TRAVERSE CITY — Marty Rhein takes his three children to downtown Traverse City every year to see the Christmas tree lighted and to visit Santa’s House.
This year, thanks in part to Rhein, that isn’t just any house. It’s a professionally designed blend of “Victorian cottage” and “Up North rustic,” complete with Victorian-style siding, cottage shingles straight from a scene in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and an arched window topped by an old-fashioned cast-iron clock. There are even wall sconces to suggest a fireplace.
“When you think of going to visit Santa, you want it to have some nostalgia,” said Rhein, whose Santa is the glowing, rosy-cheeked version depicted on vintage Coca-Cola trays.
Santa’s previous house was built at least 15 years ago and was falling apart despite periodic maintenance by community groups, said Downtown Development Authority marketing director Colleen Paveglio. Moss had even grown on the roof.
“It’s pulled by a crane and we knew we’d have to have actual structural changes for that to happen this year,” she said.
So instead, Downtown Traverse City Association President Jeff Jourbran contacted Dean Adams, owner and president of Bay Area Contracting, to see if he’d be willing to build a new house for Santa.
Adams went one better. He approached Rhein, his sister firm’s senior designer, and contacted nearly two dozen vendors to ask for their help with the project.
“There was no hesitation out there,” Adams said. “Anyone I called said, ‘Absolutely.’ I never had to call back to talk to someone else.’”
The 8-by-12-foot house was built over about three weeks, starting at the Bay Area Contracting office site. Then Team Elmer’s picked up the house and moved it to the company’s heated shop for completion.
“People worked on the weekend, people worked after work,” Adams said. “James Jones of Jones Construction took time off during the day — business hours — to work on it.”
For every company that helped, there was another company behind the scenes, Adams said. For instance, Brushwork Painting provided the interior and exterior painting, and Sherwin-Williams chipped in with the paint.
“It was kind of a ripple effect,” said Adams, who estimated that altogether 45 to 50 companies had a hand in the house.
Rhein said attention to detail is evident everywhere, from the forest green exterior with white trim to the rich, “truffle” brown painted door and interior window trim.
“I have three kids and Christmas morning is really special,” Rhein said. “They’re young, so it’s magic. What Dean and I tried to create is that ambiance, so when people see it, the house is going to be their family tradition. I didn’t want it to be humdrum. I wanted it to be, ‘Wow!’”
Terry Walters of Ace Welding and Machine crafted the “North Pole” flag that sits atop Santa’s roof out of flexible sheet metal.
“We cut it out on our machine so it looks like it’s blowing in the wind,” said Walters, who had the flag powder-coated red. “It’s probably the most unusual job we’ve done this year.”
Miner’s North Jewelers’ Wayne and Beth Guntzviller searched locally before ordering a special two-faced clock that hangs from the house on a scrolled bracket.
“Our downtown is so good now and we’re so proud of it, and you want to do what you can to help,” said Beth Guntzviller. “I kept on thinking of (late DDA director) Bryan Crough. Bryan would be so proud of the house and how everybody volunteered.”
Paveglio said the house is scheduled to be installed Monday morning at its new temporary site near the City Centre Plaza at the corner of Cass and State Streets. More than 2,000 lights will be installed Wednesday on three trees at the plaza, courtesy of Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Santa arrives Dec. 6 in the Traverse City Fire Fighters Local 646 Antique Fire Engine. He’ll join the carols around the tree at Cass and Front (beginning at 5:45 p.m.), receive the Key to the City from Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes, and light the tree at 6 p.m., before spending the rest of the evening (6:15-9 p.m.) visiting with little ones at his new holiday house.
“I’m a grandma now, so our grandkids will be going to the house,” said Guntzviller. “We can say, ‘Grandma and Grandpa helped with this.’”
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