The Wolf & Dessauer Department Store was known not only for its wonderful customer service and merchandise; but also for its elaborate window displays and breathtaking Christmas lights. People from all over northeast Indiana, Michigan,and Ohio traveled to Fort Wayne to view the beautiful Christmas @ window displays and Christmas lights. According to many that have seen the window displays, they were beyond compare. The displays were not only beautiful but were also mechanical. Allen Bixby was in charge of the displays from 1928 - 1956. According to Jim & Kathie Barron, authors of Wolf & Dessauer: An Album of Memories, Bixby would often travel to stores
W & D Christmas Displays
in Chicago to study their displays and get ideas. (p. 28) Many people thought the displays at W&Ds were far better than those in New York or Chicago.

According to many people that visited W&D during the Christmas holidays, the displays got more elaborate year after year. Around 1937, G. Irving Latz, himself, drew the first sketches of the famous Santa and Wreath displays that hung on the sides of the Calhoun Street building (the display hung on the corners of Calhoun and Washington). Brinkman Signs constructed the famous displays. According to the Journal Gazette, a local Ft. Wayne newspaper, Brinkman's artist Isabel Wilkinson Parker designed the Santa and reindeer light display. Her design was modeled after a Christmas scene given to her by G. Irving Latz Sr., the owner of Wolf & Dessauer's. The original sign was made of wood and had forty thousand lights. There is some controversy as to whether the original sign had three or four reindeer. As many agree, I personally don't feel that Christmas has truly started until I see the lights lit up in Fort Wayne!

Wooden model of the Wolf & Dessauer Department Store

The giant wreath was first displayed in 1937 on the side of the Calhoun Street Store. It was 25 feet high and contained m
Tom M. (Ft. Wayne) with W&D Santa, 1954
ore than 40,000 lights. It also spent a few years at the Huntington location of Wolf & Dessauer before being retired to a warehouse after the store was sold to L.S. Ayres. Years later, the Fort Wayne Parks Department rescued the wreath for display at Christmas at the Zoo. Although the Santa and the wreath displays hung for many years on the side of the W&D building, for a few years it wasn't lit. According to the above mentioned book by the Barrons, "the reason is that during World War II, we're told the lights were kept out to reduce the chance of enemy planes easily spotting the city at night because Fort Wayne was a manufacturer of materials used to fight the war and was thought to be a target for enemy attack. It was also done to help to conserve energy during the war." (p.36-37)

According to the Wolf & Dessauer: Album of Memories, people shared memories "of standing outside on [those] cold November nights waiting with delighted anticipation for the unveiling of the window displays." (p.25)

Many children waited for the opportunity to sit on the lap of the Wolf & Dessauer Santa. W & D decorated an area of the store to look like the North Pole. Phil Steigerwald became the favorite Santa and played the role for many years. Channel 33 in Fort Wayne used to broadcast a live 1/2 hour show five days a week during the Christmas season. See Wolf & Dessauer offers a poignant glimpse of a bygone era by Michael Summers for an another reflection of the Wolf & Dessauer tradition.

A Christmas photo of Lorren C., Decatur, Indiana, taken in 1950 with the Wolf & Dessauer Santa. Lorren was just three years old when this picture was taken. The picture was presented in a card (see bottom left) that opened to a picture of Lorren. His mother wrote his name, date, and the location of the photo session beneath the photo (see bottom right).

Lorren C. (Decatur) with W&D Santa, 1950
Photo Holder

Resources Used:
~ Barron, Jim & Kathie. Wolf & Dessauer: An Album of Memories. Fort Wayne, IN: 2003.
~ Barron, Jim & Kathie. Wolf & Dessauer: An Album of Memories, Volume II. Fort Wayne, IN: 2004.
"Isabel Parker, Creator of Santa Display, Dies at 89". Journal Gazette. 10 October 1997.
Summers, Michael. "Wolf & Dessauer Offers a Poignant Glimpse of a Bygone Era". Fort Wayne Reader. 06 December 2004.

Contact Jim or Kathie Barron at

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