Remembering Santaland, Miller & Rhoads, and Tea Room recipes

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on Dec 19, 2012 - 01:32 PM

Photo: The “real” Santa Claus, shown in 1972 with Walter Taylor Garrett and Katharine Doyle Garrett of Mathews, children of Gazette-Journal food columnist Betty Wrenn Day.

The “real” Santa Claus, shown in 1972 with Walter Taylor Garrett and Katharine Doyle Garrett of Mathews, children of Gazette-Journal food columnist Betty Wrenn Day.

The Christmas season has a variety of meaning to millions, but to children of Virginia and beyond who believed in Santa Claus from 1936 until 1990, there was only one place in the world to see, visit and have lunch with him: seventh floor Santaland in the Old Dominion Room and The Tea Room at Miller & Rhoads Department Store in Richmond.

Even after Miller & Rhoads died in 1990, and it was a tragic closing to all who remember, the tradition of what was and is still referred to as "the real Santa" went on without the tearoom in other locations. Today he appears at the Children’s Museum still dropping down the chimney just like he did for years, but it is still not the Miller & Rhoads scene.

In the Tea Room you got to dine with Santa Claus where he made his entrance as Eddie Weaver on his famous organ banged out "Here Comes Santa Claus." Everyone stretched to see what Santa was having for lunch but usually the family menu, which had been established from many previous visits to the Tea Room, would always include some of the old-time favorites. Once Santa finished his lunch, he was down the runway with a glass of milk in hand. He stopped at the very end and magnificently taking his glass of milk, down it went, encouraging all boys and girls to do the same. And when he dropped by your table to speak, you could hardly keep seated as he said, "Merry Christmas, boys and girls. Ho, Ho. Ho," and then he was out of sight.

Dining at Miller & Rhoads Tea Room was not enjoyed just at Christmas time. It was a year-round delightful pleasure and the highlight of a day for mothers, daughters and sisters adorned in hats and gloves (you wouldn’t be seen downtown Richmond without your hat and gloves). Occasionally you would meet your friends "under the clock" on the first floor, then step into the elevator, riding up to the Tea Room, many times standing in line before being seated. Of course, upon leaving the Tea Room, one of those chocolate silk pies would be tucked under your arm.