Friday, February 22, 2013

The Palace of Depression

No, this is not the story of Disney Studios in the year 2000.  This is the story of a strange place my mother visited as a child during the Great Depression of the 1930's.

In Vineland, New Jersey, a stone's throw from where my mother grew up, there was an eccentric genius named George Daynor who purchased a junk yard, then proceeded to build a house out of the junk. The result was a whimsical compound he called "The Palace of Depression".  It must have been art, because the neighbors hated it.  Apparently they preferred a yard of random junk to its organized arrangement.

Or maybe the neighbors objected to the crowds.  Twenty years before Walt Disney created Disneyland in far away Anaheim, California, the Palace of Depression offered the best version of Fantasyland  for miles around. Daynor gave tours of the palace for a nominal fee.  Mom had fond memories of what a fantastic place this had been, and was saddened by its demise after Daynor's death in the 1960's.  She kept a few postcards as mementos, and was very excited by a movement in the late '90's to reconstruct the  palace on the original site, where some of the original building still stood in decay.

Fifteen years later, the palace is still a work-in-progress.  The restoration has been strictly a volunteer effort, and like most volunteer efforts, work on the restoration had come in fits and starts on a seasonal basis.   A few years into it, the site was terribly vandalized.  Walls which had been meticulously reconstructed were knocked over by losers with nothing better to do.  Instead of folding up their tents, the volunteers picked the bricks up and started over.  Just like George Daynor, it takes a certain kind of dedicated madness to make something so unique and special.

Palace of Depression reconstruction site today.  
The palace was featured on an episode of "Weird NJ", with footage of Daynor giving young ladies a tour like the one my mom must have had as a child.  They also show some of the renovation work, guided by two inexplicably shirtless men. 

Here's a short video clip with a much better view of of the progress...
Interested in helping them?  Visit their site here.
I'm looking forward to touring the completed palace one day, thinking of Mom all the way.

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