Auckland's giant Santa on the Farmers building in 1960 (left) and the Whitcoulls building in 2009 (right), shortly after his makeover.
In 1960 Farmers erected a giant Santa on the front of their building on the corner of Hobson Street and Wyndham Street in Auckland. The fibre glass and steel tubing structure weighed over five tons (4535 kg) and stood at a height of about 59 ft (18 metres). It featured a winking eye and beckoning finger, which were intended to tempt customers into the store below.
The giant Santa was erected on the Farmers' Hobson Street store each Christmas for almost 30 years. Then in 1990 the store was put up for sale and the possibility arose that this would be Santa's 'last public airing'. This was the same year Farmers turned over responsibility for its Santa Parade to the Auckland Children's Christmas Parade Trust. Fortunately the Manukau City Shopping Centre, where another Farmers store was located, offered to cover some of the costs of erecting Santa. He subsequently graced their building each Christmas from 1991 to 1995.
In 1996 the shopping centre decided not to put Santa up because of his tatty appearance. Farmers, who still owned Santa, weren't sure that they wanted him either. After years of neglect he was in need of a serious refit. In 1998, following two years of negotiations, a marketing and events consultant, Stephen Hanford, purchased Santa from Farmers for $1. He called in favours from friends, companies and business associates to have Santa restored and returned to the people of Auckland. In all over 40 people contributed time, services or money. Among them was scaffolding expert Tony Webb who had over 30 years experience putting Santa up and taking him down. The restoration project was completed over a few months at Southdown Industrial Park in Penrose at a cost of about $40,000. The work undertaken included a paint job, removing rot from the fibreglass structure and rust from the supporting structure.
The restored Santa found a new home above Whitcoulls on Auckland's Queen Street. The company had offered financial support towards the costs of transporting Santa, getting him up and down from the building, and his storage. Further assistance came from Auckland City Council, and a number of companies and individuals who offered goods or services at ‘special Santa rates’. Whitcoulls continued to provide annual financial support for Santa and when Mr Hanford left to live in Australia in 2003 he subsequently handed over ownership to the company. But in December 2008 Whitcoulls declared that they could no longer absorb Santa’s costs, which had risen to $55,000, and gifted him to the city. This put the responsibility on ratepayers. Auckland CBD lobby group, Heart of Auckland City, subsequently asked Aucklanders whether they wanted to foot the bill for Santa. Alex Swney, the CEO of the group explained:
We're happy for Aucklanders to tell us what they want for next Christmas. Is Santa an iconic Auckland institution or a sad old dodgy man?
In December 2009 sculptor Damien Kutia, the man behind the revamped appearance of Auckland's giant Santa, put Santa's ‘dodgy winking eye' up for sale on TradeMe. It sold for $790 with a percentage of the money going to the Child Cancer Foundation.
While many had fond memories of the giant Santa, others found him and his beckoning finger ‘creepy’ (the winking eye had already been turned off because of complaints about the noise from neighbours). Rival pro-Santa and anti-Santa Facebook groups were set up. After several months of discussion the Heart of Auckland City announced that 12 polls all showed strong support for keeping Santa - and that he would be back for Christmas 2009.
The giant Santa subsequently underwent a $100,000-plus makeover with support from Heart of Auckland City, Auckland City Council, and longtime Santa supporters Farmers and Whitcoulls. The group took on board some of the suggestions that had come in from the public. When Santa was unveiled in November 2009 he had been given a more friendly appearance and his ‘creepy' beckoning finger had been replaced with a static one.
Video of Santa being erected at Whitcoulls in Auckland, provided by InfoNewsNZ.
In December 2011 the Auckland Santa was branded the 'World's creepiest Christmas ornament' by the popular American website cracked.com. Read more here (NZ Herald)