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How Santa Claus found a home along the 101 in Oxnard

by Jesus Ambrosio | Off-Ramp®

Santa Claus and Mike Barber, Founder and Race Director for Santa to the Sea Jesus Ambrosio

“I believe in Santa Claus.  There is a Christmas spirit –I really believe in that. He signifies the Christmas spirit of giving and working with people that need help.” – Mike Barber, Founder and Race Director for Santa to the Sea Race

He sees you when you’re driving … he knows if you’ve been speeding… so slow down for goodness sake.

If you have ever cruised along on the 101 you might have noticed Santa Claus doesn’t live in the North Pole. The jolly old elf lives in Oxnard in the form of a statue overlooking the north side of the freeway between Del Norte Boulevard and Rice Avenue.

Toy soldier named Bill.
Toy soldier named Bill. Jesus Ambrosio/ KPCC

The story starts in 1948 when a man named Patrick McKeon purchased a plot of land from a lima bean farmer in Carpinteria. He opened up a juice stand on the property.  “Santa” towns like Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, and Santa Ynez inspired Patrick to name his land Santa Claus. 

An image of Santa Claus Lane, California.
An image of Santa Claus Lane, California. Photo via Enchanted America

What comes next is a bit of a legend. It is said that during the 1950 Christmas season, Patrick was dressed up as Santa to attract tourists to his business.  A man named Kenneth Vaughn saw Patrick in the suit and offered to build the statue on top of his business for $500.

Kenneth Vaughn originally designed and built the Santa statue in 1950.
Kenneth Vaughn originally designed and built the Santa statue in 1950. Jesus Ambrosio/ KPCC

The statue paved way for the area of Carpinteria known as Santa Claus Lane, a year-round winter wonderland that included a candy store, a toy store, and a bar called the Reindeer Room. 

LISTEN: Strange Southern California statues – The story of Chicken Boy and Cock Bob.

Santa resided in Carpinteria for 53 years, but in 2003 his home was threatened. A real estate company purchased the property, and planned to demolish the statue. 

Mike Barber, Founder and Race Director of Santa to the Sea.
Mike Barber, Founder and Race Director of Santa to the Sea. Jesus Ambrosio/ KPCC

Mike Barber, a long time resident of Oxnard and then-president of Garden Acres Mutual Water Company, wanted to ensure Santa would always have a home. “This was our original well site,” Mike says. “We had this vacant piece of property so we decided to step up to the plate and save Santa."

Surfing snowman in Oxnard.
Surfing snowman in Oxnard. Jesus Ambrosio/ KPCC

Santa made the journey 30 miles South on the 101 freeway to his current space in Oxnard, surrounded by other enchanted beings including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, two toy soldiers, and a snowman who likes to surf.

The dash on Santa's sleigh.
The dash on Santa's sleigh. Jesus Ambrosio/ KPCC

“Our last edition we did a couple years ago was Santa’s sleigh,” Mike says. “It’s a combination between a race car, sleigh, and rocket ship.  It tells Santa where he is going… how much reindeer power he has left, how much Christmas spirit is out there. He can detect that.”

Santa's sleigh in Oxnard.
Santa's sleigh in Oxnard. Jesus Ambrosio/KPCC

Mike is retired now, but in his own special way he is the Santa Claus of the community. In 2008, he founded Santa to the Sea, an annual race that starts at the Santa statue that goes right through the heart of Oxnard and ends at Channel Islands Harbor. The money raised by the non-profit is donated to local schools and charities. Mike says they have provided over 600 scholarships for students to attend Oxnard Community College. And, of course, every December the entire street in front of the Santa is closed, and children to line up to receive a gift from Santa himself.

Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer in Oxnard.
Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer in Oxnard. Jesus Ambrosio

“The change since he has been here has been amazing,” Mike says. “Ventura Boulevard here was in really bad shape. We had no sidewalks here… the city redid the streets here. I really don’t think that would have happened if it wasn’t for Santa Claus. It’s been a labor of love.”

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