MEDINA, OH - Department store windows during the Christmas season, with their animated movements inside, will grab the attention of little faces who nuzzle their noses against the glass to watch the holiday movements. In Medina, there are $2 million of such windows from New York City department stores.
When Mark Klaus bought the windows from the New York stores, he knew they would be well-received in Medina. "I brought over five semi truckloads of New York City Christmas windows from Saks 5th Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale's," said Klaus, a man who will immediately make you think of Santa Claus because of his thick white beard.
The beard goes with the character of this man, who lives Christmas every day of the year. When he bought the former Medina United Methodist Church after the Methodists moved elsewhere, he knew he had enough room to build Castle Noel.
At 260 South Court St. in the historic Medina Square District, the building is a celebration of all things Christmas. As he conducts tours through two floors of the massive structure, Klaus keeps his patter going about where he found the hundreds of items which are part of Castle Noel. "It's amazing to see all the animated windows back together," he said, "because when we got them, they were in one big pile in a warehouse."
Throughout the building are items Klaus has found which had been used on Hollywood movie sets. Among his treasures are items from the "Grinch Who Stole Christmas" and several other items from movies centered on the holiday. "This is my life," said Klaus. "Castle Noel celebrates the spirit of Christmas that I was raised with."
Klaus, his real name, probably could not help falling in love with Christmas. "When he was in high school, his nickname was Santa," said Klaus' wife, Dana, as she began visitors on a tour of Castle Noel. "This is Mark's dream," she said. "This is something Mark has wanted to do his entire life."
With Santa Claus, at the highest point of the building -- Santa's Mountain -- the big man in the red and white suit talks to children about their Christmas wishes. From there, the children can ride down a huge slide which takes them down the mountain, just as Ralphie did in the movie "A Christmas Story."
Throughout the huge building is a world of fantasy. There are shimmering lights and music. In every direction and from the floor to the ceiling are references to Christmas through decorations and exhibits. By trade, Klaus is a sculptor and designer. For many years, his designs have been sold on the QVC and Home Shopping networks.
The visitors to who pay the admissions price at Castle Noel are wide-eyed as they take the tour of the place and are then free to wander and examine the displays in their intricacies. "It rings my Christmas bell," said Richard Fisher of Sheffield Village. In his 70s, Fisher said the displays reminded him of the Christmases of his youth.
Alan and Jeri Penn of Medina walked through the building, remembering their years as members of the Medina United Methodist Church. "We were here every Sunday," said Jeri. "Our daughters were also married here so that brings another memory for us at this church," she said.
"A church has been recylced and redone in this wonderful, wonderful setting," said Alan.
Klaus said he kept parts of the Methodist church intact. Some of the lamps hanging from the ceiling are still as they were when it was a place of worship. He also kept the pulpit and included it in the gift shop where many of Klaus' Christmas-oriented sculptures are for sale.
There is even a section of Castle Noel where a motorized sleigh is used to allow visitors a change to ride with Santa Claus on a world-hopping tour. With a mannequin Santa in the sleigh, riders can sit before a green screen where there is played a backdrop of the world as seen from a ride in Santa's sleigh. It would be almost every kid's dream to ride with Santa Claus and experience a bouncing sleigh ride in the sky.
After the short ride, the rider can have a DVD of the adventure of traveling around the world with Santa Claus.
Klaus giggles at the thought of such adventure. He said his idea was to make memories for both children and adults who visit Castle Noel, which opened in November.
"The memories we make are the true treasures of life," said Klaus, a big smile across his cherubic face. "Some day in the future, there will be Christmases with families sitting around the table and they will say, 'You remember all the times you took us to Castle Noel?,'" he said, his eyes glistening with delight.
"And in those moments, I become the real Santa Claus," he added with a quick wink of his eye.
Mark Klaus is Santa Claus, having elected to build his Castle Noel in Medina. He said he has been asked to build it in the tourist-rich community of Branson, MO, but turned down that idea. A resident of Hinckley, Klaus said he wanted to keep Castle Noel in Northeast Ohio.
It is his hope to turn Medina into a tourist destination. Castle Noel will remain open throughout the year. Every day is Christmas in Medina. Just ask Santa Claus. Through Mark Klaus, Santa lives there.
Reservations are recommended. Contact Castle Noel at www.CastleNoel.com.