Seattle Now & Then: Giant Westlake Santa, 1969

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: This southwest-facing photo most likely was taken Dec. 20, 1969. A local radio station, KOL-AM, set up a small broadcast stage near Santa’s chimney to entertain Christmas shoppers. The banner above the stage reads, “KOL and Craig wish you” and a peace symbol. We haven’t been able to identify Craig, but in front of the stage, a sign possibly left over from an earlier protest reads, “The truth Hurts.”
NOW: The Joshua Green Building (1913) can be seen at upper left in both photos. Directly across the street, Century Square, an office/retail building, was erected in 1985, replacing the Bigelow Building (1905) and the Colonial Theater (1913). Our “Now” prospect is significantly higher than the “Then,” snapped from the fifth-floor balcony of the Fifth and Pine Building.

(Published in The Seattle Times online on Dec. 9, 2021
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Dec. 12, 2021)

In 1969 at Westlake, Santa sees when you’re protesting
By Jean Sherrard

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, hidden 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 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, Earl Kelly, beloved Ballard High School drama teacher and founder of the Piccoli Theater, heard from church groups that 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 Kris 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 one 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 North Pole, Alaska, 15 miles southeast of Fairbanks, which we trust is a place of peace.

WEB EXTRAS

To view the 360 degree video, narrated by Jean, please click right here.

Also, this coming Sunday at 2 P.M., join Jean for his 14th annual Rogue’s Christmas at Town Hall – with actors Kurt Beattie, Marianne Owen, and musical guests Pineola. Ken Workman, Duwamish elder and Chief Seattle descendant, will offer a Coast Salish welcome.

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Giant Westlake Santa, 1969”

  1. A caption on the “Now” photo for the Westlake Santa in 1969 feature published in the 12/12/2021 paper copy of the Seattle Times/PNW Magazine contains a factual error.

    “…Century Square is an office/retail building that was erected in 1985, replacing the Bigelow Building (1905)…”

    It is true that the Bigelow Building was built in 1905. However it was replaced with the new Bigelow Building in 1923 at the same site. So, Century Square replaced the new Bigelow Building (1923) not the old Bigelow Building (1905).

    *****************************

    Evidence:

    “Building Bids Received: New Structure Soon for Fourth & Pike,” Seattle Times, 24 March 1923, p. 12.

    “New Blood for Seattle’s Business Heart,” Seattle P-I, p. 12. (advertisement)

    “Seven Story Building to be Ready by October 15,” Seattle Times, 25 September 1923, p. 15.

    “Bigelow Block Soon Complete,” Seattle P-I, 26 October 1923, p. 8.

    “Offices Rent Rapidly in Bigelow Building,” Seattle Times, 28 October 1928, p. 9

    ****************************

    Please print a correction.

    Greg Dziekonski

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