Shopping centers, stores in a holiday setting

Here’s a story from December 13, 1964 from Tom Bryan that reminds us of how shopping malls went all out with their Christmas decorations. This year in particular was marked by more mechanical decorations than in previous years.

Trees, garlands, bells and stars

El Paso is not really a winter wonderland. Often times we have warm, sunny Christmas days – which is why all of us are here.

For lack of snow, sleigh bells and smoking chimneys, the merchants of El Paso each year create the traditional American Christmas environment with their many decorations, including trees, garlands, artificial snow, Santa Claus and all the works.

Thousands of dollars are spent here to create the joy of the season and the feeling of benevolent goodwill towards our fellow human beings – the urge to buy gifts for our loved ones and favors for our friends.

The traditional San Jacinto Plaza Downtown Christmas tree is complemented by the Northgate Center tree at the intersection of Diana Drive and Dyer Street. The Northgate tree is 63 feet tall.

Three foot bells and stars

Northgate Shopping Center is richly decorated with red and silver garlands, three-foot red bells, and three-foot silver stars, all hanging from the mall’s blanket.

Northgate’s Santa is elaborately decorated with a large red throne in the community hall. It is surrounded by lots of trees and toys, and there is plenty of space for children and their parents to go inside to shelter from the cold.

Sunrise and Lakeside malls feature the traditional decorations including Santa figurines, bells, silver garlands, and scenes depicting Santa’s reindeer and seasonal greetings, all attached to the light poles from the parking lot. Fox Plaza and Coronado malls have basically the same decor, but more conservative.

Loudspeakers everywhere play atmospheric Christmas carols to every corner of downtown malls and department stores.

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Cramped santa claus

Santa Claus finds himself cramped, moving through all the major shopping malls.

Mr. and Mrs. Santa set up housekeeping again this year in the basement of the White House downtown.

He takes center stage on the main floor of Sears in Five Points to find out what kids want for Christmas and if they’ve been good enough this year to deserve what they want.

In downtown Popular Dry Goods Co., he holds his audience on the fourth floor.

At the Sunrise Shopping Center, it is located near the Hallmark Card Center.

At Chelmont Mall, this artificial Christmas tree, about 60 feet tall, was created with long strands of silver and green garlands and string lights from top to ground.

60 foot tree at Center Chelmont

An outstanding feature of the Chelmont Mall is the artificial Christmas tree, about 60 feet tall, standing in the parking lot near Montana Avenue. The tree is made up of long strands of green and silver garlands stretched from the top of a ground pole and long garlands of yellow lights.

From shopping mall promotions to promoting toys for the poor, automation is taking hold in the Santa Claus industry.

In Chelmont, near Luby’s cafeteria, a life-size mechanical Santa Claus stands in the rooftop chimney of a bright red Candy Kitchen dollhouse, and turns and waves to everyone in sight.

Four mechanical dolls from the house make candy.

Mechanical Santas at the Bassett Center

At the Bassett Mall, which has the largest line of mechanical Christmas decorations in El Paso, the Santa Claus living in the mall competes with four mechanical Santa Claus – all 5 ½ feet in life size – at the attention of young people visiting the center.

One of Bassett’s mechanical Santa Claus is standing in the driver’s seat of a western stagecoach in the middle of the mall. The red Christmas coach is filled with gift-wrapped packages, and many other packages are stacked on top of the stage.

Santa on stage spins his waist from side to side, waving an arm in a realistic motion at mall visitors.

Another mechanical Santa is placed a short distance west of the stage in the mall and stands among the flocked Christmas trees. Holding his punch like a bowl full of jelly, he leans forward and rears up like he’s really looking at the kids who often stop to talk to him, he’s so realistic.

The living Santa Claus is placed in a Santa Claus workshop south of the stagecoach. An assistant takes pictures of children with Santa Claus at the request of the parents.

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Ferris wheel decorated with lights

One of Bassett’s more unusual attractions is a 4-foot Ferris wheel, the seats of which have been removed and decorated with Christmas lights and foliage, atop the White House building at the west end of the center.

A large rotating artificial Christmas tree sits atop the Popular Dry Goods Co. building in Bassett, and in keeping with the local environment. The interior of the White House is decorated with flocked mesquite and salted cedar coated with flashing lights.

Other mechanical Santas at Bassett can be found in the Basset Flower Shop and Roy’s Toys.

El Paso Natural Gas Caroling

One of the most attractive decorations in downtown El Paso is the Christmas carol scene on the El Paso Natural Gas Co. building above the entrance to Texas Street.

The central attraction of the big stage is a bright red stage coach. The singers, four in the stagecoach and several on each side, are from the English tradition of the early 1800s.

The singing of Christmas carols, snow, sleighs, bells, and warm goodwill to fellow human beings at Christmas are all part of the Christmas tradition of England and New England.

Here at the border, the good humor and goodwill of all is beautifully complemented by the solemnity of Latin America in the celebration of the “Nacimiento”, the birth of Christ, which dominates in the Latin American celebration of Christmas.

Nativity scenes are frequently used as decoration on both sides of the border, by businesses and religious institutions, and in private homes.

January 6 is the day gits are traditionally exchanged in Mexico. It is the day when the three kings of the east arrived at the manger bearing gifts for the infant Christ.

Trish Long can be reached at [email protected] or 915-546-6179.

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