santa-claus-arizonaOn a stretch of arid desert northwest of Kingman arises what was perhaps the most unusual roadside attraction ever to grace the highways of the American West. It was a business that would eventually became a nationally famous roadside stop.

Ninon Kelly Talbot was a popular real estate agent in southern California. She tipped the scales at 300 lbs. so naturally she billed herself as the “Biggest real estate agent in California.”

The Talbots moved to Kingman in the late 1920s. The Route 66 town was a center for the gold, silver and copper mines in the nearby mountains. They built and operated the Kit Carson Guest House near where US 93 and I-40 meet. Ninon was an excellent cook and knew how to treat guests and business was brisk.

On April 20th, 1931 construction began on Hoover Dam, spanning the Colorado River. More than 16,000 workers were employed and the formerly sleepy town of Las Vegas was thriving, mostly because of the gambling and booze it was a great attraction for the well-paid construction workers. The 125-mile drive from Kingman to Las Vegas entailed crossing the river on a ferry boat until 1936 when US 93 crossed over the top of the dam.

Desert land was put up for sale along the highway and the Talbots bought an 80-acre parcel twelve miles north of Kingman and in 1937 construction began on Ninon’s so-called “Pride of the Desert.” She thought it would rival or surpass anything found on Route 66.

The roadside stop of Santa Claus was so over the top as an attraction few travelers could resist stopping.  It had five buildings, all designed and built by her husband Ed.

Adorned with holiday decorations, the centerpiece of Santa Claus was Christmas Tree Inn. The building featured a red and white tiled roof with candy cane striping running down the exterior walls. Santa himself was situated by the chimney. A holiday tree trimmed with ornaments and lights was in front.

The dining room was decorated with Walt Disney artist Walter Winsett’s murals and next door was a candy-stripped Texaco gas station.

Dressed up as Mrs. Santa Claus, Ninon served up a five-course holiday-themed meal year-around. Her specialty was her desserts, and the specialty of the house was the Kris Kringle Rum Pie.

A 1940 newspaper ad quoted prices at: breakfast, .75; Luncheon 1.00; and dinner 1.50.

There never was a post office at Santa Claus, by special arrangement with the Kingman post office, a mailbox was available for people who wanted their correspondence postmarked, “Santa Claus, Arizona.” Every kid who sent a “Dear Santa” letter got a written response from Mrs. Santa Claus.

These were the halcyon years for the village of Santa Claus.

It was even featured in an article in the 1943 December issue of the Arizona Highways Magazine.

Ninon had planned to develop one-acre residential lots on the property to sell to her Hollywood friends and call it Santa Claus Acres. Friends claimed Ninon could sell refrigerators to Eskimos.

Cowboy movie star, Joel McCrea, bought a lot sight unseen.

Located in the bleak Mojave Desert, this incongruous yuletide haven was largely devoid of snowfall. There were no reindeer either but worse…. NO WATER! They had to haul their water all the way from Kingman. They drilled as far down as the 2,000 ft. level and still came up empty. Unknowingly, the Talbot’s had bought a property near a geologic fault.

Because of the lack of water none of the lots was ever built upon. Had the Talbots located a dozen miles south, along Route 66 it might today be a great roadside icon.

Today, all that’s left are a few ruins on this metropolis that failed to metrop along U.S. Highway 93.

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