|Title||Brochure: Macy*s Studio, Hoboken, New Jersey. An Exhibit at the Hoboken Historical Museum. Nov. 15, 2001-Feb. 24, 2002.|
|Collection||Hoboken Historical Museum Archives|
|Scope & Content||
Macy*s Studio, Hoboken, New Jersey. An Exhibit at the Hoboken Historical Museum. November 15, 2001 - February 24, 2002.
Single folio printed yellow paper, 8-1/2" x 11" high,  pp.; illustrated. Two copies. See notes for full text.
Macy's (the department store company uses a star symbol instead of an apostrophe in its name; an asterisk has been substituted in this text) Parade Studio was located in Hoboken [note: studio moved all operations out of Hoboken in summer of 2011 to Moonachie, N.J.; building demolished 2013.]
The exhibition was the third one by the Museum in its new home at 1301 Hudson St.
Thanksgiving / holiday /
Macy*s Studio, Hoboken, New Jersey
An Exhibit at the Hoboken Historical Museum
November 15, 2001-February 24, 2002
Celebrating Thirty-Three Years of Creating Thanksgiving Day Parade Magic in the Mile Square City
Since 1968, an unobtrusive warehouse on Willow Avenue and Fifteenth Street in Hoboken has been the oversized workshop of Macy*s Studio. Here, generations of skilled artists, builders, and technicians have worked year-round to create the giant, hand-painted balloon figures and intricate floats that are the heart of New York City’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The Parade celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. It has grown from a few simple floats, bands, costumed Macy*s employees, and some animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo, to a vast theater-in-the-round performance with dozens of marching bands, huge animated floats, and giant helium and cold air balloons propelled by thousands of volunteer balloon handlers, dancers, clowns, and cheerleaders. Millions of spectators now watch along the Manhattan streets and via television.
And it all starts here.
With Macy*s Studio, Hoboken,
New Jersey, the Hoboken Historical Museum aims to celebrate our city’s 33-year contribution to the annual parade. You’ll meet the Macy*s Studio crew, and see some of the Stevens Institute of Technology students who have volunteered over the years as balloon “pilots” and “handlers.” And with models, drawings, and other elements from Macy*s Studio, we’ll show you how steel, Fiberglas, foam, chicken wire, and urethane-coated nylon are transformed into storybook characters, or Mickey Mouse, Sonic, Betty Boop, and Bart Simpson.
We’ll take you inside the magic factory.
The Building on Willow Avenue
The lofted concrete building at 15th Street and Willow Avenue was constructed at the turn of the last century, and was home to a manufacturer of elevator components during its earliest years. According to the 1918 Industrial Directory of New Jersey, the Elevator Supplies Company employed 600 people, making it one of the larger employers in the city before and during the First World War. By 1932, the national economy was experiencing its historic decline, and the workforce of the Hoboken firm (which also controlled a large Canadian elevator equipment company) dropped to 350. Newspaper reports during the Great Depression describe an unsuccessful attempt by the company’s stockholders to have a receiver appointed to take over Elevator Supplies, which later sold the building.
Sperry Products, Inc., manufacturers of electrical and hydraulic equipment, was the building’s next occupant. Until 1948, the Hoboken building was the headquarters and manufacturing center for a range of non-destructive testing equipment, including the Sperry Detector Car, which was used to test rail track for most of the railroads in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Although the Hoboken firm and Sperry Gyroscope had the same founder — Dr. Elmer A. Sperry — there was no corporate relationship between them. Sperry Products, Inc. relocated to Danbury, Connecticut in 1948.
The American Sweets Company [sic - Sweets Company of America] — best known for its manufacture of Tootsie Rolls — moved into the building after Sperry Products departed, and continued through the early 1960s. Portions of the old concrete building were used to store cocoa, and other sections held paneled offices and candy-making machines.
Many Hobokenites recall how Tootsie Roll workers fulfilled every child’s fantasy by throwing morsels of still-warm chocolate down to kids waiting by the factory windows.
In 1968, Macy*s Studio moved from a smaller warehouse in North Bergen, New Jersey, to Hoboken. The building was remarkably well-suited to the unusual needs of the Macy*s artistic and technical crew. With 44-foot-tall ceilings, 16,000 square feet of ground level space, reinforced concrete walls, an overhead crane to lift elements, and beautiful light, the space was ideal for all aspects of float and balloon design and nearly all aspects of fabrication. Manfred Bass, head designer and builder for the Studio until his retirement last year, helped select the Hoboken site. He describes it as “the perfect sculpture studio, because of the light. We have an east to west orientation. The light pours in through the top of the windows and through the side, and we enjoy a nice north light.”
