The Baffling Santa-themed Town (Built In A Desert)
Santa Claus, Arizona, is a place that seemed doomed from the start. A Christmas-themed town in the middle of the desert seems like a parody of classic Americana, the sort of location that would be found in a Fallout game. But no, it was a real town, and to the surprise of no one, it failed.
The story of Santa Claus (the town, that is) is the story of a woman named Ninon Talbot. Some sources have her name as Nina, and others spell her last name as "Talbott," but for the sake of keeping things simple, we're going to stick with Ninon Talbot. Talbot was a realtor from Los Angeles who moved to Arizona with her husband. In 1937, she founded the North Pole of the desert on Route 93, about 90 miles southeast of Las Vegas and less than 20 miles off of the legendary Route 66.
To set her town apart from other new settlements in the area, Talbot knew it needed a theme. And what did Americans love more than Christmas?
Quirky roadside stops like this were fairly normal for the time, but none of them were quite as specific and uniquely out of place in their theming as Santa Claus. For Ninon Talbot, the quirkiness of it all really needed to appeal to people. Her goal was a full-on town, and she had 80 acres of desert Christmas wonderland to sell.
And for a brief period, people did come. A major selling point to the town was visiting Santa year-round. There wasn't a lot actually in the town, but there was enough Christmas spirit to keep guests entertained, at least long enough to break up the monotony of a 1940s road trip. There was a small train for kids to ride, a gas station with appropriate theming, a miniature structure called the Cinderella Doll House, and plenty of images of old Saint Nick himself and his band of elves and reindeer. Visitors could even send mail from Santa Claus, which would then be delivered with a postmark that read "from Santa Claus."
Look, it was the time of the Great Depression and then World War II. People had to get amusement somehow.
What kept Santa Claus, Arizona from being more than just a novelty, though, was its restaurant, the Christmas Tree Inn (which was also called the Santa Claus Inn at one point, but naming in this town just seems to be arbitrary). Ninon Talbot herself was the head of the kitchen, and her cooking received attention from celebrities of the time. Food critic Duncan Hines (yes, like the cake mix) gave the eatery a glowing review, and many travelers stopped in the Christmas-themed town just to eat there.
They only stopped briefly, though, before getting back on the road. Talbot's goal of attracting Santa-obsessed residents to live in her town was not successful. Some plots of land did sell, but the only people who lived in Santa Claus were the ones who worked there. The Venn diagram of people who love Christmas that much and people who want to live in the desert barely crosses over. Plus, Santa Claus had a major issue that even Christmas magic couldn't save; it didn't have easy access to water.
To keep the town functioning when it only had a few operational buildings, Talbot had to have trucks of water brought in. If people were staying in Santa Claus for good, something would have to be worked out logistically. But it was nearly impossible to get anyone to want to live somewhere where water wasn't a guarantee.
This lack of permanent residents combined with an overall decline in popularity as the novelty faded led Ninon Talbot to sell the town in 1950. From here, Santa's desert paradise had a revolving door of owners. By the 1970s, the town was dilapidated, and this downward spiral continued until the town permanently closed in 1993.
Today, Santa Claus, Arizona, is a tiny ghost town that barely resembles its Christmas heyday. Candycane-patterned paint can still be faintly seen under layers of graffiti, and the images of Santa that made the town famous have been taken away. Otherwise, the continuously deteriorating three or so buildings serve as a reminder of a more innocent, odd time in history.
Also, it's a reminder to make sure you have access to water if you plan on starting a town. Big oversight there.
Top Image: Todd Huffman/Wiki Commons