As long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with a theme park that now, only exists in memory. Before I had words to describe it, I saw its ghost, every time my parents drove home. The abandoned relic with twenty-foot candy canes and giant colorful concrete mushrooms waited, faded and forgotten, to beckon travelers to an empty Welcome House and a hidden enchanted forest beyond. But the cars no longer stopped as they sped along the highway through the Santa Cruz mountains and the children's laughter that once encompassed the park gave way to a lonely wind.
Not everyone grows up next door to an abandoned winter-themed amusement park. As far as I was concerned, I was one of the luckiest kids in the world. I like to think that was part of the founder’s dream; for more kids to live near such a park. Glenn Holland envisioned Santa’s Village after growing up during the Great Depression. He never really had a childhood and he made up for lost time.
I think the founder must have known that such a place changes children’s lives for the better. I know it changed mine.
The first Santa’s Village park opened in the 1950’s. It was the first franchised theme park in the United States. For decades, there were three nearly identical parks across the country and more planned. But baby boomers grew up, gas prices soared, and road trips became less common. The Santa’s Village corporation dissolved in the late 1970’s around the time I was born.
The fact that my town’s park had closed did not stop my curiosity. I wanted to know what was just out of sight, behind the Welcome House, behind the trees. I wanted to know what it was like to spend a day at Santa’s Village in its heyday. I collected newspaper clippings, souvenirs, and stories from locals who remembered the park. My elementary school was lucky enough to inherit three of the concrete mushrooms which strengthened my resolve to salvage whatever was left. By fourth grade, I had commissioned my friends to write the city to reopen the park. The city politely but promptly refused.
Yet, every night, as if by some lingering theme park magic, the lights still came on outside the Welcome House, and even in its dilapidated state, it was still magical.
Then, one night on the way home, an orange glow filled the sky. Flames had engulfed the Welcome House and the nearby reindeer-topped gas station, which had managed to survive for many years. I watched in horror as the fire consumed the beacon I had always looked to. The white roof-reindeer melted, one by one, until the last of them was gone and the building was a shell of what it had been. The lights never came on again.
My park is gone forever, but its story is far from over. It lives on, every day, in the surrogate memories I have made of it. I use those memories as a catalyst to fuel my creative work and bring impossible things to life.
UPDATE: Since writing this post, I am happy to announce that I am now the Public Relations Director for SkyPark at Santa's Village in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California, (the first of the three Santa's Villages). The full story is here.
For more on the history of Santa's Village visit: www.santasvillage.net/santas.village.scotts.valley.html
To join the community of memory-makers, visit: www.facebook.com/groups/59858968506/
Jennifer L. Jacobson is a creator and communications strategist who helps brands advance in growing industries. Her clients have been on The View, The Today Show, in TIME Magazine’s best site of the year, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Popular Science, Scientific American, USA Today, and thousands more.