Pat Farley Prepares His Holiday Wonderland
Santa needs helpers!!!!!:
It’s fall, when the fog and winds and crowds of summer have departed and a Santa Cruz person’s fancy turns to thoughts of west swells and offshore winds and soulful sunsets and Halloween parties and Thanksgiving feasts and big orange Hunter Moons rising out of the Salinas Valley.
Fall is arguably the most complimentary season for Santa Cruz, because the Monterey Bay is a bursting cornucopia of flora and fauna by land and sea - from cabbage to killer whales - and fall is all about abundance, harvest.
Halloween is a party, Thanksgiving is a feast and then there’s always Christmas looming. From ‘bah humbug’ to ‘bitchin!,’ the Christmas spirit ebbs and flows from person to person.
But with long-time Santa Cruz resident Pat Farley - the Force is strong. Way strong. Every year for the past 16, Farley has decorated his home on a Seabright side-street with an incredible display of Christmas spirit: A dozen Christmas trees as high as 12 feet, a tsunami of garland, ornaments, elves, trains, packages, gold and silver and color = the works.
It’s cool man, and Farley’s Christmas Wonderland is a hidden but major attraction for Santa Cruz residents and clued in visitors. Farley invests a great deal of time and money into this display and it’s appreciated, but all those trees and all that garland and decorating and painting takes money and now that the elves have unionized into the U.S.W, Friends of Pat have started a GoFundMe to raise funds to frost this Christmas cake appropriately.
Just after Halloween Pat Farley answered some questions about the past, present and future of his Christmas Jones.
I’m gonna take a Freudian leap here and suggest this whole display of yours is Pat Farley’s restless, rambunctious inner child, pining for Santa’s Village (1957 - 1979). People of a certain age who grew up in NorCal remember Santa’s Village and the year-around joy it brang and whatnot. Is that what your display is about?
About 16 years ago my wife took me to Disneyland for Veteran’s Day. We got there the day before and went into the park, but when we came back the next day, which was Veteran’s Day, overnight they completely changed the park. Walking in, there was garland draping the buildings, decorations, and a giant Christmas tree - pretty magical looking.
As a kid growing up in SF, we would go see the window displays downtown at Christmas and my father’s Godfather would have a giant Christmas tree in his house and he would decorate his house.
Yep, I remember that too. The houses in Marina Green would all decorate their front windows with trees and trains and trees circling trains and whatnot. It was lavish and magical. This was the 1970s.
Seeing Disneyland brought back those memories and I told myself that when I got home that I was going to create my own Christmas Disneyland.
I read somewhere that Disneyland is the only place you can sleep peacefully. Maybe you don’t want to dredge that stuff up, but is that true?
My wife says I don’t have nightmares when I’m at Disneyland. The old saying, “You can take the soldier out of the war, but you can’t take the war out of the soldier,” holds true except when I’m at Disneyland. Talking about the war doesn’t bother me.
This was 16 years ago. So 2003.
Returning home, on New Year’s day my sister-in-law called and said a store in the mall had a couple of big nutcrackers for sale cheap - the store was closing, so I went and bought them. Home Depot had a lot of surplus trees that year and when they discounted them down I bought ’em. I still have four of those trees - they’re indestructible.
So for another NorCal reference, you went all Madame Winchester on your place. Just kept building. Almost…. Obsessively? So it’s Santa’s Village x San Francisco Christmas x Madame Winchester.
I have people tell me that it’s a great thing I’m doing for the kids. I didn’t do it for anybody but me, I was making this for myself and every year it has grown. It took the world quite a few years to catch on: one, because I’m on an off-beaten street and because my yard is hidden. But word got out and people started climbing all over the fence to look in, while others would open the gate. When I first started I had three German Shepherds, so I had to keep the gate locked. Letting people in, my dogs realized that everyone was a potential ball thrower and instead of barking they assaulted them with balls.
I’m sitting at Malibu Kitchen right now looking at two Golden Retrievers that are ball dogs. I know the type. (And is that Rupert Murdoch talking to those dogs? I think it is! Get him!)
Every year it grows, always adding something. This year, “everything” has been revamped with great new additions. And every year it costs money to keep it going and growing. I spent the last four days redoing the toy blocks and I’ve had three people helping me and I still have one more day to go. The paint cost is $16 to $20 for four ounces - adds up quick.
Who are your Santa’s Helpers? Maldo and Charlie Bursey and Lee Moulton and Animal and Big Jim?
