Auckland's giant Santa

Auckland's giant Santa

Auckland's giant Santa on the Farmers building in 1960 (left) and the Whitcoulls building in 2009 (right), shortly after his makeover.

Auckland icon or 'old dodgy man'?

In 1960 Farmers erected a giant Santa on the front of their building on the corner of Hobson Street and Wyndham Street in Auckland. The fibreglass and steel tubing structure weighed over five tons (4535 kg) and stood at a height of about 59 ft (18 metres). It featured a winking eye and beckoning finger, which were intended to tempt customers into the store below.

The giant Santa was erected on the Farmers' Hobson Street store each Christmas for 30 years. Then in 1990 the store was put up for sale and the possibility arose that this would be Santa's 'last public airing'. This was the same year Farmers turned over responsibility for its Santa Parade to the Auckland Children's Christmas Parade Trust. Fortunately the Manukau City Shopping Centre, where another Farmers store was located, offered to cover some of the costs of erecting Santa. He subsequently graced their building each Christmas from 1991 to 1995.

In 1996 the shopping centre decided not to put Santa up because of his tatty appearance. Farmers, who still owned Santa, weren't sure that they wanted him either. After years of neglect he was in need of a serious refit. In 1998, following two years of negotiations, a marketing and events consultant, Stephen Hanford, purchased Santa from Farmers for $1. He called in favours from friends, companies and business associates to have Santa restored and returned to the people of Auckland. In all over 40 people contributed time, services or money. Among them was scaffolding expert Tony Webb, who had over 30 years' experience putting Santa up and taking him down. The restoration project was completed over a few months at Southdown Industrial Park in Penrose at a cost of about $40,000. The work undertaken included a paint job, removing rot from the fibreglass structure and rust from the supporting structure.

The restored Santa found a new home above Whitcoulls on Auckland's Queen Street. The company had offered financial support towards the costs of transporting Santa, getting him up and down from the building, and his storage. Further assistance came from Auckland City Council, and a number of companies and individuals who offered goods or services at ‘special Santa rates’. Whitcoulls continued to provide annual financial support for Santa and when Mr Hanford left to live in Australia in 2003 he subsequently handed over ownership to the company. But in December 2008 Whitcoulls declared that they could no longer absorb Santa’s costs, which had risen to $55,000, and gifted him to the city. This put the responsibility on ratepayers. Auckland CBD lobby group, Heart of the City, subsequently asked Aucklanders whether they wanted to foot the bill for Santa. Alex Swney, the CEO of the group, explained:

We're happy for Aucklanders to tell us what they want for next Christmas. Is Santa an iconic Auckland institution or a sad old dodgy man?

Santa's winking eye for sale

In December 2009 sculptor Damien Kutia, the man behind the revamped appearance of Auckland's giant Santa, put Santa's ‘dodgy winking eye' up for sale on TradeMe. It sold for $790, with some of the money going to the Child Cancer Foundation.

While many had fond memories of the giant Santa, others found him and his beckoning finger ‘creepy’ (the winking eye had already been turned off because of complaints about the noise from neighbours). Rival pro-Santa and anti-Santa Facebook groups were set up. After several months of discussion Heart of the City announced that 12 polls all showed strong support for keeping Santa - and that he would be back for Christmas 2009.

The giant Santa subsequently underwent a $100,000-plus makeover with support from Heart of the City, Auckland City Council, and longtime Santa supporters Farmers and Whitcoulls. The group took on board some of the suggestions that had come in from the public. When Santa was unveiled in November 2009 he had been given a more friendly appearance and his ‘creepy' beckoning finger had been replaced with a static one.

In December 2011 the Auckland Santa was branded the 'World's creepiest Christmas ornament' by the popular American website Read more here (NZ Herald)

After nearly six decades on Queen Street, the giant Santa was finally retired in January 2020. By this time the annual cost of his maintenance and storage was more than $200,000, and he required further restoration work. Heart of the City issued a statement on their website, saying that it was 'a fitting time for Santa to take a well-earned rest.' In late 2020, Santa and his reindeer went into retirement at Wanaka’s National Transport and Toy Museum.

Community contributions

5 comments have been posted about Auckland's giant Santa

What do you know?

Gaylene Daniels

Posted: 13 Oct 2022

Hi, my grandad was the one that made the creepy eye and finger mechanism, he was a jeweler/watch maker. We have all loved santa growing up and wished we could have known about the auction back in 2009. Perhaps we will just have the photos and memories 🎅

The Blackwell Family

Posted: 28 Dec 2017

Stephen, thank you and those you’ve mentioned. My son and I fly home every Christmas to be with my Mum and together we enjoy many an evening of activities built around visiting Santa and his reindeers on top of the now Farmers Building. We have been visiting this incredible Auckland icon for over 17yrs furthering the magic, imagination & spirit of Santa and Christmas. Thank you for preserving these memories and allowing my family to extend this legacy to my son, my 26x nieces & nephews and their children coming through now. Our love, our legacy. Thank you and Happy Holidays 2017-2018!!!

Basil Hammerton

Posted: 08 Jul 2014

My father was one of the original five men who built Santa his sley and the reindeers. His "Dodgy" eye was actually added a lot later than 1960. I was there the day it was added and remember it well. My dad painted it all every year so it would look as good as it could before it went up on the Farmers building.

Stephen Hanford

Posted: 21 Jun 2010

Santa was saved from the tip and later restored thanks to some very special people and companies that I would like to see highlighted in relation to this story, not just because they got involved in this project but also because they all bought into the spirit of 'Saving Santa'. They were: Stephan Preston, then GM of Whitcoulls whose financial support was paramount in seeing Santa finding a home in Queen Street. Thanks to Auckland City Council especially Bruce Smith who gave his annual stamp of approval for Santa to be erected. North Shore Scaffolding [Tony Webb], Crane & Cartage [Mike Dowdall] and Ian Roebuck Cranes [Kevin Ritter] made the exercise of erecting and dismantling Santa a breeze. But prior to this there were the team of people who prepared Santa ready back in 1998 - my sincere thanks goes to Dulux [paint], Nuplex [fiberglass resin], E H Eadington [steelwork] and John Sax at Southpark Corporation. And finally to my special-mum Helen and my many friends who helped, including Nigel and Barbara Commoner who deserve special mention, please take a bow. I might have spent a dollar to save the guy but to all of you, on behalf of the people of Auckland, thanks a million! Stephen Hanford - Gold Coast Australia.