On Friday, December 15 2023, Jeffrey Alan Wandell gifted the iconic 14-foot Livingston Santas to the McLean County Museum of History. Jeffrey Alan kicked-off Saving Santa fundraising efforts with a $10,000 donation to ensure these nostalgic Santas make their way back to the public eye. Underwriters will be needed to offset the $35,000 cost for restoration with an additional $50,000 needed for initial site costs and ongoing care.
Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he will be returning to Bloomington-Normal soon.
History and Tradition
Livingston’s department store was founded in March of 1866. It remained in the 100 block of West Washington Street, (the south side of the Museum Square), for 113 years, closing for good in January of 1979. In the 1950s and 1960s, any serious Christmas holiday shopping was done in Downtown Bloomington with six major competitors located within three blocks of each other. For thirty years (1940s – 1970s), the Livingston’s department store would mount two 14-foot Santas to their awning, billing themselves as the “Big, Big, Santa Claus Store of Central Illinois.” Visiting the store’s Santas was the first big thrill of the Christmas season and became a beloved local family tradition. Do you have memories of seeing the Livingston Santas? Share your story with us!
Following the closure of Livingston’s, the Santas were first purchased by College Hills Mall in late 1979, and displayed there for several years until they were sold again in the mid-to-late 1980s to Jeffrey Alan Wandell. Jeffrey is the owner of retail stores Jeffrey Alans in Normal and Prairie Gardens in Champaign offering a unique selection of home, garden, and seasonal décor in addition to a women’s boutique and custom framing since 1985 and 1964, respectively. With a love of Christmas similar in spirit to Livingston’s where the Santas first began, Prairie Gardens and Jeffrey Alans carried on the tradition of displaying a Santa at their stores for many years in Normal and Champaign until they became too fragile for outside use.
Restoring an Iconic Holiday Tradition
Jeffrey Alan Wandell has had the Santas in storage now for several years, looking for an opportunity to preserve them. Earlier this year the McLean County Museum of History connected with Jeffrey and months of planning and research has led to the gift that was finalized on December 15. Jeffrey has a love of sharing art with others, with projects and partnerships like the Wandell Sculpture Garden located at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana, Illinois. For the Santas, the Museum is a logical place to care for them, and to preserve the nostalgic tradition for future generations to enjoy. Reggie Valentine, store manager at Jeffrey Alans in Normal of 25 years says, “We loved having the Santas at our stores to help signal the start of the holiday season and we’re so excited to see them restored to really enhance the Christmas season in our community.”
The Museum is currently in conversation with McLean County, the City of Bloomington, and the Town of Normal to potentially have one Santa displayed Downtown and one Uptown during the holiday season. Concrete pads with anchors and a descriptive marker to share their story are needed to host the Santas. In the off months we hope that a piece of public art will be displayed in each location. This would build upon the trends in both communities for the display of public art. The City of Bloomington will provide a site for temporary storage for the Santas as things come together, including assistance with construction of individual crates for each Santa under the direction of Museum Curator of Collections Jackie Cain.
The Santa restoration will consist of repairing the existing structures, building a new fiberglass exterior, and repainting each Santa. Doing so ensures they can be displayed outside and to be moved safely to and from the storage location. The Santas will look better than they did when new in the 1940s. Local artist Andrew Jumonville will complete the work. Jumonville created the “The Convergence of Purpose Statue” of Abraham Lincoln, Jesse Fell, and David Davis in front of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, amongst others nationwide.
Timeline and Funding Needs
Restoration work is set to begin in mid-January and finish before the 2024 holiday season. The Museum will launch a public funding campaign during the fall of 2024 but has started conversations with potential community and business partners regarding the initiative's various moving parts. The most significant areas of need are storing and transporting the Santas and their ongoing care—specific needs outlined below.
Underwriters to offset the $35,000 cost of restoration.
Donors to raise $50,000 for initial site costs and ongoing care.
A temperature-controlled long-term storage site large enough for both 14-foot Santas and their custom wooden crates, with forklift capabilities.
Transportation services to and from the storage location annually. (Santas annual reindeer)
Annual installation services – we are hopeful of working out agreements with the City of Bloomington and Town of Normal but need a back-up plan.
Partnerships needed to Save Santa
Opportunities for annual sponsor recognition for in-kind donations and services are available. Contact Director of Development Norris Porter or Executive Director Julie Emig to discuss how you can help in Saving Santa and preserving a nostalgic tradition for the community.
Check out the latest updates on the Livingston Santa restoration project