A neighborhood comes together to continue a tradition started over 30 years ago.
By Julie BUTCHER
Yes, CV, there is a Santa Claus! Santa’s spirit lives large in the local Oak Circle Drive neighborhood with each act of holiday cheer, giving and light.
Every Christmas since 1982, a mailbox for letters to Santa Claus has graced the front of the Wassell family home at 1312 Oak Circle Drive in Sparr Heights, evolving into a holiday tradition for the community.
Patti Wassell is proud to continue the tradition that her husband Russ started.
“One year, [Russ] put up a mailbox for Christmas and invited the neighborhood children to drop off their letters to Santa Claus. I answered every letter. I change it up a little bit each year, but every child gets a letter in response,” Wassell said. “For many years we included a small gift as well. Until he passed in 2014, Russ would sit outside and hand out candy canes to the kids.”
In addition to the mailbox, the Wassells installed a Wishing Tunnel outside their home for the holidays. It stands 15 feet tall and 50 feet long and is lit up after 5 p.m.
“Russ engineered the tunnel. He was a carpenter by trade and he helped me with my real estate business by putting up signs,” Wassell said. “The tunnel has meant so much to so many people.”
The Wishing Tunnel has touched lives beyond what the Wassells ever expected.
“One day, not at Christmas time, the doorbell rang,” Wassell said. “There was a couple standing there, holding a baby. They told us that they’d been trying to have a baby for a very long time and had walked through our Wishing Tunnel, praying for a baby. There they were, standing there with the baby they had wished for.”
Having wishes granted was not a new concept for Patti Wassell. She said she wished for her warm, welcoming home long before she lived in it.
“I used to trick-or-treat in this neighborhood when I was a kid,” she recalled. “I swore that someday I would live here. We’ve been in this house since 1978.”
Outside the Wassell home, neighbor Paul Covington said that [the Magical Wishing Tunnel] is a great thing.
“It’s wonderful to see people doing nice things for other people. It’s why we moved to the neighborhood,” he said. Pointing to the banner above the lighted tunnel, Covington added, “I love that it says Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad and Happy Chanukah!”
Since Russ’ passing in 2014, neighbors have stepped in to help keep Santa alive for the children of Oak Circle Drive and for children who come from near and far to drop off a letter in the mailbox. Lately folks have put the Wishing Tunnel and mailbox on Facebook so others can see how many letters Santa gets.
“We all started helping,” said neighbor Lynda Hessick about the Wishing Tunnel and Santa’s mailbox. “Do you know that Santa gets 90 letters every year?”
Added Wassell, “My favorite letters, the ones that are the most touching, are the ones from kids of single moms who ask Santa for a happier life for their family, or the ones from children making wishes for their brothers or sisters. There are beautiful, kind-hearted kids out there.”
The neighborhood comes together periodically during the rest of the year, too. Neighbors hold a Fourth of July block party and in June a garage sale to coincide with the Montrose Arts & Crafts Fair.
“And this Halloween we had more than 900 trick-or-treaters,” Hessick said.
“It’s that kind of neighborhood,” Wassell said about Oak Circle. “Lynda keeps us all informed and up-to-date about what’s going on. There’s a progressive holiday dinner every year, for instance, on the last Monday before Christmas. Four or five families open up their homes for the entire neighborhood (appetizers at one, desserts at the last) and this year 30 households are expected to participate; it’s a delightful, fun way for folks to come together.”
A majority of the houses on Oak Circle are decorated festively for the holiday season. Just around the corner from Santa’s mailbox, there’s a house with a tree swing in front of it.
“The doctor who lives there doesn’t have small children anymore but he still put up this really cool tree swing and he invites the neighborhood kids to enjoy it,” said Covington.
Crediting the Montrose-Verdugo City-Sparr Heights Neighborhood Association for community activism and involvement, Hessick said, “We are blessed.”