Setting up: I do most of it myself, I got tired years ago asking for help - it’s work. Biggest helper is MidTown Shane, who helps me every year to set up the buildings or comes by when I need help with something - he lives a block away. During the last few years of the Cold Water Classic, he brought by the contest riders to help set up the buildings; they were more than glad to help. He works for O’Neill’s.
Lee Moulton helps when I’m in a bind and need an extra hand - all I have to do is call. My in-laws always help, along with another friend Wayne, whose been preoccupied this year. There’s been quite a few people who have helped.
Can you give me an inventory of everything you have off the top of your head?
I put up approximately 30 trees every year, 450’+ of decorated garland, and hundreds of ornaments. I make all my own G50 light strings.
I have 12 toy soldiers/nutcrackers - 6 to 10’ in height. Two full-size sleighs, one made in the 1880’s. Eight life-size statue reindeer and lots of giant commercial ornaments.
Every year I lose trees and the cost for artificial Christmas trees in the 12’ to 18’ range is expensive. The market is really pushing the slim trees this year, which are cheaper, but they don’t serve my purpose. For this year, I had to purchase two 16’ trees and two 12’ trees and that was close to $3,000. I’d say the cost for this year is well over $6,000 and I’m still spending money.
I also have to replace the ornaments on the trees every year, even though they say they’re UV protected, along with the garland.
And where do you store it all? The North Pole?
Storage: my biggest headache. I had some off-site storage, but no longer. After Christmas I had surgery so everything stayed here. I have stuff everywhere. I have a secure place to build an off-site storage unit, which I need to raise money for. Every time I want to use my shop I have to haul things out and then put them back. It’s bad.
How long does this all take? I saw this for the first time last year and was gobsmacked. It’s incredibly elaborate.
It takes two months to set up and when it’s set up I’m constantly doing maintenance. It’s another month and a half to take down. And throughout the rest of the year I’m refurbishing or making additions to the display.
When do you open for the public?
I open Thanksgiving weekend and the first week has usually been the slow week, but last year people started coming earlier because it gets crowded here before Christmas. Christmas being one of the most traveled times of the year, I get a lot of foreigners. Everyone wants to see Christmas displays. As to how many people I get - I was averaging over 3,000 hits a day on my website and just missed 4,000 by a hair. It gets so packed, I walk outside and greet people.
Well we’re gonna try to blow it up or this year, so be ready. It could get out of control. You might need Maldo and Bursey and your elves pulling security. And Dennis and Francis!!!! The Fightin’ Farleys!!!!!
The busiest night is Christmas Eve, unfortunately last year it rained and when it rains I’m closed. But it’s a magical night here - everyone is smiling and happy and the kids are ecstatic - it’s the night to be here. (Along with our party).
Have you thought about charging admission? Or would that be defeating the Christmas spirit?
I’ve thought about charging admission. It gets frustrating. I never did this for the public, like everyone else does. I’ve got my own little world, which I like and now I have to go outside every night during the coldest month of the year and entertain people.
My evening starts about 4pm, when I start setting up. I let people in at 5:30 and I close between 8:30 to 9 and then I have to shut down. Shutting down is putting away the 50 pound plus wood toy soldiers - I can’t leave them out in the weather, covering the sleighs and flocked trees and the list goes on.
To stay warm I rely on my propane heaters and there’s nights when I didn’t turn them on - it cost more money. I go thru a propane tank in 2 nights: $16 - $20.00, and that up for 5 weeks [$16 x 35/2 = $350]. I get in the house some nights after 10pm and I haven’t eaten yet.
But getting back to the admission, I’ve thought about it. There’s crowded nights when I’ve looked in the donation box and there’s nothing.
You possess a great deal of Christmas spirit.
When I quit shaping I made a quiver of boards to last me a long time - I’ve sold a lot of those along with all my surf memorabilia, which filled the 3,000’ Santa Cruz’n shop. I would like to think that if I put this much effort out to bring joy to people, they would reciprocate it. I haven’t taken a surf trip since I started this. I’m ranting now.
I’ll be there, most likely without countless others. It’s cool what you do. Gives you an idea of how busy Santa is even farther north, with all his elves. Very NorCal, I have to say. All of our inner children are pining for Santa’s Village - and to be children again.
I do remember my Christmases as a kid and I know a lot of these kids and adults are going to remember this place long after it’s gone. When I have people come in here and they look around and there’s tears in their eyes and strangers will give me hugs when they’re leaving. It doesn’t get more magical than that.