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Stephens City resident finds piece of Palace Theatre history in time for holiday season

Janet Crawford of Stephens City stands beside her vintage Santa that she discovered at an estate sale. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – For Janet Crawford of Stephens City, Christmas has been her favorite holiday since childhood. But this year in particular, she’s more excited than usual. Crawford has a piece of history straight out of the past standing tall and jolly on her front porch welcoming visitors like it was the 1930s at the Palace Theatre.

“I’m so excited to have him,” Crawford said with glee. Crawford is referring to the 1930’s six-foot vintage Santa she found for a mere $100 at an estate sale. “He’s an original piece of Winchester history,” she added.

Locals will remember the Palace Theater, an Art Deco landmark theater where movie stars, comedians and singers enticed imagination for both the old and young at heart. In October 1931, the Palace Theater opened its doors thanks in part to Herman H. Hable, a wealthy businesses man. The theater sat 750 individuals and showed feature films like “Green Grass of Wyoming” and “Forever Amber”.

The theater met its doom on Nov. 20, 1969 when a fire beginning in the basement slowly ate its way up through the front of the theater to the roof. By mid morning, there was nothing left to salvage. And the theater closed its doors for good.

“A friend of mine went to an estate sale held by a women whose siblings were Winchester historians who collected bits and pieces of local history,” Crawford said. “My friend told me ‘you won’t believe the things they have here’ and she was right.”

Over the years Crawford has collected antique Santas of all shapes and sizes and her collection is vast and encompasses many styles including traditional to more modern. Even her Christmas tree this year holds various incarnations of St. Nicholas mixed in with childhood ornaments.

“It’s just something I’ve enjoyed doing over the years,” Crawford sad. “I started and couldn’t stop.”

After her Santa discovery at the estate sale, Crawford did some digging of her own. “I wanted to see what I could find out about him.” Crawford learned that the Santa stood in front of the Palace Theatre throughout the Christmas season during the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

“In 1963 he was purchased before the theater caught fire,” Crawford said. “And from then until now he was kept in a house for safe keeping.”

The Santa itself is almost in perfect condition, except for a little wear and tear on the backside leg. And much to her surprise, he still lights up.

Crawford plans on enjoying the Palace Theatre Santa this holiday season but has considered donating it to a local museum for the obvious historical value.

“I want everyone to be able to enjoy it,” Crawford said.

But for right now, Crawford, along with her neighborhood, are enjoying the small piece of Winchester history this holiday season.

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