Macy*s Studio, Artists and Technicians
Until 1981, Macy*s Studio had just two full-time staffers, both of whom are now retired — Bobby Davidowski, an expert float builder who worked for the Studio for 45 years, and Manfred Bass, a master designer and builder for 40. The rest of the crew was considered seasonal. Today, over two dozen men and women work year-round in the Hoboken warehouse — including float technicians, electricians, carpenters, sculptors, drivers, balloon technicians, metal fabricators, scenic painters, welders, warehouse operations personnel, designers, and a director of operations, her administrative assistant, a production manager, and the vice-president of the studio.
The titles of these creative personnel are somewhat flexible, however, as each person is multi-talented; some serve as designers as well as scenic painters or sculptors, for example, or contribute both carpentry and welding skills.
Every year there are new challenges, as the floats become more detailed and animated (often by multiple human puppeteers), new materials become available, and new characters are added to the parade’s mix of classic fairy tale figures and contemporary cartoon and storybook characters.
The truly amazing thing about the Macy*s Studio is that all the stages in creating a float — from sketch to detailed drawing to blueprint to model to construction — and nearly all of the stages in creating a balloon, except for its final manufacture — happen in this one building in Hoboken. (For at least a decade, the balloons, which average five to six stories high when inflated, have been manufactured at Aerostar in South Dakota, though their flight tests still occur in New Jersey. Until 1999, the tests occurred on the Hoboken campus of Stevens Institute of Technology; Stevens students have remained active as balloon “handlers” and “pilots” since the tests moved to the parking lot of Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands.)
The night before the Thanksgiving Day Parade, the floats will begin their journey from the Jersey side to the streets of Manhattan. Unlike the hand-painted balloons, which may be deflated and folded for transport, the floats need to be specially designed by the Studio to collapse for their ride through the Lincoln Tunnel. None can be over eight feet wide, or 12.5 feet high. A three-story-high float, therefore, will be designed to telescope out once it arrives on the parade route, and side panels are likely to open out, too.
The Macy*s Studio crew works through the night before the holiday and on Thanksgiving Day. For them, their Thanksgiving feast is traditionally celebrated the day after the parade, when they gather in the Hoboken warehouse with family to watch video footage of the giant street festival they have created and to share a well-earned Thanksgiving meal.
Special thanks to Manfred Bass, Robin Erichsen, John Piper, and the Macy*s Studio crew for their help in gathering artifacts and information; to Claire Lukacs, Holly Metz, and Peter Ziebel for designing, writing, and providing photographs for this brochure.
The Hoboken Historical Museum
In April 2001, the Hoboken Historical Museum, a 15-year-old community-based non-profit organization, moved into its permanent home in the former Shipyard Machine Shop, the oldest building on the Hoboken waterfront. Dedicated to stimulating interest in all aspects of the history of our city and the region — including architectural, social, ethnic, and cultural aspects — the Museum provides tri-annual exhibits, publications, and a broad range of programming, including slide lectures, readings, films, and events for families.
The Museum is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings 5-9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. A $2 donation is suggested for adults; children accompanied by adults are admitted free of charge.
If you would like to become a Museum member and receive our bi-monthly newsletter, gain free or reduced rates on admission to Museum events, and receive discounts on Museum items from our gift shop, please visit, write, or call:
Hoboken Historical Museum
1301 Hudson Street P.O. Box 3296 Hoboken, NJ 07030 (201)656-2240 www.hobokenmuseum.org
Membership rates; Individual, 1 year $30; Dual/family (at one address),1 year $50
Your support is important to us! Member donations and memberships, fundraisers, and grants from private and state agencies financially sustain the Museum and its many programs. Our wonderful volunteers also provide much needed support as docents and helpers at museum events. Contact us to find out more.
|Year Range from||2001|
|Year Range to||2002|
HHM (Hoboken Historical Museum)
Macy's Parade Studio
1505 Willow Ave.
Elevator Supplies Company, Inc.
Sperry Products Company
Sweets Company of America
1515 Willow Ave.
Business & Commerce
Parades & Pageants