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City Avoids Being Grinch : Santa Is Allowed to Stay Year-Round

December 11, 1986|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

"And they're hanging their stockings!" he snarled with a sneer.

"Tomorrow is Christmas! It's practically here!"

Then he growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming,

"I MUST find some way to stop Christmas from coming!" From "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss

No one likes being called a Grinch at Christmas, and the City of Glendale is no exception.

But when 26 residents petitioned the city last week asking that a year-round "Santa's Dream House" on Alameda Avenue be shut down because of traffic and noise, city officials had no choice but to investigate.

What they found was Robert George, an amiable 63-year-old with a curly white beard, deep laugh and red jacket who has served as an official White House Santa Claus for six Presidents and says he wants to open his Christmas house to handicapped and needy children.

They also found 52,000 Christmas lights, 10,000 ornaments, 95 Christmas trees, a 14-foot high fiberglass reindeer, a snow-making machine, barrels of toys and numerous building-code violations.

So Saturday, Santa received a notice from the City of Glendale.

Told to Relocate

"Activities that generate traffic noise . . . are accommodated in Glendale's business zone. You should relocate your activities . . . to an appropriate commercial-zoned property," Glendale zoning administrator John McKenna wrote.

George has tangled with Grinches before. In 1976, when his family lived in Sierra Madre, city officials refused to grant George a permit to park five sleighs with mechanical reindeer in his driveway. They stretched 42 feet and seated 50 people.

So this holiday season, George enlisted the help of media-savvy attorney Gloria R. Allred. Some of Allred's previous cases include suits against a restaurant for giving women menus without prices and an Orange County school district whose counselors told a teen-age girl that she could not be a cheerleader because her breasts were too large.

George said it came to him in a dream that he should ask Allred for help. She agreed to take the case and immediately began publicizing his plight.

Supporters Rallied

Allred plunked a Santa hat on her head, distributed "Santa" cookies to disgruntled neighbors, rallied Santa supporters, including children bearing "Down With Scrooge" posters and called a press conference.

Sitting in Santa's lap Saturday afternoon, Allred announced that "All of this turmoil deeply shocks and disappoints Santa, and Santa has lain awake at night wondering if the Grinch who stole Christmas is on the loose."

Apparently the Grinch remains in his home on Mt. Crumpit.

Monday, after meeting with Allred and George, Glendale Mayor Larry Zarian announced that Santa and all his decorations could stay on Alameda Avenue if he brought his house up to code and corrected seven electrical violations.

"We don't want to be a Scrooge, especially not at this time of the year," Zarian said, adding that the city "does not want to get involved in a neighborhood dispute."

Meanwhile, the saga of Santa vs. Glendale became national news. George was seen blinking back tears on television as he described his effort to keep his house as a shrine to the holiday spirit.

But irate neighbors tell a different tale.

"This man moved in two and a half years ago, began decorating for Christmas and never stopped," said Inez Truger, one of George's neighbors. "For those who criticize us for not liking Santa Claus, I would like to invite them to live next door to him."

Truger and others said that Santa's house on the 1300 block of Alameda Avenue is garishly decorated, depresses property values and attracts a constant stream of visitors, 300 or more each day who block their driveways and leave trash behind.

"I can't even walk into my own kitchen in the morning without getting blinded by that fake snow on the roof," said John Ordaz, who lives next door.

George's house, a modest domicile on a leafy residential street, is surrounded by a white picket fence and festooned with bells, sleds, candles, Nativity scenes and other Christmas memorabilia.

Santa Has a Helper

Inside, most of the available wall space is covered with blinking lights, stuffed animals, plastic holly or faded newspaper clippings of George's 36-year Santa career. Even his shower curtain bears a Christmas motif. A volunteer secretary who wears a Christmas cap addresses her boss as Santa.

George, a Nebraska native who speaks with a slight twang, said he dresses in his trademark costume year-round, whether out running errands or lounging around the house he rents. Even in the heat of summer, he mows his lawn in red shorts and a Santa cap, according to neighbors.

In 1949, George says, he had a vision that told him to spread the spirit of Christmas throughout the year. So he quit his job as a barber in Cozad, Neb., bought a $7.50 Santa suit and began making appearances, he said.

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