Men impersonating Santa Claus have thrilled children in San Antonio for well over a hundred years. The San Antonio Daily Express, December 6, 1901, describes an early visit–perhaps the first—when Santa Claus came as a guest of Joske Brother’s Department Store. Thousands of his fans crowded around the store, creating traffic jams along Commerce and Alamo Streets. Finally, a curtain was lifted from a display window revealing Santa Claus and a large Christmas tree surrounded by a large assemblage of toys. The article notes that “his reception was as brilliant and his success as pronounced as that of a Napoleon returning from a conquest.”
By the 1920s, Santa Claus was making annual visits to the city. One of those visits is documented in articles in The San Antonio Light in early December 1928. There was a welcoming ceremony for him, including a speech by Mayor C.M. Chambers and the presentation of the keys to Alamo Plaza. Santa then proceeded to a special area set up in front of the entrance to the Alamo. It included an igloo for him and a pen for his reindeer. Here, Santa demonstrated toy-making and gave samples of this work to the children.
These are some of the images of Santa Claus from The San Antonio Light Photograph Collection (MS 359) and San Antonio Express-News Photograph Collection (MS 360). They illustrate the expanded role of Santa Claus from a department store toymaker, to also a benevolent character involved with charitable and philanthropic activities. The photographs also show the evolution of the Santa Claus suit from the homemade versions to the factory-made one that has become his standard attire.
Santa Claus poses in the alley beside the San Antonio Light Building on East Travis Street, 1926. The photograph was published as an altered image showing Santa Claus climbing out of the amphibious aircraft that brought him from the North Pole to San Antonio. Jack Specht/The San Antonio Light (MS 359: L-0720-N)
Santa Claus hands Raymond Jones, manager of the Princess Theater, a copy of the movie “Santa Claus,” 1926. The film, documenting Santa’s activities at the North Pole from one Christmas to the next, was featured daily for a week at the theater on Houston Street. Jack Specht/The San Antonio Light (MS 359: L-0720-I)
Santa Claus stands outside his igloo in front of the Alamo, 1928. His reindeer are partly visible on far right. Jack Specht/The San Antonio Light (MS 359: L-0720-M)
Santa Claus pauses from his toy-making demonstration to visit with Roger Martin and Eloise Jones, 1928. Jack Specht/The San Antonio Light (MS 359: L-0720-A)
Santa Claus joins Jack White (left), manager of Plaza Hotel, and Fire Chief J.G. Sarran as they plan an event to acquire toys to distribute to needy children on Christmas Day, 1935. (MS 359: L-0845-C)
Charles Malven and Mary Reams appear to be frightened of Santa Claus (W.D. Taylor) and his ten-gallon hat, 1947. Mel Koenning/The San Antonio Light (MS 359: L-3494-A)
Santa Claus (Floyd Arnold) takes a break from his duties in a department store, 1948. (MS 359: L-3681-C)
Harry Jersig, president of Lone Star Brewing Company, and Santa Claus (Jimmy Faulkner) with Christmas gifts to be distributed at the annual dinner for the local newsboys, 1948. (MS 359: L-3628-F)
Santa Claus listens to Christmas wishes in a suburban neighborhood, 1988. Villafuerte/The San Antonio Light (MS 359: L-7172-45-23)
The Routers Car Club Santa Claus visits with Blue Santa, from the San Antonio Police Department program that distributes Christmas gifts to needy children, 1990. (MS 359: L-3681-C)
Santa Claus and Pancho Claus bring gifts for students from Storm Elementary School, 1989. Joe Barrera, Jr./San Antonio Express-News (MS 360: EN1989-12-15-24)
Santa Claus arrives at East Side Multi-Service Center for “Santa’s Soul Day,” a Christmas event for disadvantaged children, 1987. John Davenport/San Antonio Express-News (MS 360: EN1989-12-15-24)
Santa Claus (Juan Esparza) distributes gifts on Christmas morning at La Villita, 1990. (MS 360: EN1990-12-25-21)