By Nina Polien Light
Photo by Thomas Skernivitz
Mark and Dana Klaus operate Castle Noel, the country’s largest year-round indoor Christmas entertainment attraction. The 40,100-square-foot facility presents the magic of Christmases past, present, and future to families, tourists, and, increasingly, folks on corporate retreats.
“We’re opening an event center later this year,” Mark Klaus says. “A lot of businesses tell their employees to look outside their comfort zones and look for answers that aren’t necessarily in front of them. This place turns people into little kids so they can think outside of the box. We have a great opportunity to be the best corporate event out there and to give them the opportunity to turn the experience into an interesting business conversation.”
Mark says companies can begin their retreats with a meeting and tour, participate in the many attractions, enjoy lunch, and then end the day in the event center. Among the attractions are the world’s largest privately held collection of authentic props and costumes from beloved Christmas movies. Visitors can view the sleigh from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” or glide down a Santa Claus Mountain Slide like the one seen in “A Christmas Story.”
“When employees see the boss sliding down Ralphie’s slide, it humanizes the boss and that builds camaraderie,” Mark says.
Castle Noel also features an “I Had That” Toyland Experience. Dana promises every visitor will recognize a treasured toy from his or her childhood. The New York City Windowland showcases restored holiday window displays from New York’s Bloomingdale’s, Lord and Taylor, and Saks 5th Avenue department stores. New this Christmas will be 15 window displays from Marshall Fields in Chicago. Alien Vacation Mini Golf’s animations allow characters to appear, move, and amaze guests.
“Where else can you get a glowing martini in an outer space bar?” Mark asks.
Mark, who sells his line of Christmas and angel sculptures on HSN and QVC, sculpted a 10-foot octopus for Alien Vacation that appears to be grabbing guests. “People make faces and take awesome photos that they can share at the office and in corporate newsletters,” he says. “It’s cool stuff, and that’s why I take time to create it to that level of detail.”
Christmas is part of Mark’s DNA. His grandparents raised seven children in a three-room home during the Depression. Although quite poor, his grandfather, who worked in construction, saved Victorian wall coverings from homes he tore down and fashioned them into little Victorian villages every Christmas Eve. Mark’s father wired to the ceiling a 12-foot display of Santa Claus and his reindeer.
“People were always in our house to see it, and memories were made,” Mark recalls. “I got the bug. This celebrates my family. When you open the doors of Castle Noel, the first thing you hear is my dad’s favorite Polish Christmas record playing.”
Mark’s first foray into holiday entertainment was Mark’s Christmas Fantasy, which he operated out of a barn in Hinckley.
His wife of seven years, who owned Dana Graphic Design for 20 years, is equally enamored with Christmas. After overcoming open-heart surgery at age four, a broken neck disk that temporarily paralyzed her at 40, and a traumatic knee injury from a chain saw accident three years later, she chooses to celebrate each and every day.
The Klauses met in high school and reconnected several years ago. The plan was for Dana to do Mark’s graphic design work, but the former classmates ended up at the altar six months later.
“One of my sons said, ‘Are you really going to be Mrs. Klaus?’” Dana says, laughing.
Today Mrs. Klaus operates Castle Noel, runs the front end of Mark’s sculpting and importing business, and provides graphic design services for both companies. Since marrying, the couple has opened five attractions, some of which were test marketed in other areas before being incorporated into Castle Noel. Originally, they sought a location with about 10,000 square feet of space.
“We found 40,100 square feet,” Dana says. “I say, ‘If your husband wants to buy a toolbox, let him.’ Well, Mark literally bought half a city block. Medina Square is just perfect.”
When the Klauses obtained the building last June, it was in dire need of repairs. They tore down nonbearing walls and began rebuilding on Aug. 1. By Nov. 22 they were open for business. Since then, hundreds of thousands of visitors have enjoyed Castle Noel.
Family and friends pitch in, but the Klauses work at least 70 hours a week. “This business is built out of love,” Dana says. “No one would be crazy enough to do this for any other reason because it’s so much work.”
Mark adds, “We’re not Disneyworld, obviously, but we do things at a level you wouldn’t expect. Nobody expected us to take half a city block and an old church and school and turn it into something incredible. Now we have a city full of believers.”
For more information: castlenoel.com