Sunday, August 4, 2013

Paul Busse's Enchanted City: Creator of the 
New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show 

Macy's Flagship Store Herald Square

I am sitting at my desk on a beautiful afternoon in August. This day has all the ingredients of what I call a million dollar day: brilliant blue skies, a few puffy white clouds, gentle winds, and comfortable temperatures.

Something is wrong with me. Instead of planning weekend getaways, beach outings, picnics, exploring New York City on bike or foot, kayaking on the Hudson, camping, and hiking I have lingering thoughts of the recent 2012 Christmas holidays.  No I am not daydreaming about Santa Claus, the Rockefeller Christmas tree, Times Square on New Year’s Eve, or Macy’s Herald Square’s Toyland.

What makes me smile is the New York Botanical Garden’s holiday train show. I went there in early January. I frowned when I saw a long line of people with hundreds of kids waitingto enter the Garden’s sprawling Victorian style Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

 Empire State, Chrysler, Met Life (5 Madison Sq.), St.Patrick's

Upon entering the Conservatory I realized I had entered an Oz-like world one filled with a Lilliputian version of a New York City featuring many current landmarks and several long forgotten ones as well. All were crafted from natural materials – berries, pinecones, bark, beechnuts, seeds, twigs, pistachio shells, sea grape leaves, eucalyptus buds, and palm tree husks.

The New York Botanical Train show is the work of Landscape architect Paul Busse. He has built over 140 structures. The smallest is an 8-inch-high town house. The tallest is the 14-foot replica of the Brooklyn Bridge (although trains zip across his version). Current landmarks include the New York Public Library, Yankee Stadium, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and City Hall. Lesser-known ones such as the Bronx’s Edgar Allen Poe cottage, Wave Hill House and Van Cortlandt House are also on display.

Clark Mansion 79th & Fifth Avenue

Busse pays tributes to some of the city’s long forgotten buildings as well. There are replicas of the magnificent 1907 Clark Mansion at 77th and Fifth Avenue. The 121-room, 31-bath building with swimming pool, considered the avenue’s most incredible private home, stood for only 20 years. There is also Eero Saarinen’s futuristic 1962 TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport, and McKim Meade & White’s marvelous Penn Station, torn down in 1964 to make way for Madison Square Garden, an office tower and a now dismal train station. Busse’s Penn Station is about 20 square feet. The roof is made of magnolia, pinecone scales and columns of honeysuckle.
Original Penn Station, 31 to 33 Street - Seventh to Eight Ave.

Paul Busse, 63, is more than just a landscape architect. He is a master builder with a unique vision for creating enchanting venues. Busse’s company, Applied Imagination, with a staff of about 20 people including his son Brian, and his nephew Jason, have built similar exhibits across the country. His works are on display at the Chicago Botanic Garden, the United States Botanic Garden in Washington D.C., and the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia.
Fourteen-foot replica of the Brooklyn Bridge with trains

At the New York exhibit Busse offer more than just great buildings. There are late 1800’s American steam engine trains, streetcars, freight trains and trolleys travelling over a quarter of mile of tracks spread out over the course of the entire exhibit moving over bridges and trestles, through tunnels, past waterfalls, streams, the Conservatory’s reflecting pool, and old train stations.

Over 200,000 people have visited the seasonal exhibit since it began in 1992.
The 2012 exhibit featured for the first time: the Brooks Brothers Madison Avenue flagship store, LED lights for Yankee Stadium, and Penn Station, which took over 1000 hours to build.

The 2013 Holiday Train show is less than five months away. Check the New York Botanical Garden’s website for info their events and educational programs.

Photos by Rudi Papiri