From the Archives: Saving Carpinteria's Santa Claus

After 50 years sitting atop a Carpinteria candy store, Santa was headed to the trash heap.

But in January 2003, local residents rescued the 15-foot-tall statue. Santa was relocated, and got a face-lift to boot.

On Nov. 28, 2003, 200 friends celebrated at Santa's new digs in Nyeland Acres, outside of Oxnard.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Sandra Murillo recalled the effort:

For a while last year, it looked as if Santa's days were numbered.

After Santa spent more than 50 years waving to motorists along U.S. Highway 101, its owners decided that the chicken-wire-and-plaster statue no longer meshed with the seaside-village feel they were seeking for the stores they owned on Santa Claus Lane's retail strip.

Local preservationists argued that the statue was an example of "vernacular art" and fought for its preservation, but after much debate, Santa Barbara County supervisors allowed its removal from the candy-store roof.

The statue was placed in a neighbor's driveway while the county and preservationists searched for a new home. At the eleventh hour, Mike Barber, president of the Garden Acres Mutual Water Co., read about Santa's plight and donated an empty lot his company owned.

After a 30-mile, logistically challenging freeway odyssey to get the old guy from Carpinteria to Ventura County, Barber and a team of volunteers began working on everything from new paint to fencing for Santa. First they built a concrete foundation and repaired the statue. Even with 1,800 feet of shrink wrap, nylon straps and duct tape, Santa's arm and some of his gift bag had fallen off during the move.

Next, they removed the old paint and brought in a Santa Barbara artist to redo his face. Twenty-five gallons of paint later, Santa looks like new.

Neighborhood kids and local Boy Scout troops planted several redwood and evergreen trees, and a green wrought-iron fence was put up to guard Santa from vandals. At night, lights around the statue illuminate this dusty neighborhood, which is a mixture of industrial properties and mobile homes.

"This place was all ugly, with all kinds of broken glass everywhere," said 12-year-old Brenda Martinez, who lives in a nearby mobile home park and who helped plant some of the trees. "I never thought they could build something so pretty right here."

Today, Santa sits waving to motorists on the northbound Ventura Freeway between Rice Avenue and Del Norte Boulevard.

This post was originally published on Dec. 24, 2010.

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