Historic Pre-Disneyland Theme Park Thrives Despite Prior Abandonment, Forest Fires, and Pandemic.
The Southern California theme park, SkyPark at Santa’s Village, celebrates its sixty-sixth summer. Now open seven days a week, the park features a new RV Resort and Campground and a world-class mountain bike park. The park also boasts delicious BBQ, craft beer and home-baked goods. With a skating rink, fly fishing, zip-lining, ax throwing, and the historic Santa’s Village park, there’s plenty of activities for the whole family. You can even meet Santa and his forest friends and family year-round.
“We designed SkyPark at Santa’s Village as a real action adventure park,” says Co-Owner and General Manager Bill Johnson. “So many things in the world today are highly controlled, or behind a screen. We wanted to be different; we want our guests to have real adventures that they control. Other theme parks offer sit-down rides that take you through a calculated ride, but we wanted our park to feature more active things like mountain biking, skating, pedal-powered rides, hiking, and fly fishing. We’re really unique. Plus we have the backdrop of the historic Santa’s Village which changes throughout the seasons with family-friendly activities like Pumpkins in the Pines and our Nostalgic Christmas in the Woods.”
Sixty-Six Cent Snacks & Summer Celebrations
In honor of the park’s 66th year, sixty-six cent snacks will be available for guests. “Don’t expect traditional theme park food when you visit,” says Bill. “SkyPark at Santa’s Village goes above and beyond with our food. The park’s several restaurants offer smoked-on-site BBQ, American Wagyu burgers, craft beer, and delectable baked-on-site gourmet cookies and treats. Bring your appetite.”
The park also features many characters to greet visitors. Regularly scheduled puppet shows, magic shows, Saturday Skate Nights, and the park’s concert series, Tunes in the Trees are some of the additional attractions guests can enjoy.
Park History: The Rise and Fall of Mid-Century Roadside Attractions
The historic Santa’s Village park first opened in 1955, six weeks before Disneyland, as the vision of real estate developer Glenn Holland and was to be the first franchised theme park in the United States.
“Opening day was huge for Santa’s Village,” says Michelle Johnson, Co-Owner and Creative Director for SkyPark at Santa’s Village. “The parking lot was full and there was a line of cars that ran all the way down the mountain. People waited for hours just to get in the park.”
Santa’s Village originally featured rides for kids, real reindeer, a gingerbread bakery, and several log cabins milled on-site by Holland and the parks’ contractor Putnam Henck. Santa’s village ran successfully for decades, and two additional parks were opened in Scotts Valley California and Dundee Illinois. By the 1970’s however, the gas crisis had hit America hard and Baby Boomers were growing up. Families no longer took long road trips across the country and with fewer customers every year, places like Santa’s Village became more difficult to operate. In the 1970’s the Santa’s Village Corporation dissolved. Eventually, the two other parks closed their doors, the Scotts Valley park never reopened. Fortunately for the Santa’s Village in Skyforest, Putnam Henck and his wife bought the park and once again it thrived. The couple added new attractions and rides, and kept the park running successfully until 1998, when the park again closed.
History Had Its Eyes On Santa’s Village
The park sat abandoned for years, surviving squatters, neglect, and annual snow. At one point the park was purchased and a developer had new roofs built on the old buildings (an act that would save the park from what was to come). That developer was never able to reopen the park. First, the bark beetle infestation began killing trees in the San Bernardino mountains. Then came the “Old Fire” of 2003 which burned over 91,000 acres and almost destroyed the park. After the fire, the park faced further neglect and a new owner allowed infested bark beetle trees to be piled in the parking lot for storage. By 2014, the property had gone up for sale again and this time it caught the eye of Bill Johnson, a local real estate developer and Michelle Johnson, a professional designer, who were looking for just such a project.
“Looking back on it, I think we were a little crazy to take this on,” says Michelle. “A lot of couples have a family, get a house, and maybe get a second house or a boat or something predictable. We did those things too but after a lifetime of building and renovating properties, taking it easy wasn’t something either of us could settle into.
“We had our work cut out for us. There were 18 buildings from 1955 to renovate, and they needed a lot of work. The park itself needed everything to be brought up to modern regulations, from electricity, to ADA compliance, to plumbing. It was a mess. But my husband is the best salesman in the world. He reminded me how we always wanted to open a mountain bike park in these mountains. He reminded me how we used to, as kids, trespass here and build our own bike paths. We had the chance to make those memories live again. In a moment of insanity, I said yes, and I’m glad I did.
“Bill and I spent two years pouring new concrete, upgrading the electricity, and building a new intersection just for the park. Getting any of this done, especially in California, would be a nearly impossible challenge for anyone. Fortunately, Bill has a degree in Urban Development and I have an extensive background in building and renovation, so with every challenge, we just kept going. We didn’t stop. We built a full working saw-mill on-site so we could repair our classic log cabins with our team. We built modern restaurants. We built an ice skating rink that converts to a roller rink in the summer. We created a fishing pond. We improved almost ten miles of bike trails through the forest. We even open the park to special events and weddings.
“I’m so proud of how far we’ve come. We’ve made SkyPark at Santa’s Village a weekend destination for anyone looking to escape the valley and now we get to share our mountain with the whole world. I think if Glenn Holland and Putnam Henck were alive sixty-six years later to see this, they’d be so proud. We are honored to carry their legacy and build a future focused on conservation, community, and adventure. It’s really a dream come true.”
About SkyPark at Santa’s Village
SkyPark at Santa’s Village is an alpine-themed family adventure park that caters to thrill-seekers of all ages. Surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest, the year-round park features a world-class mountain bike park as well as fantasy forest themed characters, attractions, self-powered rides, rustic restaurants, and shops nestled in the historic Santa’s Village theme park. SkyPark’s Northwoods offers up-close and personal time with nature as you bike, hike, fish, and climb. During the holidays, the park is transformed into Santa’s Christmas Village; with cookie decorating, carols, special character meet & greets, and the popular tree lighting ceremony. For more, visit: https://skyparksantasvillage.com