ON SANTA’S WATCH, when you’re protesting, are you being “good for goodness’ sake”?
At four stories tall, the gargantuan Santa Claus sculpture that perched atop a brick chimney at Westlake Mall was oft proclaimed the largest in the world.
Commissioned in 1968 by John Gilmore of the Central Association of Seattle (now the Downtown Seattle Association), the jolly red giant waved an animated arm, puffed on a giant pipe, and conversed with astonished children and their parents through hidden speakers. Young actors from Seattle’s Piccoli Theater, out of sight behind one-way mirrors, provided Santa’s voice.
Jean and Wesley Stanley of Stanley Plastics Products Co. of Enumclaw designed and built the 30-foot-tall St. Nick, along with the 12-foot-high chimney. A steel armature was covered with wire mesh. Fiberglass ensured structural stability.
Though divided into six pieces for transport, Santa’s journey from Enumclaw required wide-load permits, along with a waiting crane to help hoist and assemble the 900-pound figure upon arrival.
But this version of Father Christmas was revised when he reappeared in 1969. A local PTA group lobbied the sponsoring Central Association to remove Santa’s jumbo pipe. Smoking was deemed inappropriate public behavior for the merry old elf, as per the U.S. Surgeon General’s stance.
In addition to that criticism, Earl Kelly, beloved Ballard High School drama teacher and founder of the Piccoli Theater, heard from church groups that said the actors who voiced Santa were “taking the Christ out of Christmas.” In response, Kelly advised his cast to moderate their expressions of pagan merriment. (Ho ho ho?)
Childhood memories of Westlake Santa are a mixed bag. The massive, bearded, slightly bug-eyed face inspired delight and nightmares.
Westlake Mall has long served as Seattle’s unofficial town square, nestled between Pike and Pine streets along Fourth Avenue. From the early 1960s to today, it has been a hub of protests, political events and community celebrations, often all at the same time.
The year of our “Then” photo, 1969, was marked by civil strife. More than half a million American troops were stationed in Vietnam. Although most Americans still approved of the war, huge demonstrations rocked the nation throughout the fall.
On Dec. 13, as reported in The Seattle Times, student protesters gathered beneath the colossal Kriss Kringle to distribute leaflets to weekend Christmas shoppers while singing carols rewritten for the occasion. To the tune of “The First Noel,” anti-war carolers sang:
The Vietnam War
has lasted nine years
killing 1 million people
and brought many tears
The Westlake Santa was erected each December until 1976, after which he was decommissioned. An online researcher, however, traced the sculpture to the town of North Pole, Alaska, 15 miles southeast of Fairbanks, which we trust is a place of peace.