Each November beginning in 1928, Hollywood merchants transformed a one-mile stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between Vine and La Brea into Santa Claus Lane to boost shopping. Part of the promotion was a daily parade featuring Santa Claus and a film star.
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.
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).”
|Mary Pickford turns Hollywood Blvd into Santa Claus Lane ca. 1928.|
|Daytime view of the fir trees along Santa Claus Lane in 1928. (California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries)|
|In 1928, the first year Hollywood merchants organized Santa Claus Lane, live fir trees were transplanted from Big Bear. (California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries)|
|Another view of Hollywood Boulevard as Santa Claus Lane in 1928. (California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries)|
|Conical, metallic toy trees followed the wreaths on Hollywood’s Santa Claus Lane. (Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library)|