Under sunny skies and with temperatures in the upper 70s, Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell was wearing a suit with a Christmas tie and, he said, holiday cuff links and socks. Mark Klaus was a little more summer-set in a Hawaiian-style shirt — but the dominant color was a Christmassy red. Fake snow soon fell from a window overhead.
Medina hopes that, by late November, the city will make every day feel like Dec. 25.
Hinckley resident Klaus is turning the former Medina United Methodist Church building on South Court Street into Castle Noel, a combination of museum, activity center and party location aiming to be the largest indoor Christmas attraction in the country.
A sculptor and longtime collector of Christmas memorabilia from department-store window displays to props from holiday movies, Klaus has had exhibitions of his collection before, including in North Olmsted’s Westfield Great Northern Mall. But after losing that showplace in 2010, he and wife Dana have been looking for a new, permanent location.
Klaus said the old church building was attractive early on, but not yet available. Then, in 2012, the church moved to a new building on Foote Road, and city officials were anxious to find a new occupant for the Court Street building.
“Our hope and our prayer — no pun intended — was that the building would remain,” Hanwell said at an announcement of Klaus’ project Friday afternoon outside the church. And it now hopes to have gained much more.
“The city has a strong tie to the Christmas season, with candlelight decorations, our lighting [and] our parade,” Hanwell said. The museum could further encourage people from far beyond Medina to see it as a place to visit at holiday time. Indeed, Klaus said Medina on a winter’s night “is Christmas. … It’s a Currier & Ives Christmas card. It’s the quintessential place for Christmas.”
Klaus said they had looked at 100 different locations, from Summit and Medina counties to Branson, Mo., and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., home to Dolly Parton’s Dollywood. But the Klauses wanted it to be close to home. So they settled on the church, although Klaus would not say what it cost beyond “quite a bit. … Our family, we are investing a lot of money.” And the city, he said, “has been nothing but supportive of our concept.”
As for making the changes, Klaus said he wanted to maintain the integrity of the building while reinventing the way it is experienced. And the changes to the area will be spread over time. A Castle Noel gift shop will open in late August next to the museum, which is scheduled to open Nov. 22. In 2014, Klaus plans to add Alien Vacation Mini Golf, a non-holiday attraction formerly located in Great Northern.
Among the items planned for Castle Noel are a simulated blizzard at the entrance, and “I Had That” Toyland collection of “thousands of all sorts of great, vintage toys and some giant toys to play with,” Klaus said, “We also have hours of old Christmas toy commercials — and as soon as you see one of those commercials, bam, you’re back in your childhood.
“Then we have our Christmas Movieland collection of props and costumes,” he said. “It’s the largest privately held collection of Christmas movie props and costumes in the world. We have the Grinch’s sleigh, Will Ferrell’s Elf costume, lots of great stuff.”
Plainly, it will need a lot of space. Just one item at the Friday announcement was Cousin Eddie’s full-sized motor home from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. But Klaus wasn’t done.
“Then we have Christmas Windowland. We have five 55-foot semi-truck-loads of New York City Christmas windows,” he said. “Beautiful animation. We’re restoring pieces that need work. There are nine Nutcracker windows that are, aw, spectacular! And we have them all intact — not just a couple of animated figures.”
That collection started with displays from the old Higbee’s department store, rescued from a closed, leaky warehouse. “When I saw them, I knew we had to save them. We had to make them part of the collection.”
Then, when people saw the Higbee’s items, their reaction was so good that Klaus began to collect more.
Klaus said there is no problem with licensing items from movie studios. “We own all the props that we display,” he said. “There’s just a specific way to go about it, and we follow the rules. It’s all owned. … This was sold by the studios.”
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 and firstname.lastname@example.org.