Hamtramck DisneylandDmytro Szylak (1923 - 2015)
12087 Klinger Street, Hamtramck, 48212, United States
Located in an alley in an alley off of Klinger Street in Hamtramck, Michigan. To get there take I-75, get off at Caniff, take Joseph Campau north, then right on Commer - duck through the alley between Sobieski and Klinger Streets.
About the Artist/Site
Dmytro Szylak was born in Lwiw (Lvov), Ukraine, and emigrated to Detroit, Michigan after World War II. He took a job working in the General Motors factory, married (his wife died at age 83 in 2008), and had several daughters. He moved to the Klinger Street property in 1956, and although Hamtramck is known as “a touch of Europe in America” and its largest local ethnic group is comprised of residents of Polish origin, Szylak found a home there for himself and his family as well. Following his retirement in the early 1990s, he began creating an installation on his property on the north side of town that he called the Hamtramck Disneyland.
The installation included wooden cutouts as well as spinning fans and whirligigs. All were brightly painted – many in the orange, yellow and blue of his homeland’s symbols – and included images of figures (including the Statue of Liberty, complete with torch) as well as rockets and animals. Elvis, Disneyland characters, other pop culture stars, wooden soldiers with wooden guns, and more adorned the site, most lit up with Christmas lights that shone year-round. The figures were fastened to wooden beams that reached two stories high. Tin sheets, light bulbs, a giant homemade jet aircraft with Santa Claus as the pilot, and found objects including plastic rocking horses, fan propellers, and other materials were juxtaposed with and enhanced the cutout wooden figures. There are landscape paintings and hand-painted signs, and hidden speakers would play Ukrainian music when Szylak so desired. Stretching in front of, to the side of, and on top of his modest home and adjacent garages, they dwarfed it with exuberance, color, and – when powered on – movement.
Although occasionally during the course of Szylak’s building, roughly a twelve- or thirteen-year period, municipal code enforcers threatened to demolish it, the current administration not only approves of it, indicating that it does not violate local codes, but has incorporated it into the municipal master development plan, as it is beloved by residents and an important tourist draw for visitors. However, although the mayor vows “no alternative” to preservation, following Szylak’s death in 2015, it is uncertain what will become of the site, as Szylak’s daughters are contesting the will. At the present time, much can still be seen from the street frontage and from the alley behind.
Update: In May, 2016, Hatch Art, a nonprofit organization located in Hamtramck, began a crowdsourced fundraising campaign to purchase the site in order to restore it, with the intention of allowing public visitation and developing programming to enhance public engagement. Their campaign was successful, and received matching funding from the state. Renovation and development is in process.
~Jo Farb Hernández
Update 2021: While the site remains in good condition, many pieces of the installation have been removed for conservation. A sign posted on site reads: "Despite appearances, Hamtramck Disneyland is being preserved! Due to age and the ravages of Michigan weather, most of the lumber supporting Mr. Szylak's was badly rotted and in danger of further collapse. We decided to take it down ourselves and replace it in the near future with a sturdier and more versatile infrastructure upon which we can reinstall the original horses, whirligig, signage, and toys, as well as new artworks contributed by our many volunteers. It will also allow us to reintroduce lights and sound to the project, as Mr. Szylak intended."
Map & Site Information
12087 Klinger Street, 48212
Latitude/Longitude: 42.4072688 / -83.0584335