On Facebook, I have been sharing photos of holiday-themed AC Transit Coaches (Bus). In researching the tradition, I learned that Nickolas P. Alevizos played Santa Claus for more than 40 years. A bit of history here.
Santa Claus – St Nick
In December of 1960, AC Transit’s new streamlined “Transit Liners” went into service on Christmas Day.
A colorful parade called the “Travelcade of Progress” was held on the streets of downtown Oakland to introduce the new buses. The parade included all forms of East Bay public transportation since the horse and cable cars.
Alevizos led the parade as Santa Claus .
Alevizos became a legend by dressing as Santa Claus at wheeling through the East Bay in an AC-Transit holiday-themed decorated bus.
He started playing Santa Claus in 1933 for the Shrine, Richmond Kiwanis Club, and at the Division 3 Christmas parties.
He also played the roles of Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, and Uncle Sam on the year’s appropriate dates. But Santa Claus remained his most extended running role, beginning in 1933.
Oakland’s Early ‘Jitney King’
A transportation pioneer in the East Bay, Nichols P. Alevizos, in 1921 started a jitney bus service. The major Oakland Jitney route was 7th Street from Pine Street to Clay Street. There were 16 jitneys and 16 drivers on the run, with 15 in use each day and the 16th taking the day off.
Alevizos organized a jitney association in 1924 and became its first and only president. In 1928 the association bought 8 Model A Ford buses. The association was named West Oakland Motor Bus Lines.
In 1935 Alevizos sold the company to the Key System. Part of the deal made by Alfred J. Lundberg, Key System president, was for Alevizos to have a lifetime supervisor job with the company.
He served as superintendent of the Key System and later AC Transits Richmond Division. His career spanned 56 years.
Alevizos retired at the end of 1977, his career spanned over 56 years. He continued as Santa for 2 more years . He passed away in April of 2000.
History of the Holiday Bus
In 1963, AC Transit launched its first holiday-themed bus. The “Candy Cane Express” was painted white and tied with big red bows.
In the years that followed, the Holiday Bus became more elaborate, with the vehicles being custom-painted and decorated with handmade wooden ornaments. By the mid-1960s, a full-size sleigh was installed on the roof, in which “Santa” would ride.
There have been many versions of the Holiday Bus throughout the years. Decals and full custom vinyl wrap have replaced the custom paint jobs and bolted on decorations.
This year’s (2020) theme is “Holidays Always Keep Their Sparkle.”
- Seasons Greetings – 1965
- Santa Claus Express – 1966
- Candy Cane – 1967
- Happy Holidays – 1968
- Santa’s Toyland – 1969
- Santa’s Workshop – 1970
- Santa’s Toyland – 1971
- Santa’s Toyland – 1973
- Happy Holidays – 1974-1975
- Santa’s Toyland – 1976
- Santa’s Express – 1977
- Candy Cane Coach – 1978
- Winter Wonderland – 1979
- Obituary Nickolas P. Alevizos – San Francisco Examiner April 25, 2000
- Inspector is Now Santa – Oakland Tribune December 21, 1939
- Shrine Plays Santa Claus – Oakland Tribune December 25, 1939
- Parade to Show New Buses – Oakland Tribune December 18, 1960
- Oakland Parades Its New Buses – SF Examiner December 21, 1960
- Santa Brings New Buses to Eastbay – Oakland Tribune December 23, 1960
- AC Transit Times – December 1961
- Candy Cane Express Makes Bow – Oakland Tribune December 04, 1964
- A Busman’s Holiday for Santa – Oakland Tribune December 07, 1965
- Bus-Driving Santa Claus to Add Three Lines to Route – Oakland Tribune December 17, 1965
- Santa Due Tomorrow On Bus Top – Oakland Tribune November 26, 1971
- Oakland’s Early ‘Jitney King’ – Oakland Tribune May 23, 1971
- Santa Bus Runs Tomorrow – Oakland Tribune November 23, 1972
- Candy Cane Coach will bring Santa to Town – Berkeley Gazette November 19, 1973
- Santa Claus Express will roll into Berkeley – Berkeley Gazette November 28, 1974
- AC Transit wishes you Happy Holidays – Berkeley Gazette November 27, 1975
- “Papa Nick”- The Berkeley Gazette September 22, 1980
- The Free-Ride Holiday Bus Returns – AC Transit – December 04, 2017
- Our Gift to You: The Free Ride Holiday Bus is Back! – AC Transit November 26, 2018
- Sharing Sparkle with Our Free-Ride Holiday Bus – AC Transit December 01, 2020