Friday, October 8, 2010

Preserving Arto Monaco’s Theme Park Legacy

While the child-sized buildings at Land of Make Believe may be deteriorating, the legacy of Arto Monaco, the visionary who created the theme park in 1954, will be preserved.

According to Laura Rice, a curator at the Adirondack Museum, hundreds of items documenting Monaco’s career as a toymaker and theme park designer and developer are in the process of being acquired by the Adirondack Museum.

To be housed in the Museum’s Collections Storage and Study Center, where the material will be catalogued and made accessible to scholars, the Monaco collection will ultimately be seen by the public, said Rice.

“We will definitely display items, but no exhibition has been scheduled,” she said adding that the collection consists of “a little bit of everything, from art work to the toys he created to souvenirs and the uniforms employees wore at Land of Make Believe.”

Born in Ausable Forks in 1913, Monaco designed not only the Land of Make Believe but Santa’s Workshop and Charley Wood’s Story Town and Gaslight Village.

A $50,000 grant from the Charles R. Wood Foundation helped the Arto Monaco Historical Society acquire the collection from Monaco’s family, said Anne Mackinnon, a founder of the society.

The Arto Monaco Historical Society, which was created after Monaco’s death in 2003 to preserve his legacy, arranged for the transfer of the collection to the Adirondack Museum, according to Mackinnon. “Arto had been talking to people at the Adirondack Museum before he died; he had identified it as wonderful repository for his legacy,” Mackinnon said.

According to Laura Rice, roadside attractions like the Land of Make Believe, Stanta’s Workshop and Story Town, “are now recognized as integral to the development of the Adirondack Park as a resort area in the 1950s.”

Rice added, “Museums are often a generation behind in recognizing the significance of a piece of popular culture; we now have enough distance to have a proper perspective.”

The Arto Monaco Historical Society also acquired the site of Land of Make Believe in Upper Jay and hopes to transform it into a park, said Mackinnon. While many of the buildings are beyond repair, the society hopes to preserve the park’s castle in some form, she said.

“The castle is not only iconic; castles played an enormous role in Arto’s imagination,” Mackinnon said. “One of the last sketches he made before he died was of one more castle.”

Photo: The Land of Makebelieve in 2006 before volunteers began work on the abandoned theme park.

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Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.





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