Remembering the Holidays at Joske’s
SAN ANTONIO – It’s Christmas 1960 in San Antonio and atop Joske’s department store sits a giant 30-foot-tall Santa Claus waving his giant hand and beckoning guests to come in for a singular experience: a Christmas Fantasyland.
Looking back these 25 years since the store closed, anyone who visited Joske’s Fantasyland still has fond memories of a magical place and experience. November 17 to December 31, the Institute of Texan Cultures will capture a piece of Christmas Past, with a photo exhibit on Joske’s Fantasyland.
Fantasyland was the San Antonio residence of Santa Claus. Some stories claim the magical setting took up the entire fourth floor of the store’s downtown location. A miniature train took passengers through a Christmas tree forest and into a village inhabited by animatronic talking animals.
"It seems like every year, a guest will ask us if we have any information or images from Fantasyland" said Bryan Howard, director of exhibits. "It’s such a treasured memory and it’s really a pleasure to help San Antonio reconnect with this part of a cherished past."
The photo exhibit takes up the entire entrance wall to the museum. Photos that guests might recognize include the gingerbread-like village shops, the train and the talking bear that greeted guests as they entered the display.
Julius Joske, a German immigrant, established Joske’s department store in 1867. The downtown store was located at the corner of Alamo and Commerce streets. In an annual spectacle, Santa would arrive at Joske’s and scale a fire truck ladder to the top of the building, next to the 30-foot-tall replica, before sliding down a chimney to take up his local residence.
"Some of us are too young to have experienced Fantasyland in person," said Sarah Gould, a researcher with the museum. "We hope people will come share their memories of the holidays at Joske’s."
The museum is encouraging visitors to post their stories and images of Joske’s Fantasyland via Facebook.com/InstituteofTexanCultures; or Twitter, @TexanCultures.
Much like Fantasyland served as an entrance to Santa’s workshop, the museum installation will lead into the Timeless Texas Toys exhibit, which ends its run on December 31. The exhibit will finish strong, with new installations from the Texas Lego Users Group – San Antonio Chapter, which is assembling a scale replica of the San Antonio River Walk, and the San Antonio Model Railroad Association, with a model train and scenery.
The Institute of Texan Cultures is located on the UTSA HemisFair Park Campus, 801 E. César E. Chávez Blvd., a short distance from the Alamo and the River Walk. Regular hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults (ages 12-64); $7 for seniors (ages 65+); $6 for children (ages 3-11); free with membership, UTSA or Alamo Colleges identification. For more information, call 210-458-2300 or visit TexanCultures.com.