When Hollywood Boulevard Became Santa Claus Lane

Hollywood Blvd. transformed into Santa Claus Lane, circa 1950. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Today, shopping malls hang garland, pipe in holiday tunes, and build showy reproductions of St. Nicholas' polar hideout, attracting customers to their privately owned concourses and encouraging the buying spirit. But before malls, holiday shoppers flocked to Los Angeles' downtown and suburban retail districts where shops and department stores lined publicly owned streets. To attract business, retailers in these districts banded together to transform these public spaces into flashy winter wonderlands.

Hollywood boasted one of the most elaborate Yuletide displays. Each November beginning in 1928, extravagant holiday decorations transformed a one-mile stretch of Hollywood Blvd. between Vine and La Brea into Santa Claus Lane.

The brainchild of businessman Harry Blaine and the Hollywood Boulevard Association, which promoted the thoroughfare as the "world's largest department store," Santa Claus Lane lured shoppers away from downtown's dominant Broadway retail district with winking lights, daily processions featuring a reindeer-drawn sleigh, and plentiful, brightly decorated Christmas trees.

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In 1928, the first year Hollywood merchants organized Santa Claus Lane, live fir trees were transplanted from Big Bear. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries.

Daytime view of the fir trees along Santa Claus Lane in 1928. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries.

Another view of Hollywood Boulevard as Santa Claus Lane in 1928. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries.

After moving away from live trees, Santa Claus Lane's organizers experimented with metallic wreaths that featured film stars' faces in the center. Here, Claudette Colbert poses with a wreath bearing her likeness. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Birdseye view of Santa Claus Lane and Vine Street in 1932. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries.

Conical, metallic toy trees followed the wreaths on Hollywood's Santa Claus Lane. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Actress Mary Pickford switches on Hollywood Boulevard's holiday lights in 1935. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Circa 1935 view of a wet Hollywood Boulevard decorated for the holidays. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries.

Postcard of Santa Claus Lane in 1936. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries.

Light standards became Christmas trees on Santa Claus Lane, as show in this circa 1938 photo. Courtesy of the Dick Whittington Photography Collection, USC Libraries.

The first year, 100 living firs were dug up from the forest near Big Bear and placed along Hollywood Blvd. in wooden planters. Once fully dressed in nearly 10,000 incandescent light bulbs, the trees lit the path for a nightly parade. Joined on his sleigh by a silver screen star, Santa Claus greeted passersby as a team of six live reindeer pulled him down the boulevard. After New Year's Day, the trees were replanted on the grounds of the Hollywood Bowl.

In later years, metallic decorations replaced the living trees. Drawings of film stars' faces smiled at shoppers from the center of tin wreaths hung from lampposts. Whimsical, shiny toy Christmas trees blinked with colorful lights. At the annual promotion's peak, organizers boasted that Hollywood Blvd. was the most brightly lit street in the nation.

To complete the wintertime transformation, Hollywood Blvd. took on a new name. For one month, signs at intersections read "Santa Claus Lane," and merchants updated their street addresses to reflect the temporary name change.

Though the elaborate decorations are no more, Santa Claus Lane gave birth to a Tinseltown tradition that survives today. In 1931, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce expanded Santa Claus' nightly procession into an annual extravaganza, since renamed the Hollywood Christmas Parade. And in 1946, grand marshal Gene Autry, who rode on horseback just paces in front of the parade's main star, turned the screams of delight he heard from children into a classic holiday tune: "Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)."

Circa 1948 view of Hollywood Boulevard decorated as Santa Claus Lane. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Hollywood film stars accompanied St. Nicholas in the annual Santa Claus Lane Parade. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries.

Santa Claus Lane Parade in 1945. Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

A Pacific Electric streetcar ambles down Hollywood Boulevard at Ivar Street in 1953, the last year streetcars would take part in Tinseltown's Yuletide festivities. Courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library and Archive. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Hollywood Boulevard decorated for the holidays, circa 1950. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Hollywood Boulevard decorated for the holidays, circa 1950. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Hollywood Boulevard decorated for the holidays, circa 1950. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Many of the archives who contributed the above images are members of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, museums, official archives, cultural institutions, and private collectors. Hosted by the USC Libraries, L.A. as Subject is dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden stories and histories of the Los Angeles region. Our posts here provide a view into the archives of individuals and institutions whose collections inform the great narrative—in all its complex facets—of Southern California.

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About the Author

A writer specializing in Los Angeles history, Nathan Masters serves as manager of academic events and programming communications for the USC Libraries, the host institution for L.A. as Subject.
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Since my legal name is Santa Claus, I thought I'd comment. In light of the history of Santa Claus Lane, perhaps it would be appropriate to name Santa Claus to the Hollywood Walk of fame. I'm also the only member in the history of SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America ever to have received his membership card in the name Santa Claus. Because of SAG-AFTRA rules, there will never be another member named Santa Claus. I think the honor is long overdue. Christmas Blessings to all!

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Not mentioned is in the 1940's floats featuring stars from the National Broadcasting Company began to appear. Parade viewers could see and wave at celebrities such as Red Skelton, Bob Burns, Judy Canova, and the cast members of many of NBC's weekly radio programs.