s gnomes had to be 5’ to 5’3” tall; 105 to 110 lbs.; reddish or dark hair; large eyes (preferably blue); dimples and be “quick of step” and enthusiastic. All gnomes were chosen with careful judging by a Denver charm school.
Rufus Porter was Santa’s hurdy-gurdy man. While Rufus played his hurdy-gurdy, his pet monkey would politely tip his hat when people dropped pennies into his cup. Coins collected in the cup were combined with money from the wishing well to provide gifts for the needy and orphaned children and Christmastime.and had to pass aptitude tests in dealing with the public. Storybook characters, Red Riding Hood, Miss Muffet and BoPeep were also on hand to tell their stories to children who stopped and chatted with them.
White deer, goats, sheep, burros, ducks and peacocks roamed the park to the delight of young and old. Special food and bottled milk were available for guests to feed the animals.
18 year old James Gamble was Santa’s puppeteer. Gamble’s show featured his 30 Magical Marionettes. Visitors young and old delighted in Gamble’s “family” : Sam Peabody, a bedraggled lush; Lavenya May Sprayberry, the buck toothed ballerina; Carmen, a sultry dancer who shimmied and shaked; Oscar, a hand puppet dragon; Mr. Bones, a skeleton who comes apart and a chorus line of can-can girls. Gamble designed and made all his marionettes and his mother, Mrs. J.C. Gamble designed the wardrobes.
1958 brought Santa’s Workshop’s first “rides”. The Mine Ride was the first to be added to the park. Later in the season the Stage Coach and an authentic Fire Engine were featured.
Santa’s Workshop has grown through the years, but pure enjoyment of the Christmas spirit has remained the same for the past 50 years.