Santa’s Workshop - North Pole, New York
When Santa’s Workshop opened its doors in July 1, 1949, little did the developers know that they had introduced a new form of outdoor entertainment ultimately to become known as the “Theme Park”.
The seeds of imagination that culminated in this fantasy village lie in an enchanting story a father told his young daughter about a baby bear whose adventures led him to discover Santa Claus and his North Pole Workshop.The little girl’s plea to visit this magical place prompted the father, Julian Reiss, a Lake Placid businessman, to begin to dream about a summer home for Santa Claus located where children could live their fondest fantasy.
The originality of a fantasy village populated by storybook and legendary characters centered around a “North Pole” frozen year round attracted immediate and widespread media coverage. Within weeks of the opening over 700 dailies in the U.S. and Canada carried photos and feature articles. Pathe Newsreel showed the workshop to 30 million theater viewers.
Visitors began to flock to the new North Pole. From an opening day crowd of 212, attendance grew steadily until the single day record of over 14,000 was recorded on September 2, 1951.
On 16 December 1953, The U.S. Postal Service, recognized the great interest in North Pole, NY awarded it “Rural Postal Station” status. The same year Santa and his reindeer team traveled to the nations capital to participate in the Pageant for Peace.
Bob Reiss, son of Julian, has run the park since 1962 and declares, “This place is for the believers.” But Bob is now in his eighties, and for several years he searched for a younger believer to run Santa’s Workshop.He even appeared on the QVC cable TV network in 1999 to make an appeal for a worthy successor, someone who would maintain the park’s integrity.
Greg Cunningham, a local man who apparently was watching QVC that day, wrote to Bob and told him everything he wanted to hear. Santa reads mail. ”I wanted to believe,” Bob concedes, and the two men signed a contract in early 2001.Then Greg was arrested, and subsequently convicted, of embezzlement, forgery, and grand larceny in previous business deals (He’s currently in a New York state prison, and is expected to be there for the next 20 years.)
Santa’s Workshop did not open during the summer of 2001. Many thought it was closed for good. Happily — this is a story about Santa, after all — the park did not die.
Bob Reiss regained control. Santa’s Workshop is open for business again. Bob found a new, new owner, Doug Waterbury, who pledged to us that, “This place will be here forever,” and granted Bob the right to hang around as long as he liked.
Bob Reiss told us that the new era at Santa’s Workshop will look pretty much like the old era. When we asked if the park might incorporate pieces of Kwaanza, Chanukah, Ramadan, Saturnalia, and other winter solstice holidays, in an effort to become more inclusive, Bob deflected the suggestion. “We try our best to stay as true to the legend as we can,” he said. “I think we’d screw it up if we tried otherwise.”
Special Thanks to Roadside America & Santa’s Workshop website for the information