Beverly Hills officials this week disclosed plans for an elaborate display of animated street Christmas decorations and a promotional campaign to send 50 poor children to visit a Santa Claus village near the Arctic Circle in Finland.
"We intend to make Beverly Hills the place to come in Southern California for the holidays," said Dr. Murray Hausner, president of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce.
The multimillion-dollar effort is part of a long-term campaign to defend the city's position as a shopping Mecca against the competition of nearby shopping malls.
The decorations will include 50 billboard-sized displays that will span Wilshire Boulevard and adjacent streets bearing scenes of carolers, reindeer, snow-bound villages, ice skaters and other holiday motifs, illuminated by thousands of electric lights.
Street to Be Closed
Plans call for Wilshire Boulevard to be closed the evening of Nov. 28, when choirs will participate in a ceremony in which all 50 displays will be lit.
Mounted on aluminum screening and supported by steel framing, the decorations are part of a $2-million program funded by the city government.
Additional decorations will include 400 smaller electric displays on light standards as well as two figures of Santa Claus and his reindeer that have been in use since 1937.
Plans for the promotion were unveiled at a press conference that featured a miniature crystal sleigh filled with $2 million worth of jewels, a show of Finnish furs and fashions and a buffet table topped by an ice sculpture of a reindeer.
The event was presided over by television personality Monty Hall, who said that despite its reputation as a center of "glitz and glamour," the city also "happens to be home to some of the most charitable and generous people in the world."
A newly formed Santa Claus Foundation of Beverly Hills plans to send a delegation of 50 underprivileged children to tour Helsinki, as part of a joint promotion with Finland. The children also will meet with Finnish schoolchildren, visit a village of reindeer herders near the Arctic city of Rovaniemi and take an overnight ferry trip to Stockholm.
Funded by Donations
Although promoters hope to raise some money by offering the sleigh for sale, along with a painting donated by Finnish artist Juhani Palmu, the actual $50,000 cost of the trip will be covered largely by donations, said Mike Sims, executive vice president of the chamber.
The children, none of them Beverly Hills residents, were chosen by five social service agencies from throughout Southern California. Each agency is sending five boys and five girls ages 10 to 12. Sponsors have promised to provide complete outfits, from warm underwear through ski clothes.
"We chose ones that would otherwise never have a chance to do something like this," said Capt. Linda Monhar of the Salvation Army. One of the 10 children selected from Salvation Army programs lived for a time with his family in shelter for the homeless, she said.
Deborah F. Ching, assistant director of the Chinatown Service Center, said most of those chosen by her agency come from immigrant and refugee families where both parents work long hours six or seven days a week.
Pepper Edmiston, director of the Ronald McDonald Camp for Good Times, which serves children with cancer, said four mothers of children chosen for the trip called this week to confirm that the trip is still on.
"It's disbelief," she said of their reaction. "It's because such a terrible thing happened to their kid, and this is the most wonderful thing. There's just something magical about Santa Claus."