Original Head of Big Tex Rules an Army of Santas in Extravagant University Park Light Display

Some people collect stamps. Others collect dolls or china. Wayne Smith, a homeowner in University Park, collects light-up Santa figurines — more than 70 of them — and sets them up on bleachers in his front yard as part of a giant holiday display which grows more extravagant each year.

“I’ve lived here for 31 years and I used to do all lights,” Smith says. “But everybody started doing lights ... so I wanted something a little bit different.” He has always collected antiques, so the next logical step was to incorporate them into his display.

Most remarkable among the antique decorations is the giant Santa head perched on the roof. “Big Tex’s original head goes right over my porch,” Smith says. “He was originally a Santa Claus in Kerens, Texas. They sold him to the State Fair of Texas and [the fair] converted him into a cowboy.”

In the early ’90s, the fair replaced Big Tex’s head with a new and improved version. The original went up for auction where Smith, ever the collector, purchased it for $1,300. Now the figure once again plays its original role as Santa Claus.

Smith takes pride in putting up the displays himself, as opposed to his neighbors who “have all these companies come out and decorate their houses,” he says. “I have an assistant that helps me, but he’s afraid of heights,” Smith says. His assistant, whom he named only as Big Al, helps him with moving the items from four storage sheds at Smith’s ranch. “He just knows how to pack things really well. It would take me 10 or 15 storage sheds.”

Seemingly every square foot of space of the yard is covered with some sort of display. A line of Santas stand guard at the front sidewalk, linked together with a cable designed to withstand bolt-cutters. (Smith rigged it this way to prevent theft; he also has surveillance set up.) A creepy-looking elf figure leers from a window flanking the front door. (Smith says this figure was originally a character in the now defunct Spee-lunker’s Cave ride at Six Flags Over Texas.)

Several more Santa figurines dangle ominously in a row from a branch of the tree in the middle of the yard. When asked if there was a more sinister meaning behind the placement of these figures, Smith laughs and says, “No, no, they’re just ornaments!” Although he admits to being asked this question before.

Smith couldn’t give even a ballpark estimate of how much his collection has cost him over the years, but he says the Santa figurines alone cost between $60 and $100 apiece. Plus there are the numerous other figurines, lights, the bigger collectors’ items, bleachers — and we don’t even want to think about electricity costs.

For Smith, it’s worth it. “I enjoy doing it. I have tour buses that come by.” He estimates probably 1,000 people come through and look at the display each weekend leading up to Christmas. He’s even had “very, very positive” responses from his neighbors. “I’ve had very few people complain over the years.

“It’s a lot of fun.”

To see Smith’s extravagant display for yourself, take an after-dark drive along the 3700 block of Southwestern Boulevard in University Park.
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Harper Root has been writing for for the Dallas Observer since 2016. Before that he worked for two small-town dailies in East Texas. He can usually be found eating tacos, shopping at thrift stores or attending queerlesque shows.
Contact: Harper Root