Tacoma families and businesses were hit hard by the Great Depression. To bring cheer and help sales, Tacoma business leaders banded together to create a fairyland parade for children and the young at heart, celebrating Santa Claus and favorite storybook characters.
Tacoma Chamber of Commerce Plans a Holiday Parade
The first “Fairyland” parade was held in 1934. It was sponsored by the Retail Trade Bureau, Downtown Association, Associated Business Center and the Tacoma Wholesale Distributors’ Association. Russel Chamberlain headed the planning committee.
Professional artists constructed and painted the whimsical floats and designed costumes. Downtown streets were made festive with Christmas trees, garlands and cedar greenery in the days before the parade. Neon stars were hung above intersections. Stores eagerly decorated their windows with holiday displays in anticipation.
Parade organizers picked Friday, November 30, for the event. Then, the day after Thanksgiving (the holiday would be moved to the third Thursday of November in 1939) marked the beginning of the holiday shopping season, and children were still on vacation from school. “Santa Claus,” wrote the Tacoma Daily Ledger, “that white-whiskered, venerable old man is going to have a real gala escort into Tacoma Friday morning when Tacoma youngsters will line the downtown streets by the thousands to give him a rousing cheer of welcome.”
Indeed, George Prior, chairman of the Retail Trade Bureau, gave a hearty invitation to all kids in the area to come. “We believe we are going to have a parade in Tacoma that children will long remember.” Who would want to miss that?
The Young Men’s Business Club brought boys from Dyslin Ranch, which the club sponsored. The Kiwanis arranged transportation so that around 100 orphans from St. Ann’s and the Children’s Industrial Home could watch, as well as ill children from the Lakeview Sanitarium. These children could view the event from cars parked on Broadway Avenue, parked in rows half a block back to the Roxy Theater, now Pantages Theater.
The parade began at 10:30 at the Elks Temple. Santa Claus, organizers said, had been met at the Pierce County line and given a police honor guard escort to the hall. Jolly Old Saint Nick led the parade in a forty-foot-long float, which organizers enthusiastically claimed might be the longest Tacoma had ever seen. He waved to the crowd from a sleigh overflowing with toys and pulled by two “snowy” reindeer.
Behind Santa was a crowd of fairyland characters and floats. They included nursery rhyme characters and a float depicting the Three Wise Men and their camels following the Christmas Star. There were walking alphabet blocks and nearly 75 clowns who “cut up antics” along the route. “Tacoma’s Own” 148th Field Artillery band, Daughters of United Spanish American War Veterans drum and bugle corps, “Mickey Mouse” band from the Temple Theater and Lincoln High School band all played.
Businesses closed for the event. The route wound from the Elks Temple down Broadway Street to 13th Street, 13th to Pacific Avenue and north on Pacific to 7th Street.
After the parade, kids could meet Santa Claus at either the second floor “Toyland” at Rhodes Brothers department store or the basement “Toyland” at Peoples Department store. Each store claimed that in front of their building was the best location to see the parade! Children accompanied by a parent could get free candy from Santa at Rhodes, who would be there “all day except when he and his reindeer have lunch.” To add to the festive mood, the Rhodes Jingle Band played in the corner window on 12th and Broadway throughout the day.
The Fairyland Parade Returns, 1935
Business leaders again decided to host the parade in 1935. This time, T.O. Nash headed the parade committee. The parade was again held the Friday after Thanksgiving, but the start time was changed to 10 am.
The floats and characters were the same, but there was also a clown car and mention of “mechanical clowns” with Jack and the Beanstalk. The growling Big Bad Wolf and a clown with a bear head reportedly scared the children. The Musicians Union Band and bands from Lincoln and Stadium High School participated.
Children could again meet Santa Claus at Peoples and Rhodes following the parade. Roxy Theater began playing the film “Santa Land” at 10:30.
The Fairyland Parade Ends, 1936
But the parade proved costly in an economic depression. The Christmas parade and celebration cost amounted to $2,900 in 1935. Chaired by William Spellman, the local businessmen again decided in 1936 to host another parade on the same day, time and route. Thousands flocked to see the parade on the foggy morning. However, several floats had trouble. “Little mishaps” meant the Jack and the Beanstalk float could not get up the 9th Street hill, and Mother Goose’s cart wheels got stuck in the streetcar tracks on Pacific Avenue. The float never made it to the parade, and the cart had to be abandoned.
This marked the last Fairyland Parade. Having cheered people during the Great Depression, it was time to try something new. Throughout the decades since then, Tacoma has found ways to make the holidays special every year.