For decades in Fort Wayne, the Wolf & Dessauer department store telegraphed Christmas. A local television station broadcast half-hour programs of kids visiting Santa at the store, and people flocked to see its holiday window displays of animated figures. The store even had its own Santa’s helper and holiday mascot, Wee Willie WanD. Even though the store closed in the ‘70s, its grandest tradition lives on: the annual lighting of a 155-foot-long Santa in sleigh pulled by eight reindeer.
The display, designed by Isabelle Wilkinson Parker from a sketch by store executive Bud Latz, first adorned the store at Calhoun and Washington in 1937. The five-and-a-half-ton sign moved to the PNC building at Main and Calhoun streets in the late ‘70s. In recent years, when it became crazy expensive to replace the more than 24,000 light bulbs in the display, Santa got an energy-conserving LED update, its old bulbs given to local charities to sell as Christmas ornaments.
Companies come and go, but Fort Wayne recognized a tradition worth keeping. Holiday cheers on preserving Santa and his reindeer, and giving him a 21st-century makeover.
(Photo: Matt Weldon via Flickr)
Fort Wayne's History Center exhbits some of the vintage animatronic figures used in Wolf & Dessauer's holiday window displays, along with the original Santa suit worn by Phil Steigerwald, who appeared as Santa at Wolf & Dessauer from the mid 1950s- late 1970s. You can take an online tour of artifacts from the department store at http://www.fwhistorycenter.com/vex4/index.htm.
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Each week Indiana Landmarks uses insider knowledge to highlight historic places worth a visit, from the quirky to the sublime: small towns, neighborhoods, restaurants, shops, parks, cemeteries, scenic drives, museums -- you get the idea. Learn more about Indiana Landmarks at www.indianalandmarks.org.