Jason Spears works as a senior product designer for Whirlpool Corp. by day, but in his spare time he uses his engineering talents to create elaborate Lego train displays that accurately depict historical landmark buildings throughout Southwest Michigan.
One of his favorite and most time-consuming recreations – St. Joseph’s historic Whitcomb Hotel – is now on display at the Holiday Train and Trees celebration in South Haven.
The scale model recreation of the 93-year-old Whitcomb displays the hotel in its glory days where it hosted the likes of baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, infamous gangster Al Capone and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
“I’ve wanted to make the Whitcomb for 15 years,” Spears said.
His recreation of the Whitcomb is among the other historic buildings that are part of the holiday Lego train display created by members of the Western Michigan Lego Users Group. Other buildings in the display include scale models of the 505 Building in St. Joseph, the St. Joseph City Hall and Fire Station, originally built in 1914, and the historic Kent Theater, whose marquee lights up.
Spears painstakingly created the 505 Building and St. Joseph City Hall and Fire Station, along with the Whitcomb.
“I like running the trains, but I really like making the old buildings,” Spears confessed.
Making the neo-Tudor design, L-shaped, seven-story Whitcomb, now a 4-star senior living complex, turned out to be a time-consuming process.
“It took two months to build it,” Spears said. One of his biggest obstacles was finding the right type of Lego building bricks and glass windows to accurately reflect the color of bricks and types of windows used for the Whitcomb when it was first constructed.
“There’s probably $1,500 of Lego’s in it,” Spears said, adding that the expense would have been higher, it if weren’t for Lego’s pieces he had been collecting over the years for such a building project as the Whitcomb.
The West Michigan Lego’s Users Group train display is one of a handful of other train displays that can be viewed at the Holiday Train Display and Christmas Tree Silent Auction in the lower level of South Haven City Hall, 539 Phoenix St.
A more traditional model train village is situated right next to the Lego’s train display. Created by the Holland Modular Railroad Club, viewers can watch two model trains circulating around and through an impressive scale-model village, golf course, vineyard, a lake with fishermen and boats, rolling hills and wooded areas.
In one of the wood areas to the side of the golf course sit a plastic miniature toy lion. It may seem out of place, but at second glance, maybe not.
“I had my daughter helping with the golf course, that’s why there’s a lion in the woods,” said Holland Modular Railroad Club member Jeff Coffel, chuckling. “You can make these as real as you want or as fake as you want. It’s all in your imagination.”
Children and adults like using the electric controls, stationed at various sections of the display, especially the one near the village, where one push of a button will illuminate a light in the fire hall signalling a light to go off in a nearby ambulance and police cruiser alerting of an vehicle accident on main street.
The Holiday Train Display and Christmas Tree Silent Auction will be on display at South Haven City Hall through Jan. 2. The event is organized as a fundraiser for We Care in the Name of Christ human service ministry, which helps people in need in the greater South Haven area. The trees have been decorated by organizations, students and individuals and will be auctioned off at the conclusion of the holiday event. Hours for the display and auction are Thursdays and Fridays, 4-7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, noon-7:30 p.m.; and Sundays from 2-6 p.m.