If you blink as you drive by the City of Santa Clara's holiday tree, located at Civic Center Drive and Lincoln Street, you might miss a tradition that is older than many City residents. A teddy bear, wearing a yellow rain coat, resides just below the star of lights at the top of the tree, as he has each December since 1911.
“With the way society moves around today, it's nice to have some tradition,” said Alice Dixon Hillis in a 1988 interview with the San Jose Mercury News about the bear.
Hillis' bear was donated when she was one year old and her father, James Dixon, was the utilities superintendent. James Dixon took great pride in selecting and cutting down a City holiday tree from the Santa Cruz Mountains. He thought his daughter's bear would make the perfect ornament for the top.
The bear went up along with the lights until, in the 1950's, then City Manager Joe Base bought a new bear because he thought the old one was getting shabby, according to Tom Cronin, former City employee in the Electric Department. Dixon's bear was relegated to the back of the tree. However, the new bear blew down during a storm and was never found, and Dixon's nearly 24-inch bear resumed its original place of honor.
Teddy disintegrated over the years, and Electric Department employees tried to halt the decay by using duct tape and spraying the bear silver. In 1987, a reporter from the Santa Clara Valley Weekly suggested ‘nix the bear,’ describing it as ‘nothing but tape and a little stuffing.’ Fortunately, a member of the Santa Clara Women's Club volunteered to re-fur-bish Teddy, covering all the old materials with furry tan cloth closely resembling the only way toy bears looked in 1911. A Cabbage Patch rain coat and boots were donated by the daughter of a City employee to help Teddy stay dry during winter storms. All that remained of the old Teddy was saved underneath the fur.
Today, Teddy still looks as good as new. Each December, Electric Department crews raise him to the traditional spot atop the 70-foot Colorado blue spruce that's been the City's official tree since 1979. At night, with 1,000 colored lights blazing, see if you spot him.
He's a City tradition with a lot of history.