As Arbutus volunteers work to ready the Arbutus Santa House for holiday season events, community members are dismayed at two incidents of vandalism at the holiday house in the last month.
On Nov. 3, an unknown suspect broke into the Santa House through the window, destroying Christmas ornaments and defacing the interior walls, according to police reports. Nothing appeared to have been stolen. Police were unable to find fingerprints, according to the report.
Mark Nettleship, who plays Santa Claus every year at the house for southwestern Baltimore County kids, said he noticed its broken front windows as he drove past it on Stevens Avenue last week.
Entering the 20-by-20 foot structure, Nettleship noticed “there was some writing on the wall with chalk, and some lighted up reindeer we put outside that were all busted up.”
The poinsettias “had been thrown around,” and Christmas decorations, wreaths and a calendar, were taken off the walls “and smashed, destroyed,” Nettleship said.
The blinds and curtains were also torn down, he said.
In his 35 years portraying Santa, Nettleship said he couldn’t recall any prior vandalism at the house.
The Arbutus Santa House has sat between the Ice Cream Cottage and Arbutus Community Association since around 2008, but has been a community fixture in other area locations for over 30 years, Nettleship estimates.
Starting at the end of November, the house holds numerous photo opportunities for children who want to meet Santa Claus and takes part in other holiday events leading up to Arbutus’ annual Santa arrival event, a community draw that even out-of-state Arbutus natives return for annually, Nettleship said.
The recent vandalism followed an Oct. 6 incident, according to police reports, that Nettleship said was less severe; one window was pried open, one reindeer decoration broken, no prints found.
Nettleship estimates replacing the damaged items, repairing the broken window frames and outfitting the windows with bars could cost up to $1,000.
The volunteer-run Santa House pays for its holiday events through its $5 photo charge for kids who get their picture taken with Santa Claus, a donation bucket and other fundraisers, Nettleship said.
Those donations go toward buying $600 Santa suits and boots when needed, and help provide 2,000 candy canes annually, as well as coloring books, picture frames and photo paper at an annual cost of $5,000 or more, Nettleship said.
“If we have to spend money on broken windows, broken window frames and new locks, that will mean less money for the things we give to the children,” Nettleship wrote.
Now, the volunteers are looking to install security cameras around the house, Nettleship said. The door locks have also been changed pro-bono by Bill Lorenz Locksmith in Catonsville, he added.