BURL BURLINGAME / BBURLINGAME@STARBULLETIN.COM
Allan Wallace builds miniature communities as a hobby. Here, he overlooks the first increment of "Allantown." He'd like to put his full town on display to benefit Katrina hurricane victims.
A small deed
The creator of a miniature town
wants to help New Orleans victims
There's a power in the presentation of images, as Waikiki retiree Allan Wallace knows. Like others, he was transfixed by recent televised images of New Orleans, drowning and desperate. Unlike others, 86-year-old Wallace spent most of his life as a television producer and director, starting with the DuMont Network in the mid-'40s, and he's intimate not just with the risk of gathering these images, but with the underlying reality behind them. Aerial cameras looked down on the devastated city, and they became the nation's eyes.
People's homes were wrecked, neighborhoods drowned, communities erased. He thought about this as he pursued his hobby, creating a dollhouse community he calls "Allantown." He knows something about creating a town, even if it's made of scraps of wood and bits of cloth and dabs of paint. Looking down on Allantown, set in a bustling, dreamlike Midwest Christmas, is rather like looking down on New Orleans, but with a happy ending.
Wallace wanted to do something for New Orleans. What he has is Allantown, a 135-square-foot model community created in 1/48th scale -- a quarter of an inch equals a foot -- and he'd like to set it up somewhere so people could enjoy it, be reminded that neighborhoods are the product of work and love and ambition and creativity, and perhaps drop a dollar or two into a Salvation Army bucket to go to Katrina victims.
"The display is dedicated to all Katrina victims, survivors and responders to this devastating calamity," he wrote in a note to the Star-Bulletin. "I think it is a bit of aloha that can be shared by many -- perhaps a visitor who is from, or has ties to, the Gulf states area ... a ray of sunshine and hope to those who are suffering. ... This volunteer hobby is my way of sharing and caring."
COURTESY OF ALLAN WALLACE
Allantown grew in 2-by-4 foot sections and includes a hospital, city hall and even a burned-out house lot.
Allantown has taken over Wallace's studio apartment, with storage boxes piled to the ceiling. The model community is broken down into 2-by-4-foot sections, and the whole thing fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. If he can find a venue willing to display the work for charity, it sets up and comes apart rather quickly.
Like most communities, Allantown started small. Wallace's apartment lanai is on the ground floor, and people walk by constantly and smile at him. One Christmas, more than a decade ago, Wallace decided he needed a lanai decoration, and so he re-created a childhood memory, a Minnesota street with snow falling. It was fun. He made more. "I've always enjoyed creating dollhouse rooms," Wallace says. "When I was a kid, my mother and sister had dollhouses and wouldn't let me play with them!"
The irony of a producer-director making his own little world isn't lost on Wallace. "You get to have control so it comes out the way you remember it, or the way you imagine that you remember it," he said.
Neighbors and friends began donating materials, from matchsticks to lumber. They'd stop by to monitor progress. Allantown grew in 2-by-4-foot increments -- hospital, city hall, parks, firehouse, schoolhouse, log cabin, nondenominational church, skating rink, gas station, theater, strip mall, library, dozens of homes, dozens of small shops, even burnt ruins and a high school and sports arena, all based on his memories. No blueprints, no references. The designs of the buildings danced in his head like sugarplum fairies, keeping him awake. He enjoyed his days building tiny homes on his lanai, making a community come to life.
But it was consuming and it got away from him, and Wallace knows he isn't getting any younger. He'd like to use the work one more time to aid Katrina victims, and he knows the completed Allantown will likely never find a home. There's the possibility that the individual blocks could be auctioned off for charity, but Wallace has this sobering image of setting up Allantown one last time -- in the city dump, where, like New Orleans, it will be crushed by the elements.
He shakes his head. "Bittersweet, that's all I can say."
Contact Allan Wallace at 945-0137.