A North Pole landmark is being relocated this morning. The owners of the Santa Claus House are moving the 50-foot statue of ol’ Saint Nick as part of a project to expand the gift shop and build new facilities on the site.
He’s nearly 50 feet tall and weighs more than 25 tons. His belly is 33 feet around. They call him Big Santa – and today, he’s on the move.
“We’re going to pick him up with a crane, we’re going to swing him around, we’re going to move him a little further back from the road,” says Santa Claus House operations manager Paul Brown.
The fiberglass statue that towers above the North Pole gift shop itself weighs only about 900 pounds, Brown said Wednesday. But he says it must stay connected to its 50,000-pound concrete base while being moved, because it’s impossible to separate it.
“When we put him up in 1984, his feet and the steel framework underneath were actually sunk into that concrete base,” he said. “So, to be able to move him, we have to pick up the entire concrete base.”
It’s the latest move for Big Santa, who came to North Pole from Seattle by way of Anchorage in the early 1980s. But it’s by far his shortest move – only about 140 feet to the southwest. Brown says he’s being moved so workers can get access to utility lines buried underneath the base. It’s part of a project they just started to expand the gift shop and add some new outdoor attractions.
“The plan is at this point to essentially double the size of the store,” he said. “Obviously we’re primarily a gift shop, but we have some attractions that we’re going to be building into the new area.”
For a town that’s all about Christmas, the Big Santa move and gift shop expansion is a big deal.
“The Santa Claus House expansion is definitely something that I think is going to be a great addition to the community,” North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward said. He says he’s glad the statue that holds the list of who’s naughty and who’s nice will continue to keep watch over the community.
“We’ve definitely have been watched-over for many good years by the big Santa Claus out there, and he’s definitely going to keep an eye on the mayor,” Ward says, with a chuckle.
Big Santa has been North Pole’s most iconic landmark for more than 30 years. Con Miller, who founded the original Santa Claus House in 1952, bought the big statue for $4,500 from the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce in 1978. Brown says the chamber had for years set up the statue near the federal building downtown during the holidays. But he says by the late 1970s, the chamber had apparently lost interest and put it in storage.
“We ended up purchasing him from the Anchorage chamber and bringing him home to North Pole in 1983 and putting him up in 1984,” Brown said.
Brown said Big Santa was built in 1968 at a plastics-fabrication company in Enumclaw, Wash. He says it was used for years as a giant Christmas decoration in the Seattle area before being shipped to Anchorage. Brown says it was in pretty rough shape by the time it arrived in North Pole, because among other things they had to cut him into four pieces to haul him here.
“It was actually a major project to get him up here, just because his belly is 33 feet around, so even laying down on flatbed semi-trailer, they had to get the routing just right to bypass the overpasses.”
Big Santa also suffered some wear and tear since coming to North Pole – like when big 1985 snowstorm that tore off one of his arms. Brown says Big Santa get a full makeover after he’s moved, so his cheeks will again be like roses and his nose like a cherry.