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Holland grew up during the Great Depression and his parents died before his eighteenth birthday, leaving him to care for his younger sister.
In 1953, Holland proposed Santa's Village after reading a Saturday Evening Post story about a similar project called North Pole in New York City. Holland set up a corporation that funded the amusement park, and leased the land from the family of the general contractor J. Putnam Henck.
In the early 1950s, Holland sketched his idea of a Christmas fairyland filled with enormous candy canes, animals and gingerbread houses. Holland developed this idea into a working plan and sought investors for his project. He traveled the country selling his Santa's Village concept and $45 stock shares, and eventually listed his company, Santa's Village Corporation, on the California Stock Exchange.
Around the same time, Walt Disney was building Disneyland; Holland contacted Disney, and the two men reportedly corresponded for a time. While Disney was already wealthy from his films, Holland was an unknown.
Glenn Holland was also friends with Dick and Mac McDonald. The McDonald brothers told him about their business idea with Ray Kroc for a chain of fast-food restaurants. The story inspired Holland to franchise his parks.
The first Santa's Village opened Memorial Day in 1955, six weeks before Disneyland, in Skyforest near Lake Arrowhead in San Bernardino County, California. It closed in 1998. A second Santa's Village opened in 1957 near Scotts Valley in Santa Cruz County, California, staying open until 1979. The last Santa's Village was opened in 1959 in the Chicago suburb of East Dundee and closed in 2006. The park subsequently reopened under new ownership in 2010 and continues to operate to this day as the last and only Santa's Village, though it will be joined by the Skyforest, California location in late 2016.
Despite the park's early popularity, Holland had not planned for the freezing weather in Illinois. While his West Coast parks stayed open year-round, with best attendance in the weeks before Christmas, the Chicago area was too cold. Eventually, Santa's Village in East Dundee was in the odd position of being closed on Christmas.
The miscalculation helped lead to the collapse of the company. Finances were stretched thin. By 1965, investors rebelled. Holland left the company, and the parks were sold.
"Where he made the error was going on and doing the final one in Illinois. It was just not financially a good idea," said Reece, his daughter. "But he knew he had touched people with the parks. It was the most special thing he felt he had ever done."
Holland later became a real estate developer, and died in 2002 at 84.