THE HISTORY OF PHILADELPHIA`S
ENCHANTED COLONIAL VILLAGE

1961

The Village was designed by Philadelphian display designer Thomas Comerford, and built by German toy manufacturer Christian Hofmann (located in Bad Rodach, West Germany) expressly for the landmark Philadelphia department store Lit Brothers at 8th and Market for approximately $1 million.
It is unknown how many of these villages Hofmann built, but one other exists in Boston.

The 1954 Boston village presents it`s own kitschy take on a Christmastime with a New England 'turn of the century' village. Originally built for the Jordan Marsh department store, it is now on display annually, operated by the City of Boston and has been moved from its previous location, City Hall Plaza to it`s new home (2004) at the Hynes Convention Center. ($1 admission fee)
Unconfirmed rumors suggest that the Maison Blanche department store in New Orleans also may have had a Hofmann village for a short time.

The Philadelphia village was a 3/4 life size display depicting eighteen animated scenes of workshops, buildings and clusters of people in a small hamlet at Christmastime. When they were built, the Village`s motorized dolls were state of the art. The Village was first displayed on the second floor of Lit Brothers in1962 and remained a seasonal fixture, viewed by approx. 4,000,000 visitors while at Lit`s until 1975. Additional murals of Philadelphia landmarks like Independance Hall and Christ Church transformed the anonymous village into a semblance of historic Philadelphia.

In 1977, Lit Brothers filed for bankruptcy. Sun Oil Company, bought the display from liquidators for $35,000, Attempts to find a home for the Village in Philadelphia failed and the display was put into storage at the Sun facility in Marcus Hook. The village was partially restored in 1982 by Williamson Trade School of Media, PA and given to Longwood Gardens for their Christmas celebrations.

In 1984, Longwood Gardens donated the Village to the Smithsonian Institution which moved it to a warehouse in Virginia.

In 1987 Independance Center Realty began discussions with the Smithsonian for the return of the Village to Philadelphia and in 1989, Philadelphia`s history museum, The Atwater Kent, borrowed the Village from the Smithsonian to install in Independance Place (the former Lit Brothers building).
Independance Realty spent $90,000 to revive the Village including repairs which were done by Thomas Pope at ?Design Concepts in Charleston, South Carolina (now www.studiodisplays.com in North Carolina)

In 1994 seven of the scenes were installed on the second floor of the Atwater Kent museum and remained on display the following year. The village was not seen again by the Philadelphia public until Please Touch Museum (Philadelphia`s Childrens Museum) purchased it for 100 pennies in December, 2000. Restoration is made possible by a grant from the Philadelphia Foundation.

Because the Village was stored in an abandoned firehouse, it was in need of cleaning and sometimes extensive restoration. 2001 was the first year that a fully restored portion of the Village was on display at PTM.

Of the original 18 scenes in the Village, 10 remain. The others are simply gone - originally auctioned off, broken, discarded, lost. PTM will refurbish those 9 remaining and unveil the entire remaining Village scenes (perhaps with some new ones) when they move to their new larger location at Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park. (One of only two buildings remaining from the 1876 Philadelphia Worlds Fair)

The remaining scenes include the;
Toymaker
Bakery
Blacksmith
Holiday Dinner Scene
School House
Tailor Shop
Village Store
Watchmaker
Wigmaker
and a group of Carolers.

Some of the original scenes are missing and the museum has no plans to replace or rebuild them. These include the Butcher, the Pet Shop, the Candy Shop, the Village Inn, the Glassblower`s Workshop, the Candle maker`s Shop, the Shoemaker`s Shop along with a horse & sleigh and other various groups of figures and animals that surrounded these scenes.

Interactivity is a PTM hallmark. Infusing the Village with that interactivity has been a challenge because the scenes were concieved of and originally built as a very hands-off experience. In fact signs came to them from Atwater-Kent that implored "Please Do Not Touch." which would be an irony in the "Please Touch Museum"

Some visitors might want to argue that colonial Philadelphia looked nothing like the parts of the Village that PTM displays. Of course, the Village encompasses wild historical inaccuracies, not the least of which is the plain fact that, as Quakers, 18th cenury Philadelphians did not observe Christmas.
Fabrics and patterns are inauthentic and machine stitching is evident. There were, furthermore, few mechanical automatons or electrical outlets 250 years ago.

The Village is meant to be an enchanted place, a make-believe world where families came together to wonder at magical, old-timey, nostalgic and emotional Christmas, an archetype of a Christmas that never exsited but is somehow familiar to us all, despite our different backrounds.

 


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