The Optimist Club of Belleville is pretty excited about the 50th anniversary of Belleville’s Santa House, and member Steve Zimmermann hopes the excitement carries over to donations needed to renovate it.
The only problem is that the house has been around since 1963, so we’re calling it the Belleville Santa’s House 50th Anniversary (Plus One). It’s Throwback Thanksgiving. Be generous and let’s all just go with it.
Santa’s House was Alan L. Bott’s baby. The Stag Brewery worker saw the need because Santa for years was crowded into a little hut. Some say the tradition of children sitting on Santa’s knee started in that Belleville hut because it was so small there was no place else for a youngster.
He designed a model, got the Belleville Chamber of Commerce to buy into the idea and then built it with his wife, LaVon, and two volunteers from the Belleville Senior Citizens Club, Oliver Seibert and John Graves.
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The Chamber bought the building supplies for $2,500. Santa’s four helpers worked on the house at the Senior Center, putting in 988 hours.
Santa’s House was on wheels, so it was mobile like its resident. It was spacious, with room for photo elves, a fake fireplace and a tree with presents, the contents of which have remained a mystery for 51 years. It premiered on Nov. 29, 1963, right after the Santa Parade and in front of the old St. Clair County Courthouse. The kids-on-Santa’s-knee tradition stuck.
The chamber sponsored the house for years, but in 1994 the Optimists took it over and put in lots of hours renovating it. They have patched and painted over the years, but after this Christmas it will need a major overhaul, Zimmermann said. The club is trying to raise $5,000 for materials and members will do the work.
So there it is, the Optimists’ shared Christmas wish: They are asking Santa for some help on his Belleville home.
They remain... optimistic.
See more photos, the newspaper’s coverage of the Santa’s House arrival on Nov. 29, 1963, and past episodes of Throwback Thursday at bnd.com/tbt.