Tag: Merry Christmas

Christmas Fantasy at the Ford Rotunda – @TheHenryFord

Christmas Fantasy at the Ford Rotunda – @TheHenryFord


It lasted only nine years, from 1953 to 1961. Yet, many long-time Dearborn residents remember the Ford Rotunda’s Christmas Fantasy with nostalgia and a fierce sense of pride. After all, this great extravaganza of all things Christmas was staged in their own community by the company that Henry Ford—their favorite hometown-boy-made-good—had founded.

What was the Christmas Fantasy and why was it so memorable? The story starts back in 1934, at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago.

Rotunda Origins

When Henry Ford decided that his company needed to have a showy building at the 1934 Century of Progress Exposition, he turned to Albert Kahn, his favorite architect. Kahn had designed Ford’s Highland Park Plant, Rouge Plant, and the classically-styled Dearborn Inn. But, for this exposition building, Kahn broke completely from traditional architectural styles and designed an imposing cylindrical structure that simulated a graduated cluster of internally-meshed gears.

By the time the Century of Progress Exposition closed its doors in 1934, Henry Ford decided that the central gear-shaped structure would be perfect for displaying industrial exhibits back home in Dearborn. He intended to re-erect the structure in Greenfield Village, but his son Edsel persuaded him that it would serve a far better purpose as a visitor center and starting point for the company’s popular Rouge Plant tours. The newly named Ford Rotunda found a suitable home near the Rouge Plant, across from the Ford Administration Building on Schaefer Road.

In 1953, as part of its 50th anniversary celebration, Ford Motor Company executives decided to give the Rotunda and its exhibits a complete renovation. The new industrial exhibits and changing car displays were popular. But its biggest draw became the annual Christmas Fantasy.

The Christmas tree and doll display at the 1955 Christmas Fantasy. The large banners of the Rouge Plant on the wall behind the doll displays were part of the Rotunda’s regular exhibits. (74.300.1182.3.4)

A Walk through the Christmas Fantasy

Just inside the entrance to the Rotunda, the holiday mood was immediately set by an enormous live Christmas tree. This 35-foot-tall tree glistened with thousands of colored electric lights.

Stretching along one wall was the display of more than 2,000 dolls, dressed by members of the Ford Girls’ Club. These would later be distributed by the Goodfellows to underprivileged children.

Visitors view dolls from the Ford Motor Company Girls’ Club “Doll Dressing Contest,” 1958. (74.300.1182.3.65)

The Rotunda’s Christmas Fantasy became perhaps best known for its elaborate animated scenes. These were created by Silvestri Art Manufacturing Company of Chicago, who specialized in department store window displays. Santa’s Workshop—an early and ongoing display—featured a group of tiny elves working along a moving toy assembly line.

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The best car-related Christmas present I’ve ever received – Thomas A DeMauro @Hemmings


Just to get you into the spirit of the season, here’s a 1960 Chrysler ad featuring Santa.

Unlike the “Old Man” cheerfully unwrapping his can of Simoniz in A Christmas Story, my track record with scoring car stuff as holiday gifts has been notably poor, but it’s all my own fault.

For years, family members have asked what I would like for my endless projects, but I’ve always felt guilty about taking them up on their offers, since what I needed was usually too expensive for a gift (at least in my mind), so I told them not to worry about it.

Nevertheless, thinking about cars and Christmas did remind me of the best automotive-related present I’ve ever gotten—my 1967 GTO. Though I’ve discussed some of its aspects before, I have yet to delve into how I found it and what the test drive was like.

I’m sure you’ve seen the seemingly endless ads each holiday season that depict people receiving a car for Christmas by simply walking out their front door and finding the latest and greatest model, already in their driveway wearing a big red bow and ribbon. Yeah… that didn’t happen to me.

This only front ¾ photo of the GTO I have from when I first bought it.

ack in the mid-1980s, I was in college but had a decent-paying job, so I was searching for a muscle car project. Since the local newspaper classifieds were no help, the Want Ad Press offered the best opportunity for finding something remotely close to home.

The ritual went something like this, I waited for the new issue to come out each week, rifled through it, circled the ads that interested me, and called the sellers to ask them a list of prepared questions. More times than not, their answers dissuaded me from even going to look at the prospect. Then I had to wait a week and do it all over again. Of course, there was no internet back then, so all I had to begin with was a small print ad, typically with about 3 or 4 lines of text, and no photos.

By the fall of 1987, I had endured months of frustration and knew that once the winter weather arrived, everything would become even more difficult. Finally, I caught a break in December. This 1967 GTO was listed, and while most of the cars I had looked at previously were an hour or more away, this one was only about a 25-minute drive, and it passed the telephone interrogation.

When I arrived, I instantly noted the third-gen Trans Am wheels (which I didn’t like on this car), the body damage up front, and the chalky silver repaint over the original Mariner Turquoise hue. Further examination revealed body filler in both quarter panels and the driver’s door, and a rotted trunk floor.

The Goat looked like this in the 1990s when I was driving it regularly.

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