Community donates to fix vandalized Arbutus Santa House

The southwestern Baltimore County community and donors as far away as Hawaii have stepped up to support efforts to repair and fortify the Arbutus Santa House after two incidents of vandalism in the past two months.

The Santa House, run by volunteers and the Greater Arbutus Business Association, has received $1,500 in cash donations to fix the damaged property and holiday decorations, said Mark Nettleship, president of the mid-Atlantic chapter of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas.


“We have companies from Reisterstown, Catonsville, I’ve fielded calls from Hawaii, I fielded calls from California, I fielded calls from New York, Ohio,” Nettleship said. “Everyone that has experienced that Santa House wants ... that little tradition to continue in Arbutus.”

On Nov. 3, an unknown intruder 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.


Nettleship, who plays Santa Claus every year at the house and throughout the county, said he saw its broken front windows as he drove past it on Stevens Avenue.

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 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, but no prints were found.


Nettleship estimates replacing the damaged items, repairing the broken window frames and outfitting the windows with bars could have cost up to $1,000.

As of Thursday, repairs were underway. The locks and door handles had been replaced and window braces were installed. Also, security lights were being placed around the House, and the walls were being repainted, Nettleship said.

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“All this is pro bono,” he added.

The 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.

The 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 said.


He doesn’t expect the vandalism to affect the coming holiday events, but on Facebook, he has asked Arbutus residents to be vigilant of suspicious activity around the Santa House.

“We’re pretty resilient down here,” he said. “We’ve already had other people step up to make additional donations.”

Donations to the Santa House can be sent online at, or through checks made out to The Santa House and mailed to the Arbutus Town Hall, 1349 Stevens Ave.