December 2006

Our Towns: North Pole

The North Pole, at least the one with a 12997 zip code, has its origins in the wish of a little girl named Patti who thought it would be neat to have Christmas year-round. Her father—Lake Placid entrepreneur, philanthropist and pilot Julian Reiss—would often take her flying over the mountains searching for Santa’s hidden headquarters.

Not finding it, Reiss took it upon himself to make Patti’s dream come true. In partnership with Upper Jay toymaker Arto Monaco and Lake Placid promoter Harold Fortune, he built a candy-colored, kid-scaled village and opened it as Santa’s Workshop in 1949. The theme park sits a mile above Wilmington on Whiteface Mountain. “Santa’s got to be in kind of a remote location; it has to be a bit of an adventure to find him,” says Reiss’s son Bob, who managed the attraction for forty-two years.

The place got even more real when it opened its own rural postal station in 1953. Envelopes addressed simply “Santa Claus” would arrive in bagfuls, Reiss recalls, until the post office cracked down on vague addresses. Today the park still receives (and answers) letters from around the world. Extra-jolly types bring their Christmas cards here to be cancelled with a North Pole postmark.

Two dozen reindeer and a handful of employees share the year-round address with Santa. In the 1950s thousands of people would flood the novel park on summer days to visit St. Nick in his house, touch the “actual” north pole (a pillar made of ice, turns out) and pet the deer. Nowadays, the five weekends before Christmas are the busiest, but the adorable architecture is still enchanting in any season.

You can find North Pole on Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway, in Essex County.

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